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Helbereth
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Joined: Tue Jun 19, 2012 4:44 pm
Location: Massachusetts, USA

Chapter 9 - Tactical Studies

Post by Helbereth » Fri Jul 20, 2012 6:33 am

Another early-rise, and some time spent editing, and I'm posting my insomnia-related musings again today. This particular chapter took some work to get to flow right, and I'm still not completely sure I was successful. I've settled into chapters that hover between 5500 and 6500 words, which I think feels right; much more than that and it feels lengthy, much less and it feels brief. I'm not sure why I find myself so concerned with word count, really, but it feels like something important to pacing - which I think I'm decent at setting. At least I hope I'm pacing okay.

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Chapter 9 – Tactical Studies

The second day of swimming with Hisao goes by with ease, regardless of his ominous warning. Since then at six-thirty in the morning five days a week, we meet at the breezeway, stretch and slip into the pool. As I give him pointers on breath control, or demonstrate stroke techniques, we also talk about classwork, and sometimes just banter playfully—it's a lot of fun, actually. Joyce remains as our daily chaperone, but she stopped bothering to leave her little desk in the far corner after the first week, so we've hardly noticed her since.

Whether he did much swimming before or not, Hisao has taken to it really well, though he gives me credit for most of his progress. It's very charming, and I'd like to think that he's not just being kind, that there's something more to his compliments than courtesy. However, beyond the daily swims, we rarely cross paths. We're in different classrooms, so on Thursdays we usually don't end up seeing each other at all, and neither of us has had the guts to initiate anything on Sundays. Every time I see him, I have the idea that I should say something, but if I'm just imagining things and he doesn't actually feel anything more than friendship, everything would just become awkward.

That would be mortifying, actually...

Still, something has to change. We've gone for almost three weeks seeing each other almost every day, laughing, having a good time, trading compliments, and dodging around the question I think we both want to ask. If it goes on for much longer, one or both of us will lose interest, and I don't want that to happen. Having seen Amaya and Tadao hold out for so long, and knowing how torturous it was for both of them, I don't want to share that fate with Hisao. It's a terrifying thought, but if one of us doesn't do something soon, my relationship with Hisao is in danger of becoming wholly platonic, and that almost kiss will never lead anywhere.

The timing has to be just right, though...

Tanabata is coming up soon, so I've been dealing with numerous questions from 3-1 students, and relaying them to the Student Council through Hisao. That, of course, sends him straight into Shizune's clutches, which didn't bother me much initially, but the Yamaku rumor mill has been churning out tales of their budding friendship. In an effort to appear unbiased, I don't show my misgivings whenever he mentions something about his work with the Student Council, but even I'm not sure if I haven't let a few glares, sneers or scowls slip through—it's a private war.

Meanwhile, the looming holiday has inundated us with school work. Our benevolent teachers hardly seem to notice when there's a big event to plan, always choosing to pile more work on us in the weeks before they arrive; I'm starting to think it's intentional—it probably is. Either way, any thoughts about Hisao will have to stay on hold for a while, it seems. There are tests coming for both English and Calculus, an essay due for History, a research project for Science, and everyone is scrambling to get all that done plus our regular homework, holiday planning, and maybe—if we have time—catch some sleep.

Perchance to dream...

At the end of class today, Amaya suggested we head to the library to get some of our extraneous school work done, and I can't disagree with her logic. That said, I wonder why she's suddenly acting studious. Wanting to catch up when there's so much stuff piling on makes sense, but this is Amaya, and she's the studious type. Classically her study technique involves cramming everything she needs to know the night before a test, or drafting an essay a few hours before it's due. Still, since I'd rather have company for this ordeal, I'm not about to refuse her help.

Exiting our air-conditioned dorm into the July heat is shocking, but, at our brisk pace, I hardly notice. Amaya keeps looking at me as we walk, her expression somewhere between happy to be outside and grimly dreading the heat. There's also a strange look in her eyes that I can't quite identify; like she's keeping a secret. I shrug it off, though. Amaya's mind wanders a lot when she's not directly focused on something.

There's something unsettling about her right now, though...

The door to the main building opens with a creaking gasp—it shuts like an air lock—and I quickly usher Amaya inside, following her into the air conditioned building—well, mostly air conditioned. After classes, building maintenance turns down the climate control to save power, but the building seals up pretty well, so it usually holds the cool air through most of the afternoon. As we stand just inside the door, Amaya looks up at me with an exhausted expression, fanning herself with the stapled bunch of papers she thought she was going to read during our walk.

Something is lifting a few strands of her hair upward, making them dance above her like upside-down marionettes, and I can't help but smirk. Seeing that, she prompts, “Something funny?”

"No, no, nothing," I reply, stifling a giggle. Fanning myself with my History textbook—which doesn't do a very good job of it—I nod at her hair and exclaim, "You're under attack from a Kamaitachi!"

"Dammit!", she curses, quickly reaching up to trying to matting her hair back down. The strands fly back up every time she tries, and my giggling just gets worse with every attempt, so she finally gives up and lets out a frustrated groan, "It's the dry weather, I swear!"

Looking at the vents in the ceiling above us, I surmise, “It's the ventilation," and suggest, "Let's get out from under it.” She casts a plaintiff glare up at the grates while I shake my head at her and start walking, beckoning her to follow. “C'mon,” I say, stepping around her, “You can pat that down on the way upstairs...”

On our way up the stairs, I notice Amaya is struggling a little. We were only outside for a couple minutes, but she's panting as though we just crossed a desert. It's not unexpected, but I find myself feeling quite the opposite - springy, even. The last couple weeks of swimming with Hisao has apparently done my physical condition some good, and I wonder if I could get Amaya to join us—she seems to need the exercise. Bringing it up while she's struggling with a flight of stairs probably isn't the best idea, though—she'd probably just kick at my shins.

I haven't actually told her about swimming with Hisao, either... so there's that obstacle...

Swimming used to feel like something I had to keep to myself, but it has been rather cathartic having someone there every day – almost every day. I've gotten better at keeping the bad memories out of my head when I think about swimming, anyway. I'm grateful for the help Hisao has been in suppressing that part of my subconscious, but I'm apprehensive about saying anything. He really doesn't need to know.

Hisao hasn't been any more forthcoming about his time in the hospital, but he did confirm he fell out of contact with his school friends. I was saddened hearing that, and I couldn't help wondering if that may be why he was so reluctant to attend the festival. Regardless of Kenji's influence, he was probably feeling down about celebrating without having them around.

As far as Hisao's swimming goes, he's getting better. His condition still limits his stamina, but I've been training him on breath control and proper form; so that has allowed us to speed up, but I can still swim nearly twice his speed. He visits Nurse every day after we finish, but I leave him to do that on his own. If he wanted me to go with him, he would ask. We haven't brought up our 'past life' events, either. That near-miss -near-hit?- was almost a month ago, but it's still in the forefront of my thoughts – even if it doesn't show.

I think it's still in his, too, but I'm starting to wonder...

Amaya looks down at me from a few steps ahead and blows out a sigh. “How are you not tired?” she asks.

This would probably be a perfect opportunity to inform her of my recent exercise regimen, but I want to keep it to myself. I'm fond of having the time alone with Hisao, and wouldn't want Amaya there to make it an ordeal. I simply shrug and reply, “I guess I'm just in better shape than you.”

“You mean your shape is better,” she groans. I ignore the off-handed reference. “Y'know you shouldn't be so self-absorbed all the time,” she says, waving her hand at me dismissively. I give her a fake-shocked expression and lean forward like I'm about to chase her. She flinches away, giggling, “you know you can't hide stuff like that from me.”

Uh oh...

“What do you mean?” I ask, hoping I don't actually know where this is leading.

She grins slyly and puts her finger on her chin, though I realize she's only imitating her thinking pose. She's not thinking, she's drawing out the suspense. “Tadao found out about your little study-sessions with the Swooner,” she says with a wink.

Study-sessions?

My eyes widen in actual shock.

Does she think-

“We're just exercising, dirty mind,” I protest with a huff.

She grins now and hooks her thumbs in her backpack. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks,” she says, pointing her fingers up and nodding as she recites the line in English.

Oh good, she had time to come up with a Shakespeare quote, and practice it in English.

I glare at her, though it's mostly because I can't think of a response. I remember Hisao telling me that he and Tadao are on the same floor, and they've become friends. I've seen them walking to school and joking around in the halls a few times, but it never occurred to me Hisao might tell him about swimming with me – I never did say I wanted it to be a secret.

Hind-sight is twenty-twenty.

I look back at her and grin sheepishly. Clearly she knew about this for a while, but coyly held out on throwing it at me until now. That begs the question, “why did you wait until now to bring this up?”

“Because we hatched a plan,” she says, her face twisting into a devious smirk.

Take evasive action! It's a trap!

I narrow my eyes at her and cross my arms, trying to look less surprised than I feel. “Is this plan a setup?” I ask, forcing the nervous giggle out of my voice.

“You'll see,” she says cryptically, turning away. A second later she quickly spins back. “At least Tadao and I were kind enough to prepare you beforehand,” she chirps and then runs up the rest of the stairs.

Turnabout is fair play...

I look down the stairs and wonder if I should take the chance to escape. I could head right down and be out the door before she knew what happened. Somehow, though, I don't think I'd ever hear the end of it, and she would just try again later. It's clear they're planning to turn the tables and force Hisao and I together, and that's what makes me continue up the stairs.

As embarrassing as this is going to be, I want to see Hisao more often. Swimming is nice, and occasional lunch breaks are fun, but we haven't seen much of each-other outside of that. We're attracted to each-other, but the swiftness of the attraction was confusing and awkward. Since then we've been friends, but I think we both want more – at least I want more.

I hope he wants more.

When I reach the top of the steps, Amaya is grinning widely and holding the door open. “I knew you wouldn't run off,” she says, “Tadao owes me five-hundred yen.”

They definitely had this all planned.

“Your twenty pieces of silver may not sit so well,” I say as I pass.

She just rolls her eyes and follows briskly. As we're about to reach the library, she asks a girly question, “so is he as fit as he looks?”

She doesn't let me answer. Instead, she pushes through the door and leads me in as a blush spreads across my cheeks. I stutter a bit, trying to say something, but she's not even paying attention. She said that to make me blush intentionally.

Devious little thing, isn't she?

The library is quiet, as always. A Tuesday afternoon here isn't much different than any other day of the week. The large, book-filled room smells musty and old, but there are also hints of cleaning solutions and packing materials. It's not exactly homey, but it's familiar. Behind the counter, Yuuko is sorting out a stack of books with a contemplative expression. As I approach, she suddenly looks up at me and gasps, “oh! Miss Kurai. What brings you here?”

My stupid friend.

“My darling friend suggested we do some studying,” I explain.

Yuuko nods and glances around the room. “Do you n-need anything?” her airy voice is tinged with clumsy nervousness as she speaks. The way she fidgets and avoids eye contact, you might think she were being interrogated. I haven't spoken with her much, but she's the faculty adviser to the literature club, so Amaya and Tadao see her at least once a week – usually more.

Amaya answers, “nope, we'll be all set. We're meeting some people.”

Yuuko visibly relaxes. “Ah, well, if you need anything, I'll be here, Miss Yamamoto,” she bows slightly, but arrests the action as she speaks. Working at the Shanghai part-time has left her with some odd habits.

Amaya rolls her eyes. “You can call me Amaya, y'know,” she says with an exasperated sigh – like she says it all the time.

Yuuko just shakes her head and frowns timidly. Amaya grabs my arm and starts leading me over toward the back corner of the room, exclaiming, “c'mon~! We have things to see people to-” She giggles instead of saying the last word, and I give Yuuko an apologetic nod. This all feels so predictable, being dragged through the library toward wherever Tadao probably went to position Hisao, but it's kind of sweet.

And mortifying.

As we round a corner leading down between two bookshelves, I stop and look down the aisle. Just ahead, there is a small study area situated on a crossroads of sorts. Arranged parallel to each other in the middle of the space are a series of long, narrow tables with wooden chairs neatly arranged around them. At one of the tables are Tadao and Hisao, sitting across from each-other talking jokingly about something or other. Strewn about on the table are their books and notes.

Before I can get close enough to hear what they might be talking about, Amaya announces our presence, “hello boys~!” She bounds over and wraps an arm around Tadao's neck, then slips into the chair next to him – leaving me to sit next to Hisao, I assume.

I shouldn't feel nervous about this at all. Hisao and I have been friends for weeks, and we see each-other almost every day either at the pool or at lunch. We've talked about all kinds of things and we have a lot in common. Unfortunately, for some reason, I feel like I could get knocked down by a slight breeze or a rogue speck of dust. I'm frozen in shock.

We went swimming just this-morning, but this situation is different. This dynamic is strange, and I have no idea what Amaya and Tadao have planned. Well, I probably have a decent idea what they have planned, but that's beside the point. Hisao doesn't look nearly as nervous about the situation, but that doesn't mean anything. He and Tadao have been coming here to swap notes on English and Science classes – tutoring each other. My showing up was probably something he expected eventually.

The problem is, I didn't.

I weakly raise my hand to my side and wave, grinning uncomfortably. Amaya's face is wrapped in a devious glare as she beckons me over with a shake of her head, pointing at the chair across from her with an outstretched hand.

Time to put on my war face.

Collecting my wits, I take a deep breath and tentatively walk around behind Hisao -glaring at Amaya's sweet smile while he can't see me- and sit down in the chair beside him, smiling cheerily. I've known Amaya too long and too well to be nervous about meeting her gaze, so I can fake a smile with her easily enough.

At least for now.

Tadao greets me with a toothy grin as he drapes his arm across Amaya's shoulder, “glad you could make it, Aiko.”

He and I came to no such previous decision, but I decide to play along. “Sure, I figured you'd need some help with calculus,” I say sweetly.

“Certainly,” Tadao agrees, “figured Hisao could give you some pointers on Science – he's been handy that way.”

This feels somewhat rehearsed.

“Is that so,” I say, grinning at Hisao, “I'd heard Mutou was taking you under his wing.”

He balks, “I just get the material.”

“Modesty doesn't suit the Swooner,” Amaya says flatly.

Tadao grins and nods, giving Amaya a conspiratorial glance. He lifts his arm off her shoulder and lets out a yawn. “Hey, what time is it anyway?” he asks.

That's their plan?

Amaya looks at her watch. “Little after three, why?” she looks at me with a grin as she answers.

That's their plan.

“I need to head into town for some supplies,” Tadao explains, grinning at me, clearly not being great at hiding the conspiracy.

I could probably stop their plan, but... why bother.

Hisao looks a little confused, but he offers a nod and asks, “will you be back later?”

“Nah man, I think we'll be gone most of the day,” Tadao responds.

Uh oh, that's a slip.

Amaya nudges him with her elbow, glaring at him. He shrinks away from her gaze and lets out a light chuckle, glancing back at me nervously.

Yeah, they need more rehearsing.

Amaya quickly stands up and smiles, looking flustered. “Yeah, we have some stuff to take care of,” she nods at Tadao rigidly, “you two should stay, though,” she points at Hisao and myself, “don't go stopping on our account.” She beckons to Tadao and sighs with frustration.

I think Tadao is going to get his shins kicked sometime soon.

Tadao stands up with her and grins weirdly. His eyes look apologetic, but I'm not sure if it's directed at myself or Amaya. He gathers up his notes and books quickly, shoving them in his bag and trotting away with Amaya in tow. As they round a corner out of sight, I catch Amaya looking back and grinning wickedly.

Exit stage left. Bravo. Encore... well, never mind the encore.

Hisao looks over at me with a raised eyebrow. “We've been set up, haven't we,” he states without a hint of confusion.

I sigh and turn to him. “Yeah, it seems so...” trailing off, I recall how I did something similar to them a few weeks ago, and explain, “I kinda might have sort of set them up, and I think this is a bit of payback.”

Hisao grins and leans away. “You played matchmaker?” he asks. His question drips with sarcasm that I find a little offensive.

“Yes I did!” I exclaim, but then sigh. “Not exactly...” I trail off trying to think of how to describe what happened. Unable to think of a good explanation, I shrug and agree, “well, kinda. I pushed them into a date of sorts after they'd been using me as their go-between for like a year. At the festival.”

His expression goes from smirking to confused. “Wait, so when I met them-”

“That was their first date,” I interject and clarify, “technically.”

We sit there quietly as he processes the information. I'm hardly surprised by his reaction, but there are other problems we need to deal with. I rest my head in my hand against the table and breathe out a contemplative, “so...”

He looks up from his musing, the narrowed expression dissipating. His eyes fall on me and he smiles. “Well, we're here. Regardless of the setup,” he motions toward his books and notes laid out on the table. “Might as well take advantage of-”

“How dare you!” I interrupt him with mock disdain. His eyes tense for just a second, but then he starts laughing. “Taking advantage of a lady – you really are The Swooner,” I accuse.

He smiles and jokingly responds, “that's what they call me.”

We break into laughter, a happy laugh; not a stilted, awkward one. The odiousness of the situation dissipates as we slip into casual banter and start opening our books to actually study. Amaya and Tadao set us up for some kind of date, but we turn it into studiousness.

Point; Kurai and Nakai.

As we work, though, there's something I realize. This is another non-date date. I'm not touring him around anywhere, but there's a pretense to the situation. There seems to always be a pretense to our meetings; him assisting me with inventory reports, meeting me for lunch, touring the festival, touring the village, swimming for exercise, and now, studying. It seems like every activity we engage in becomes the point of our meeting instead of just being together.

We slipped into this new pretense the same way we did the others; awkward at first, but quickly turning into pleasant banter. I wonder, really, what we would be like together without a pretense. With no ulterior motive to the meeting, would we just gawk at each-other awkwardly and avoid eye contact, barely managing to speak? Would he ever have been able to say anything about his illness if not for the concrete reason? Would I have been able to talk to him about swimming if we weren't involved in a pretense? I remember Mutou's lecture on quantum theory, and I'm beginning to understand what it meant.

Would we ever have even met if I hadn't had a pretense to visit 3-3 on that day?

Shaking my head at the idea, I find it disturbing that I could consider being so negative about our relationship. We're friends. We get along. We do things together. We laugh and talk casually like friends should. That should be enough. I should be happy that he's a part of my life now – my mystery man.

The Swooner.

His heart is broken and yet he goes on, his family sent him away and yet he looks forward, his friends abandoned him and yet he trudges onward. He's determined to make himself better than the sum of his parts, and forge a life for himself despite being tragically afflicted and likely doomed to an early death. He's inspirational and secluded, humorous and sullen, and I-

I like him, okay?

I don't think I want to just be his friend, but we're stuck in this perpetually broken relationship. Anytime we come close to a breakthrough, we both push away. Every time I think I understand him, more questions spawn, and I have to fight them off without understanding the game. I don't know what the rules are for this kind of thing, and it's increasingly frustrating trying to come up with answers.

Can I just ask him?

I look over at him, face buried in his History book, scrawling notes absently with that narrowed look on his face, and I wonder what he's really thinking. I can see beads of sweat forming along his brow, and the hair around his face is slightly damp from perspiration. His brown eyes are intense and unwavering when he gets like this, and it's endearing seeing him so focused. He's staring so intently that he doesn't seem to have noticed the heat.

Remember when you used to be able to focus on studying?

Over the course of the afternoon, the library has been getting increasingly warmer; the cool air from the morning slowly being pushed away as the sun beats through the windows. Now that I've noticed it, I realize how uncomfortable I am; I can feel my neck is drenched wherever my hair holds the heat, and the wooden chairs feel even less comfortable than normal. Everything about being in this situation has become uncomfortable, and I want nothing more than to get out of this oppressive room, so I tap the table with my finger to get his attention.

He looks up at me with a start, and runs his hand across his brow reflexively. I lean back and smile, saying, “I think we should get some air.”

He nods and agrees happily, “good idea.”

He starts gathering up his notes and books, and I do the same. His eyes connect with mine for a moment, but we're still picking up notes and books, so our attention is quickly diverted. The smile on his face is wistful as I heft my bag up onto my shoulder and look up at him.

He has that same dumb smile he gets whenever we're about to leave the pool – like there's one more thing he wants to say. I almost want to scream at him to just say whatever it is and be done with it, but I don't want this conversation to start off adversarial.

This is the wrong time to ask.

I start walking between the bookshelves toward the main room of the library, and he walks behind me through the narrow corridor. I keep thinking I should say something and my mouth moves like it might just do that of its own volition, but I restrain myself.

When we exit into the main room of the library, I notice Yuuko still behind her desk and offer her a nod as we pass by, but she doesn't seem to notice. When we're out in the hall outside the library, I stop and wait while he walks over to buy some drinks from the nearby vending machine. I adjust my grip on my bag and wait patiently, trying to think of a conversation starter.

As he hands me the grape soda, my favorite, our fingers touch and his hand lingers. I feel the heat from his hand and I swear I can feel his heartbeat racing through his fingers for a split second. I retract my hand and almost drop the soda, surprised by the contact. For a few moments the tactile sensation of our fingers meeting runs over me, and I feel a flutter of my heart – just like at the festival.

Did he feel it too?

I don't get the chance to find out as a booming, “Wahaha~!” echoes through the hall from behind us and I fumble with the soda again, flinching from the sound. I immediately know we won't be having this discussion today, and I'm almost glad for the tension breaker – glad and perturbed.

Misha fills the hall with her reverberating laugh as she and Shizune stalk down the hallway. We both turn to face them hesitantly as her lilting voice fills our ears. “Hicchan~! Aiko-chan~! We're glad we caught you~!” she practically yells as they approach; the distance apparently signaling that she should talk louder than normal. I think I hear some clattering silverware coming from the cafeteria on the other side of the school.

And my ear had just stopped ringing from the encounter with Kenji...

Hisao looks a little bewildered, but he greets them warmly. “Um, hi Misha,” he says, and he bows toward Shizune. Her grin is broadened by his greeting, and she even blushes a little bit. I wonder if she really is pursuing Hisao as I'd suspected – she hasn't been very forthcoming about her intention.

Quickly realizing I'm watching her, she snaps her fingers loudly -an effective distraction- and starts signing as Misha booms, “Hicchan~! We have Student Council business. and we need your help.”

Oh, well, that's reasonable.

Hisao folds his arms and looks at her with a cross expression before inquiring, “now? Today?”

Shizune continues her signing and Misha translates, “no, but we'll be starting tomorrow afternoon and wanted you to know ahead of time.” Misha points at Hisao as she finishes speaking, and he wilts a little at the prospect.

Mulling it over for a moment, Hisao responds with a quick, “tomorrow, then?” He usually just goes with it when they request something outside his usual duties – it's just easier.

Being honest, Student Council work agrees with him. It keeps him busy, he says, when he'd otherwise just be shoving his head in another science-fiction novel. He was worried the library would run out of new books for him to devour and isn't thrilled with the idea of having to start reading non-fiction; I remember just feeling bewildered when he explained how quickly he reads.

Was he always an avid reader?

“Starting after class,” Misha replies, still translating for Shizune, “and probably for the rest of the week. Tanabata is coming up fast and we need to get some building done.”

Shizune then leans toward me and bumps Misha, quickly signing, [your help won't be necessary.] Misha lets out a stifled giggle and glances at Hisao. He responds with a quick glance of his own.

What was that look?

I frown at her cold statement. Shizune is basically telling me not to interfere; perhaps even to stay away. I'm not sure where this came from suddenly; she's hardly brought up our little war in weeks. Maybe she thought I was too far ahead after I started swimming with Hisao. Right now, she's playing a card of her own, and she's stacking the deck – which isn't really like her.

Maybe she's desperate?

Realizing I have the next move, I decide to let her have her subterfuge. “That's fine,” I say, “I have studying to do with Amaya, so you can steal him away for a while; I won't mind.” While Misha is turned to sign what I said, I sign to Shizune, [I'll be watching you.] Hisao looks at me sidelong as I sign, but doesn't look terribly offended – he might just think I'm clarifying something.

She gives me that bobcat grin and her eyes light up; the challenge shifting her competitive side into top gear. She turns to Misha and signs furiously. Misha tentatively starts relaying the information, “because of upcoming tests and lax study habits, Misha won't be joining us,” she looks bewildered and adds, “wait I'm Misha.” Her frown makes me want to hug her all of a sudden. “Shicchan is right, though, Wahaha~!” her laugh is a little more subdued than normal, almost stilted.

Hisao cracks a smile for a moment, then frowns. “So it'll be just Shizune and I?” he asks.

Misha nods. “I have to catch up on a few things I've been neglecting, so I won't be able to help – that's why we need you, Hicchan~!”

Oh... Oh! Dammit...

“Alright, that's fine, but...” Hisao replies, then tenses and looks at Misha again. He nods toward her, and Misha grins, but quickly looks around nervously and frowns. He motions toward the alcove with the vending machines, and they wander over for a private discussion.

Wait... what?

I'm a little dumbstruck, and, seeing Shizune's expression, I can tell she's equally confused. She sees me looking and crosses her arms in mock-confidence, but I can tell neither of us has any idea what Misha and Hisao are conspiring about, and that worries me.

Is this a war on three fronts, now?

After a few minutes of hushed whispering -which I wasn't sure Misha was actually capable of- they walk back out from the little alcove wearing stilted smiles. Neither of them makes any motion to explain their little sidebar, and that leaves Shizune and I to glance at each-other with mutually dumb expressions. Misha signs to Shizune, [it's nothing,] but doesn't actually speak.

I look at Hisao expectantly, but he's equally silent. Whatever they just absconded over to discuss is apparently between them, and neither Shizune nor I are privy to the details. I give him a frustrated look, but he just grins at me, rubbing his sternum -his scar- the way he does when he gets nervous.

Misha's sudden, “Wahaha~!” laugh fills the air, and I turn my attention back to the pair.

Shizune starts signing and Misha translates again, “Hicchan~! I'll see you tomorrow after class,” Misha grins nervously and clarifies, “Shicchan will, I mean.”

Hisao nods and waves at Shizune, indicating his understanding. Her eyes look to me, then to Misha, and back to Hisao before she returns the nod and starts turning to walk away. Before leaving, Misha grins a toothy grin and folds her arms. “She's gonna flip over your surprise~!” she giggles and nods at Hisao, then turns to catch up with Shizune.

Surprise?

Darkness clouds my eyes as I turn a glare on Hisao more penetrating and sullen than ever before, and he wilts under my scrutinizing gaze. I frown deeply, shooting daggers at his eyes when he reflexively holds a hand up as though I might slap him. I control that urge, though, and instead just hold the stare as he stammers, “s-see you then,” to the departing pair. They probably can't hear him.

I hear Deaf-charge and Drill Sergeant walking away, but I continue staring at Hisao; focusing on his paling expression. As if suddenly realizing he doesn't want to be in a hallway with me alone, he quickly grins in an attempt to disarm my building rage, and starts trying to brush past me.

“Halt!” I yell, and he stops.

You're not going anywhere.

“Yes ma'am,” he replies.

I close my eyes and take a deep breath, letting the air fill my lungs completely before puffing my cheeks and blowing it out slowly. He stands there, frozen in place, when I open my eyes. His smile is gone; replaced by a bewildered frown.

While I momentarily feel bad because I prefer to see him smile, there's a question I have to ask and his answer had better be good, or I'm taking Tadao up on his offer to have Hisao's body buried somewhere deep in the woods. I calmly begin speaking, trying to sound sweet, though the amount of venom in my voice is quite apparent, “what's the surprise?”

This is my murder-face.

He blanches and tries to look past me in an attempt to not immediately cast his gaze downward. It's strange to feel this kind of power over him; he's probably got forty pounds on me, and even with his heart condition he could overpower me easily. That tendency isn't even whispering at the corners of his consciousness, though, I know, and I feel perfectly safe levying an accusatory stare at his deep brown eyes.

He finally straightens up and thrusts his hands down, taking a breath to steady his speech, “I've been taking sign-language classes,” he says flatly, ending with a smirk.

I raise an eyebrow at the crack in his voice, but my expression is starting to soften. “Misha's been tutoring me, too,” he explains, averting his eyes, but I'm slowly starting to smile. He continues his explanation, “I didn't want to bring it up to Shizune until I was actually decent at it, but working alone with her will kinda force my hand.”

I'm a complete jerk...

The anger is gone, just like that. “That's all?” I ask, and he nods. “Wow, I feel like jerk...”

“No, it's okay, I should have told you. I know you sign,” he explains, “and that's partially why I learned, too,” he adds. I try not look accusatory at the obvious consolation; there's no need for him to learn sign on my account. I keep that thought internal, though. He continues to explain, “I kinda thought it might be useful under water.”

“Right, if we wanna burn our retinas with chlorine,” I comment, and he shrugs.

Just to test him, I quickly sign, [your hair is messy.]

“My hair is always messy,” he protests.

[Just testing you,] I explain.

He smirks and signs back, [would I lie to you?]

“You better not,” I say, smirking, [I know people who know people.] I look around with shifty eyes, and he starts laughing. I center a glare on him and he quickly stops. Giggling, I comment, “you're pretty good at it already – only been learning for what like a month?”

“Around that, yeah,” he states.

[We could talk around Amaya,] I sign, but he looks at me, confused.

“Tongue-sticker?” he asks.

I gleefully respond, “Amaya, silly.” I make the sign again, adding, “that's how Tadao and I sign Amaya's name.”

He closes his eyes and starts chuckling softly as he considers the name. “Does she know?” he asks.

“Would you tell her?” I ask plainly.

He narrows his eyes to mull over the implications and quickly responds, “no, I suppose I wouldn't.”

We both start walking toward the stairs then, in silence. As we walk I recall what I was going to try and ask him, but I still don't feel it's the right timing. Considering how I reacted to the mere mention of him possibly gifting something to Shizune, I'm surprised at myself. I was trembling with rage. I had not reacted to anything that strongly since he told me about skipping the festival. This time, it was much more visceral. I was jealous and hurt by the thought he might be considering another girl, even though our relationship is decidedly stagnant.

Is it really, though?

Something needs to happen to get us out of this rut, and if it isn't going to come from our friends, then I'll have to create that opportunity myself. Unfortunately, I have no idea how to go about that. For our whole walk back to the dorms, I quietly think and glance and wonder and surmise, but none of it leads anywhere. We've been seeing each-other almost every day for a month, but I don't feel any closer; if anything I'm even further away. I don't fault him for not telling me about learning sign, but it still irks me that he wouldn't share something so trivial with me – and nearly let it turn into an argument.

Okay, I was overreacting.

When I reach my room, I lock my door to prevent incursions from Tongue-sticker and sit down at my desk, powering on my laptop to play Call of Duty for the first time in weeks. I need to clear my head, and mindlessly blasting through Nazi troops is quite effective in that respect. Keeping an eye on the clock between raids, I'm sure not to stay up too late. Having daily obligations makes me much more aware of the time, and that has had more to do with curbing my insomnia than the actual exercise.

As I crawl into bed, I quietly hope sleep allows my mind to refresh. I need to find the surface of this stagnant pool I comically refer to as my relationship with Hisao, so we can break out of the dissonance. Hopefully something comes to me soon, or I might lose my chance and have to forever wonder what might have been – a quantum reality that never had a chance to exist.

Shizune is going down. Oh... stupid dirty mind.
________________________________________________________________________________
Previous Chapters|Next Chapter

More spoilers that aren't spoilers if you just read the story:
As you can see, Hisao and Aiko's relationship started with a flourish, but settled into complacency quickly - before it ever got started. Everything happened too fast, you might say, and they've been trying to pick up the pieces ever since. Their friends see them being compatible, and try to push them together, but it doesn't really work as well as intended - almost pushing them further apart. Now, Aiko sees Shizune might be moving in for the kill, and feels the need to act, but has no idea what to do. Will they or won't they?

Ok, it's no big secret they will... wouldn't be much of a romantic tale if not, but how... HOW!? I ask you!

Okay, actually I already know - it's already written. However, you'll have to wait and see, Mwahaha!


Random thought had while writing this outro: Do banjos dream of electric tuners?
Last edited by Helbereth on Fri Nov 22, 2013 8:37 pm, edited 8 times in total.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by griffon8 » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:50 am

I suppose it's possible I just think too well of Shizune, but I keep seeing her actions as her way of telling Aiko, "Dammit! Why aren't you moving any faster on Hisao?"
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

Completed: 100%, including bonus picture. Shizune>Emi>Lilly>Hanako>Rin

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by LOL WUT » Fri Jul 20, 2012 3:16 pm

His heart is broken and yet he goes on, his family sent him away and yet he looks forward, his friends abandoned him and yet he trudges onward. He's determined to make himself better than the sum of his parts, and forge a life for himself despite being tragically afflicted and likely doomed to an early death. He's inspirational and secluded, humorous and sullen
That is actually a good description of Hisao.

Also all that came to my mind for the last part was this:
Image

And to answer your question, I asked my banjo and he said " Yes, we dream of an age where we to can be, Electric Banjos."
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by Helbereth » Fri Jul 20, 2012 7:27 pm

griffon8 wrote:I suppose it's possible I just think too well of Shizune, but I keep seeing her actions as her way of telling Aiko, "Dammit! Why aren't you moving any faster on Hisao?"
I'll just say I'm happy you can't tell one way or the other. Since all we know is what Aiko knows, all our information is second-hand. She can guess at what Shizune is trying to do, but she just doesn't know. You're apparently a romantic, based on your perspective - that she's doing it to goad Aiko and Hisao together. I'd be more inclined to believe she was aiming to sweep Hisao away - but, then again, I don't trust people.
LOL WUT wrote: That is actually a good description of Hisao.
I'm resisting the urge to say, "Of course it is, I wrote it, so it must be a good description."

Really, though, it's the summation of what Aiko has gleaned from Hisao's character - which has mostly been his better traits. You'll notice she kind of omits his presented negative traits; like the elusiveness, nervousness and reluctance to talk about himself. It's written as Aiko kind of falling in love with his positive self, while ignoring what she knows about his negative self - which is what people tend to do when falling in love.
LOL WUT wrote:Also all that came to my mind for the last part was this:
Image
I assume that's kind of an edge-of-your-seat face, but I'm not sure. She might just have gas. It's hard to tell.
LOL WUT wrote:And to answer your question, I asked my banjo and he said " Yes, we dream of an age where we to can be, Electric Banjos."
Truth is, there's no such thing as a tuned banjo - it's an empirical fact. A banjo tuner, electric or otherwise, is a contradiction in terms.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by LOL WUT » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:09 pm

I assume that's kind of an edge-of-your-seat face, but I'm not sure. She might just have gas. It's hard to tell.
No it is the overly obsessive girlfriend.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by Total Destruction » Fri Jul 20, 2012 8:47 pm

Dude, I haven't read this one, or anything NOT the frickin' Suzu routes, in a minute and I feel bad about it, because even though I normally shy away from OCs in pretty much errthang, this kind of rules and rules hard.

Further analysis as events warrant. I gotta reread, yanno.

:D
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by Helbereth » Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:42 pm

Total Destruction wrote:this kind of rules and rules hard.
Thanks for that, I've been starting to wonder.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/20

Post by DelusionsOfGrandeur » Sat Jul 21, 2012 6:12 am

I enjoy Aiko's internal struggle.

The pervert within mustn't breach my lady-like exterior!

I normally don't read fanfics that use OC's but I'm glad I made an exception, this is well written and has me wanting more.

I believe Shizune wants Hisao, she is not one to pull punches or strive for second best.

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Chapter 10 - Making Waves

Post by Helbereth » Sat Jul 21, 2012 6:32 am

I've really been writing this at a ridiculous speed (at least by my standard), so posting a new chapter daily isn't terribly surprising. I still have two following chapters completed ahead of this one.

Previous|Next
_________________________________________________________________
Chapter 10 – Making Waves

I groan and roll over to slap my alarm clock, canceling the discordant melody before it can burrow deeper into my brain. It's six o'clock, and I realize I have a routine to follow. Whatever other thoughts might be on my mind, I have a responsibility -a commitment- to attend to, and I don't plan to start skipping out on the morning swims just because I'm feeling confused.

I quickly don my swimsuit and track pants, then toss on my bathrobe, grab my towel -with my cellphone wrapped inside- and head out the door. The sunlight breaking in through the windows as I glide through the common room tickles my skin, and the warm air outside is refreshingly fragrant. As I walk, I whistle absently, though I'm not sure what's gotten me into such a mood. Yesterday's events seemed to end on a low note, so my perky steps are somewhat unexpected.

Maybe I had a good dream that I inconveniently forgot?

Upon reaching the breezeway I glance at my watch; it reads, “6:24 am,” and I realize I'm a bit early. That's really nothing new, though. I sit down on the bench and fish my cellphone out, thinking about calling Hisao to make sure he's going to be on time. As I flip it open, I realize there's a presence nearby.

I recognize the looming shadow and don't bother looking to cheerily greet her, “morning, Joyce.” The chipper lilt in my voice is unexpected, but Joyce doesn't find it strange. I've greeted her similarly on most mornings as she comes to unlock the pool building.

“Well g'mornin' sunshine, you look like the cat who caught the canary,” her comment strikes me as odd. She usually just walks right by while I absently wait for Hisao, so something must be different for her to notice.

I glance up at her for a brief second to see her sidelong look, but turn back down and shrug. “I do?” I ask, not sure what she means. I'm intrigued, but I keep my gaze down toward my cellphone, flipping through my saved numbers list. If she stopped at all, she probably plans to point out the issue, so I just calmly wait for her to decide to vocalize her curiosity.

I hear the door unlock and her keys rattling as she hangs them back on her belt. A moment later, she's standing over me again asking, “something good happen? You look happier than you have since that boy first started swimming with you.” Now I'm really intrigued. I look up and see her grinning face, edged with questioning eyes, “did he finally ask you out?”

She doesn't mince words.

My expression darkens and her smile melts away. I'm not sure why I was in such a happy mood, but the mention of Hisao and I possibly dating immediately turns my smile to a frown. After a moment watching me, she motions toward the bench, and I nod. She sits down next to me, leaning back with a contemplative expression.

“You pretty much always look happy out here in the morning, but you had this beaming smile on when I walked by – thought he finally came to his senses,” she explains while I look back at my phone. After a few moments of consideration, I shake my head, but I don't look away from the little screen.

“You want him to, though, right?” she asks, a strangely motherly tone in her voice.

She said I used to look sad when I went swimming before...

Maybe I've been walking out here every morning with that perky lightness every day and only noticed it now. I never liked having anyone around when I went swimming, so I knew it wasn't just elation at having a swimming partner. I didn't even want Amaya to swim with me, and she's my best friend. I have felt at ease ever since Hisao joined me, and I think I understand now that it's because he was that swimming partner.

I also never stopped to consider why he kept coming back every day. Obviously he needs to keep in shape for his heart, but he could have continued running with Emi, or found some other activity. He leaped at the chance to join me for my scheduled, daily swims – even though I never actually had a schedule.

It was him who suggested the whole plan, even though I technically mentioned it first. My half-interested attempt to make it sound better than running couldn't have been the only reason. The specifics about when, how often and what days were all his idea; I just dutifully nodded my consent. On our first day, he even fought with Kenji to secure a towel, arriving late and apologetic.

Even after already passing day-two with Emi's blistering run schedule, Hisao canceled on her so he could spend time with my stupid self. I was too distracted by how he found me to understand, but he was putting every effort into being at the pool that morning – live or die.

How the hell did I not realize that immediately?

Remembering I was in the middle of a conversation with Joyce, I look over at her and stuff my phone back between the folds of my towel. Recalling her query, I nod dumbly and try to smile. She breathes out a sigh and leans forward, looking at me sidelong and assuming a bright smile. “Ask him, then,” she suggests.

It can't be that simple, can it?

I lean forward and think. Whatever good intentions Hisao had for joining me to go swimming every day, I'm not sure if it still carries weight. I haven't made any moves at furthering our friendship, and it's entirely possible he decided against it due to a lack of positive signals. “It's not that simple,” I start to explain, but she shushes me, and I look at her, perplexed.

“Yes, it is,” she says, “lemme tell you a story.”

Oh, more lectures. Class hasn't even started yet...

As much as I want to get up and walk away at the thought of someone trying to offer relationship advice -especially a middle-aged divorcee- the caring look on her face, and the peaceful position she assumes, make me reconsider. I haven't been able to come up with anything myself, so maybe I can glean some kind of direction from whatever story she has to tell. I sit up and nod at her, giving the go to start her lecture.

She catches my signal and immediately starts talking, “I was a little older than you when I met Frank.” She absently rubs her ring finger as she continues, “he and I were on the track team, and he was a brilliant linguist besides. He used to teach me all sorts of stuff about languages – he taught me Japanese.” She turns and winks at me as she says that. I blink absently and nod.

Well, that doesn't sound so bad.

She sighs and closes her eyes, wincing a little as she continues her retelling, “we got married young, and stupid – when neither of us knew what we were getting into. We fought, we separated, and we eventually made it legal.” I furrow my brow and offer a questioning expression.

This isn't helping, Joyce.

“My ex,” She clarifies. I'm not sure how to react, I already knew she was divorced. She's never said anything about her former husband, except that she had one, and I wonder where this story could be headed. This story doesn't seem to have the happy ending I was hoping for, but I nod and offer a comforting smile.

Peering down at her feet for a second, she sighs, but then looks back at me and grins. “But, I don't regret it one bit,” she pauses to let her words resonate.

Huh?

“I asked him to the prom, and we were inseparable for years after. He was good to me, and we had a great time together until life kinda stepped in and stuck a fork in us,” she makes a stabbing motion at her leg, “and we were done.” Her expression looks pained for a second, but it quickly melts into a serene smile. “I would have regretted not asking him way more than our separation; I never would have moved here if not for him. I wouldn't be sitting here telling you this story, then, either.”

That quantum thing keeps coming back to mind – I should bring it up to Mutou someday.

I'm a little bewildered, and my face says it plainly. She nudges my shoulder. “What I'm saying is, you should just go for it – you're not getting any younger. Maybe prettier,” she says with a chuckle, “but we need to seize what time we have, y'know?”

I look up and smile at her, letting the words sink in for a second. She's trying to tell me not to worry so much about the consequences, and it makes a certain kind of sense. Whatever happened between her and Frank, she seems to have come through it better off than she started. Remembering her last comment, I smirk and reply, “I'm not that pretty.”

She laughs and gets up, turning to offer a friendly smile. “Yeah you are, don't gimme that!” She lets out a few stifled guffaws but quickly stops and narrows her eyes. “Think about it, okay? Regrets are like scars, you can end up covered with 'em if you're not careful,” she says sagely.

A strangely poignant phrase, if a little disturbing.

I watch her nodding for a moment, trying to figure out how she can look so happy after telling such a gloomy story, but, somehow, I think that's the strength of her tale. She put herself out there and it worked out for a while until it stopped. Even if it was only for a short while, it made her happy and that's the memory she keeps.

I have that possible future still in front of me, and it's about time I stopped worrying about the answer to my question and consider the implication of not asking. If I'm going to have a short life, anyway, I certainly don't want to have regrets holding me back. I don't want to regret watching Hisao get further and further away from me until someone else reels him in – he's my fish to catch.

I nod at her and smile, grateful for the advice. “Thanks,” I say, “I'll think about it.”

“Good. Make sure you turn thinking into doing before one of these other harlots throws themselves at his feet – he's a keeper, y'know,” she remarks, “I can tell.” She turns and starts walking into the building then, and I've suddenly got the fire of resolve burning in my eyes.

Left to consider what she was trying to tell me for a few minutes, I think I understand what she meant. Even if nothing comes of it, if I never say anything to Hisao -tell him how I feel- I'll regret it forever. As I notice him walking up to the building, I decide I can't let that happen.

Looking over his grinning countenance, I don't think just straight-up asking him will be enough, though. I want to make it an event, and that requires more than one witness. I suddenly think I want the whole school to know I've asked before he even answers, but the way to do that eludes me for now. Swimming should help me clear my head and come up with something appropriate. I wave Hisao along and head into the pool building with a purposeful smirk.

Watching Hisao as we stretch at the poolside, I try to think of how to make asking him a simple question into an event he'll never forget. When he stands and drops his track pants off, revealing the close-fit swim trunks, I gasp a little. I bury my head down to distract myself, trying to think of anything else. Literally anything else – I settle on the tiled floor.

Better than slipping into dirty-world.

After a few seconds I hear the solid splash as he drops into the water, and I look up again with renewed resolve. As I stand, I see him bobbing up and down grinning contentedly as he dunks his head under the waves repeatedly, and my resolve wavers. Watching him do anything right about now is preventing me from thinking clearly, and he's keeping his eyes open, watching me intently – like he knows my thoughts.

Beware the Swooner, stalking the night. Hunting in darkness, his gaze burning bright.

I avert my eyes and head for the ladder, choosing to step lightly into the pool. When I spin around to catch his gaze, there's a strange look to them – like hunger. It's a little strange and out of character for him, but it gives me an idea. It's a silly idea, really, but the best ideas often start out sounding silly – the atomic bomb, for instance.

Even Einstein probably scoffed at that idea.

I swim over and offer a raised eyebrow. “You're creeping me out,” I say.

“Sorry, I was trying to think of a good way to sign your name,” he says, his eyes turning up as he grins. “I think I've come up with a good one.”

I'm intrigued, but it's a little difficult signing in the water. “Well,” I start saying, “we have eight laps to do before you can tell me.” I had meant to bring that up a bit later, but I want him to be appropriately incapacitated when we're parting ways later so he doesn't notice my devious looks.

“Eight?” he inquires. His face scrunches into a bewildered expression. “What happened to seven?” he asks plainly.

“You can't expect to stay at the kid-level forever,” I say, grinning widely, “or are you just too weak~?” I ask with an accusatory lilt, attacking his pride.

He folds his arms under the waves and raises an eyebrow. “Fine,” he huffs, “but only 'cause it's you asking.”

I smile at the reference. Having taken him under my wing to assist with his physical therapy has the benefit of allowing me to give him orders sometimes; which he has been keen to follow. I swim to the edge and wait for him to join me against the wall. “Eight laps, then you can tell me my new sign-name,” I say as he nods approval.

“You're gonna like it,” he states, and I believe him.

“Go!” I yell and we both kick off the wall. We don't actually race, not in the traditional sense, but the bit of competition makes him push harder; a trick Nurse explained.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

We reach and kick off the opposite wall at the same time, and I watch his motions as I let muscle memory push me across the pool, keeping us in a dead heat. I find myself proud to see his breath control has improved greatly; he used to choke a lot when we first started, and I used to worry he might be having a more severe problem.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

Off the other wall, lap two starts and we're still neck-and-neck, though it's really because I'm holding back. Hisao has never questioned my reluctance to just swim ahead of him. I prefer to keep up with him and see how he's doing; like a good teacher. Emi can do that even while running at full speed with a simple look, but in the water I need to stay nearby.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

Two more laps go by, and I smile as Hisao continues batting at the waves with practiced control. Seeing him doing so well, I decide to speed myself up and I'm glad to see him match my pace.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

Lap six passes by, and this is usually when I start slowing us down, but Hisao starts racing ahead. I giddily follow him, remaining just behind as we reach the opposite wall and kick off, lining myself up with him and matching his new pace.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

Half way through lap seven, I look over at Hisao and he's grinning, but his breathing has started to become more sporadic. I slow myself a little and he notices my sudden drop backward. He slows to compensate, and I grin happily.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

The last lap -our new lap- begins with a steady kick off the wall, and I sidle right up beside Hisao, looking at him and smiling. He looks back and nearly chokes on a gulp of chlorinated water, but he steadies himself and continues stroking.

Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke. Breathe, stroke.

The final kick-off goes by smoothly, and we break into a race toward the last wall. Hisao falls behind quickly, but I can still hear him steadily swimming behind me. As I spin and grab the wall, I watch his last few struggling strokes and smile proudly when he plants a hand on the wall next to mine.

He pants and wheezes a bit, but he's holding his hand up; he's in control. I watch and wait for his breathing to calm before I say encouragingly, “eight laps wasn't so bad, right?” While I feel like I could probably go for several more, myself, this is still mostly for his benefit. I don't want him overexerting himself on my account, or out of some prideful, masculine need to compete – and Nurse gave me a nasty glare when I even suggested the idea.

That purple-haired man is constantly foiling my torture plans.

Hisao grins at me, gritting his teeth. He can't speak between gasps for air, but he nods contentedly. I nudge his shoulder with my other fist and then swim over toward the ladder, letting him watch as I climb out of the pool. I always notice when he's looking at me, and I never mind the interest from him.

Take it all in, Swooner.

He follows me out a few moments later, and drops onto the floor rather unceremoniously, flattening his arms and lying there, breathing heavily. “You're trying... to drown me...” he finally breathes out between gasps.

I giggle as I walk over and grab my robe and towel, tossing his towel over to him in the process. It lands on his face, and he just leaves it there while I start drying. Eventually he sits up and starts toweling his hair; he usually lets the rest drip dry, I've noticed.

Vested in argyle, the Swooner does walk. Women thus fall aghast, outlined in chalk.

When he's a few feet away, he stops and grins, holding up his hands like he's ready to sign something. “You ready for it?” he asks.

I nod happily, wondering how long he's been waiting to tell me what secret sign he wants to use for me.

He quickly drapes the towel over his shoulder and signs simply, [Fish-woman.] He gets that strange, hungry look from before we started laps and leans back, “Closest thing to Mermaid I could figure. I came up with that two weeks ago, and I've been dying to tell you.”

I squeal with glee and clap my hands together, quickly signing my response, [it's perfect!] I end with a cheerful nod. I smile happily and bounce excitedly, I haven't heard anyone call me that since-

My dad...

I suddenly frown, but I don't want to spoil the moment; quickly forcing the happy smile back. He looks confused for a second, like he saw my sudden frown. Furthering the disarmament, I cheerily point out, “Tadao and I agreed on Tongue-sticker almost immediately. Though it was preceded by Shin-kicker.”

As we're having this frivolous little discussion, my mind is going back over the idea I had before our swim. The hungry idea. Lunch in the cafeteria. That's where this starts; that's our ground zero. I quickly decide to put the plan into action, and the first step is a much easier question. “Hey, you start working with Shizune later today, right?” I ask, leading the conversation.

“Yeah,” he answers, looking less than thrilled with the idea.

Audience is important, so I start by saying, “okay, make up an excuse and bring them to lunch, I have some Tanabata business to go over and I don't want to miss my chance before it gets too late.”

“Alright,” he says. “Bring Tongue-sticker and Tadao with you, I think I need a hand with some English homework.”

I nod in agreement and mention, “I was probably gonna bring them along anyway.”

“Okay, I gotta go see Nurse and get ready for class, so we'll talk later,” he says as he pulls his track pants on and rolls the t-shirt over his head, covering up his slowly-fading scar. I usually don't notice it anymore, but I look while he has the shirt over his head and notice it's beginning to change color to a more brownish hue. It probably won't fully fade, ever, but it's encouraging to see it starting to become less apparent.

I watch him leave, grinning at my deviousness. Joyce notices my exuberant expression and gives me a thumbs up, to which I reply with a sturdy bow. She said to seize the day, and I was about to do just that. One way or another, lunch break is going to be interesting.

Morning classes tick away by the sound of the clock, slowly finding its way around the hours and through the routine classroom digressions. Amaya and Tadao are giddily asking questions about their setup from yesterday, but I choose to be evasive. Being in the seat in front of them affords me an easy way to hide my face in case it tries to betray my purpose.

Their plan had worked, I knew, and I was glad for it, but, until the full scope of the results are enacted, I didn't want to say anything. They can remain blissfully ignorant for now, but I certainly want them along for my plan to work – I just don't want them to be in on it, so their reactions are genuine.

They're pretty awful actors, I learned yesterday.

Finally, the lunch bell rings and the first part of my plan goes into action. I stand, casually, and invite both Amaya and Tadao to lunch with me, saying I want to get out of the stuffy classroom for a short while. They happily agree, and I've now got my support audience following behind me down to clique-central.

Phase one; gather the players.

Ahead of us in the bustling crowd, I see Hisao emerge from class 3-3 with Shizune and Misha close-by, and I breathe a sigh of relief; everything is going according to plan. I distract Amaya with some questions about English so she doesn't notice who is walking ahead of us, and Tadao naturally offers his words of wisdom. I feel bad about using their interests against them in this way, but I don't want them to see any of this coming until we actually reach the cafeteria.

I also feel bad about having Amaya sit through lunch -or part of it, at least- with Shizune. They never really got along -largely in part because they disagree on study philosophies- but I think Amaya will forgive the transgression as soon as I start asking Hisao to Tanabata.

Now I just need to not chicken out.

When we reach the cafeteria, I nearly falter. I hesitate just outside the door and have to fake a little dizzy spell to assuage suspicion. When we walk into the cafeteria, Amaya immediately notices Hisao sitting at the table and comments, “oh, I see... the Swooner's mere presence is making you feel faint.”

The Swooner cares not, whether they rise. Forever he searches, for more innocent sighs.

I smirk at her, but I don't mention her deduction is partially correct. I don't even have to ask her to follow me over and sit with Hisao; she bounds ahead of me with Tadao in tow, plopping her lunch down and grinning widely. Tadao is more subdued in his approach, as always, and the casual smile is directed at Hisao more than myself. My earlier elusiveness seems to have already been forgiven.

I approach slowly, calmly, and set my lunch down, sitting opposite Hisao, with Tadao on my right and Amaya across from him. Now we wait. This is all for naught without the last two people sitting down to join us, and I try not to make a show of glancing toward where I see Shizune and Misha blissfully signing back and forth as the lunch line slowly creeps forward.

My eyes are also avoiding contact with Hisao's, but that seems even more difficult to resist. Those thoughtful brown orbs keep glancing at me, being barely distracted by Amaya and Tadao's tittering. In my head, I know I need to act coy and elusive, but the urge to meet his gaze and get lost in his eyes is almost too tempting. If I get too worked up or too distracted, I might forget to ask the question I've been formulating and rehearsing in my head since this-morning.

There is also the matter of Hisao's attire. As the summer temperatures have risen, he has stopped wearing sweater-vests under his uniform jacket, so he is only wearing the dress-shirt and tie; the jacket is on the back of his chair. It's strange to see him without the argyle accompaniment, but even stranger is that I find myself staring at his bare arms.

His sleeves are rolled up exposing his tightly bound forearms, and I'm mesmerized by the solid lines indicating his strong musculature. His narrow hands draw my attention as well. Resting over each-other on the table, his long fingers are strong and dexterous. I remember feeling safe having those hands supporting me when I fell over at the festival, and when he offered a comforting hand on my shoulder after we almost kissed.

Stop thinking about it so much!

I snap myself out of the reverie just in time to see Shizune and Misha approaching the table. Shizune shoots me a look of disdain that quickly fades into a quiet smile. She walks around and sits next to Hisao -which makes me cringe a little, but I let it pass- while Misha sits down to my left. All six of us are now in place, and phase two of my plan goes into effect.

Phase two; lulling the gathering.

To maintain the pretense of my presence, I made sure to have an issue to bring up with Shizune; so, as I ignore Amaya's groaning look, I turn and start signing, [I wanted to inform you that class 3-1 has decided to recreate the fish-bowl booth for Tanabata.] I still can't talk at the same time, but Misha is kind enough to relay my signing for everyone else to hear. Misha's booming voice is happily less jarring for me – her sitting to my left was a happy accident.

One of the advantages of being deaf in one ear, I suppose.

Shizune smiles and nods, and I breathe a sigh of relief. She starts signing back, [that will make preparations easier; and reduce the amount of building we have to do; so thank you.] She grins as she signs that, but then her expression sours as she asks, [you could have come by the Student Council room to inform us of this. Why here?]

I stare back at her, realizing there's a hole in my plan, and I freeze. I don't even have a chance to try and bump Misha as she relays the whole question to everyone in earshot. I feel pale and my eyes widen, but I can't let this get to me. I have a reason for bringing everyone down here, and it has nothing to do with booth preparations.

Her bobcat grin makes its return as she begins to notice the full scope of the situation. Her eyes dart around the table, taking in the positioning of the players and her face turns up in a devious grin, but she remains silent – so to speak. At first I'm confused by her reaction, but then I see her tapping the table and glancing sidelong at Hisao.

It ought to be obvious to anyone with a grasp on the situation, really. Hisao and I sit flanked by friends, and both of us have dumb expressions on our faces. We have all the support in the world around us at this moment, and I think Shizune is eager to play her apparent role. I was never sure what her end-game was, but I never suspected something like this.

How could she know?

I straighten myself and toss a hair out of my face to wash the pallid expression away, then settle my gaze upon Hisao's big, brown irises and lean forward. A hush falls over the table, and five faces look directly at me. Amaya's grin is so wide her dimples might cave in, and I can see Tadao nodding approval just on the edge of my periphery. I can hear Misha squealing as even she realizes what's about to happen, while Shizune's devious grin melts into a delightful, impatient smirk. Hisao grins and fidgets in his seat, and the hint of a blush creeps onto his cheeks.

Time for phase three; operation inquiry.

Steeling my nerves and swallowing hard, I don't fight the blush as I hold my hand toward Hisao and ask, loud enough for people at the next table to hear, “Hisao, would you be my date for Tanabata?”

I'm not sure how many people heard the question, but the other four faces at the table immediately turn their grinning gazes at Hisao – and a hush slowly falls across the cafeteria. Even students who hadn't heard me ask fall silent as the news spreads in whispers across the room. Perhaps a hundred pairs of eyes fall upon Hisao as he stammers and blushes hard, his hand reflexively coming to his sternum.

Misha gasps and holds her breath while Shizune clasps her hands together delightedly – I doubt she needed to see it signed to understand the question. Amaya's dreamy eyes glance back and forth between Hisao and myself, and her hair bobs playfully with each turn. Tadao is speechless as always, but he's leaning forward and peacefully nodding at Hisao – offering his approval.

For my part, I smile widely and nod at him confidently as I await his answer. A million thoughts bubble up through my mind, but I try hard not to be overwhelmed. I feel lighter for finally having asked the question, but the weight of his impending answer still manages to fall back and push down on my shoulders.

Such simple words, but their meaning carries the weight of a month's worth of questions and longings. Mister Miyoto's words return to mind as I wait. “Young love,” he had said, “an angel disguised as lust.” The meaning had eluded me until this instant, staring at Hisao, awaiting his answer – I'm anxious, distraught, and filled with hopeful desire, but, mostly, I'm terrified.

What if he says no?

The air seems to be sucked out of the room as the cafeteria freezes in suspense. Somewhere I hear a piece of silverware clatter to the ground, but nobody moves to extradite it from the floor. Hisao's eyes dart around and his expression narrows as he formulates an answer he must know everyone in the room seems to be waiting for. He smirks at me and heaves a sigh, steadying himself with a blink and drawing his hand away from his chest to meet with mine.

As he wraps my hand in his strong fingers, I feel the room fall away and all that remains in the cafeteria are the two of us; our eyes locked, our hands entwined, and our thoughts displayed plainly on our grinning faces. He leans forward and steadies his voice as he finally answers, “yes. It would be my pleasure, Aiko.”

A giant, toothy grin spreads across both our faces, and the room slowly comes back into reality. All around us there are students with happy expressions nodding calmly. It's not the reaction I expected; it's almost mature. I practically yelled the question so the whole room would know what was going on, intentionally. I wanted anyone in earshot to see this conversation, and I was prepared for the bawdy remarks or childish whooping, but the silence is probably better. It's serene, really. The four people around us, though, that's a different story.

Shizune and Misha immediately go into a fast-paced sign conversation that I'm to distracted to follow. Amaya exchanges knowing nods with Tadao, who even wraps an arm over my shoulder in a slight hug. As loud as I'd made this seem, it was still desperately difficult for me to actually ask, and his support is appreciated. After a few moments, Shizune is tapping the table again, and I finally snap my eyes away from Hisao's to see what she's signing, [finally!] she beams a confident smile. [I was starting to think I'd actually have to ask him out for you to step up.]

Apparently I was her ball of yarn.

Misha, kindly, doesn't translate the conclusion of our little war, and Hisao is still too distracted to see Shizune signing. He's still looking at me, and I realize our hands are still together.

How did I not notice that?

I retract my hand awkwardly, but smile apologetically. I had intentionally sat across from him so there would be a table preventing us from leaping at each-other, but he doesn't need to know that.

Tadao finally speaks up. “'Until hence the Swooner, off his guard is caught. Stricken dumb by Aiko, propositioning the sot,” he holds his hand up as he speaks and Amaya giggles – a line added to his earlier poem.

Beware the Swooner, stalking the night.
Hunting in darkness, his gaze burning bright.
Vested in argyle, the Swooner does walk.
Women thus fall aghast, outlined in chalk.
The Swooner cares not, whether they rise.
Forever he searches, for more innocent sighs.
Until hence the Swooner, off his guard is caught.
Stricken dumb by Aiko, propositioning the sot.


Shizune and Misha stare blankly, not understanding, but Hisao starts to chuckle lightly. I offer Shizune a shrug that says, “I'll explain later,” and she nods, leaning back and folding her arms. She has a contented expression on her face that I imagine I had when I saw Amaya and Tadao at the festival. She's been pushing me toward Hisao by creating a feigned competition for the past month, and I didn't catch on until just before asking Hisao the question.

Okay, I had suspicions...

I wonder if Misha knew, too, but considering the gasp she made as I asked, I think it's safe to say she had some idea. I feel a little bit used, but I'm still happy. Apparently they saw something between us that I refused to see, and I think they probably wanted it to be over at the festival.

That makes me want to apologize for my behavior over the past month; I was nasty to Shizune at times, when she was just trying to be helpful. She could have been more direct about it and not turned it into a cold war, but that's just how she operates. Once she created the war, she couldn't just abandon the idea without betraying the intent.

The rest of the lunch period ticks away lightly. Amaya and I make plans to go shopping Saturday, and Tadao even suggests dragging Hisao out to the city to find something more appropriate for the event. Shizune and Misha mention their plans to attend the festival, and I make a mental note to catch Shizune alone so I can apologize and thank her for the effort she put into pushing me into asking Hisao out on our first real date.

Back in class, I have to endure more tittering nonsense from the lovebirds behind me, but it's mostly about the possibility of double-dates rather than discussing their escapades so it's a little more tolerable. The entire class knows what happened at lunch, and I get a number of nods and smiles from my classmates – who all apparently seemed to know more about what's been going on than I did.

I consider asking Amaya, but I really doubt it could all fall on her. I don't think Hisao and I have done the best job of hiding our expressions, and I imagine a lot of people guessed at our relationship the same way they suspected Amaya and Tadao.

Upon arriving back at the dorm, I fall down onto my bed and try to think back over all the little tribulations from the past month. It's all a blur, really. I wonder if things could have been different if some things had been said sooner, but such is the nature of regret. I don't want to regret anything. Today I took fate by the horns and wrestled it to the ground, carving out a new destiny from the ashes of a stupid mistake.

Tomorrow should be a good day.
_______________________________________________________
Previous|Next

Don't read this first, seriously:
Well, then, isn't that disgustingly romantic? Not to mention juvenile and a little unhinged? Using the whole cafeteria full of students as the lynch-pin in her plan sort of recalls back to an earlier quip about sticking a sign in Hisao's forehead that says "Mine -Aiko." She didn't want anyone to be mistaken about her intent, now that she finally settled on taking the initiative. That's not the biggest problem she'll have to deal with, but it is the one she has been building up for a month.

Joyce giving her a bit of prodding toward making that decision sort of hit the mentor note I wanted, I think. Of anyone at Yamaku, she's probably observed them together the most, and has experience in the matter - right place, right time. Her little speech about regret is an approximation of one I got from my High School gym teacher. I keep bringing up that quantum lecture because I think it's the thread stitching all the stories in KS together... one decision made differently causes a completely different chain of events.

As for the thread with Shizune's 'cold war', Aiko believes it's over.
Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 2:42 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Chapter 10 - Making Waves

Post by griffon8 » Sat Jul 21, 2012 8:40 am

Helbereth wrote:I've really been writing this at a ridiculous speed (at least by my standard), so posting a new chapter daily isn't terribly surprising.
You're spoiling us!
Helbereth wrote:To maintain the pretense of my presence, I made sure to have an issue to bring up with Shizune; so, as I ignore Amaya's groaning look, I turn and start signing, [I wanted to inform you that class 3-3 has decided to recreate the fish-bowl booth for Tanabata.] I still can't talk at the same time, but Misha is kind enough to relay my signing for everyone else to hear. Misha's booming voice is happily less jarring for me – her sitting to my left was a happy accident.
class 3–1, not 3–3
Helbereth wrote:[Shizune's] bobcat grin makes its return as she begins to notice the full scope of the situation. Her eyes dart around the table, taking in the positioning of the players and her face turns up in a devious grin, but she remains silent – so to speak. At first I'm confused by her reaction, but then I see her tapping the table and glancing sidelong at Hisao.

---

It ought to be obvious to anyone with a grasp on the situation, really. Hisao and I sit flanked by friends, and both of us have dumb expressions on our faces. We have all the support in the world around us at this moment, and I think Shizune is eager to play her apparent role. I was never sure what her end-game was, but I never suspected something like this.

How could she know?

---

After a few moments, Shizune is tapping the table again, and I finally snap my eyes away from Hisao's to see what she's signing, [finally!] she beams a confident smile. [I was starting to think I'd actually have to ask him out for you to step up.]

Apparently I was her ball of yarn.

---

[Shizune] has a contented expression on her face that I imagine I had when I saw Amaya and Tadao at the festival. She's been pushing me toward Hisao by creating a feigned competition for the past month, and I didn't catch on until just before asking Hisao the question.

Okay, I had suspicions...
I knew it!
Helbereth wrote:As for the thread with Shizune's 'cold war', Aiko believes it's over.
Ooooh, you're not foreshadowing more, are you?

Hmm, there was a 'to' that should have been a 'too', but I can't find it right now.

Another excellent chapter. Looking forward to the eventually horrible history swapping Hisao and Aiko need to do.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/21

Post by Mirage_GSM » Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:07 am

Some people - me included - would probably have reacted badly to being put on the spot like that...

By the way, Why is Aiko telling Shizune about class 3-3's plans? Shizune should know those already, since she's in that class herself.
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Re: Chapter 10 - Making Waves

Post by Helbereth » Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:44 am

griffon8 wrote:
Helbereth wrote:I've really been writing this at a ridiculous speed (at least by my standard), so posting a new chapter daily isn't terribly surprising.
You're spoiling us!
Meh, I don't see a reason to hold back when I have stuff done. I was about 4 chapters ahead for a while.

griffon8 wrote:
Helbereth wrote:As for the thread with Shizune's 'cold war', Aiko believes it's over.
Ooooh, you're not foreshadowing more, are you?
Well, honestly, Hisao is on the Student Council. Prolonged exposure like that over the school year could have negative effects later on - real or imagined. As far as Shizune herself, I think she's satisfied with the way things turned out, but things can change. Basically, I'm not sure how that will ultimately effect the story in the future. It's a thread with a loose end, I think. I might be motivated to tie a needle on that loose end and weave something else down the line. my outline is mostly surrounding the relationship development rather than the periphery, so a lot could happen.
griffon8 wrote:Hmm, there was a 'to' that should have been a 'too', but I can't find it right now.
A hunting I will go...
griffon8 wrote:Another excellent chapter. Looking forward to the eventually horrible history swapping Hisao and Aiko need to do.
Ha... yeah. That'll be... fun. I have some outlined situations but nothing concrete, yet. Aiko is still in a mindset where she doesn't want to talk about that stuff, and Hisao was always evasive about those subjects, so I think it'll depend on circumstance. I have those circumstances planned, but it will take some build-up.
Mirage_GSM wrote:Some people - me included - would probably have reacted badly to being put on the spot like that...

By the way, Why is Aiko telling Shizune about class 3-3's plans? Shizune should know those already, since she's in that class herself.
The actual amount of time Hisao sits there dumbstruck isn't precise, but I imagine it's a while. Aiko has enough time to look around and see what the other four are doing, as well as notice the cafeteria going silent. She expected all of that would happen, but she actually has the chance to really notice it while waiting for his response. I could imagine it taking at least a full minute.

I doubt Hisao was really surprised by the question, but needed the time to take in the situation before responding. I didn't want him to sound uncertain in his response. Aiko realized he'd been just as complicit in their mutual pursuit, and he was probably on the verge of asking the same question. I don't think Hisao would have done so publicly, but after the outburst back during their first lunch together, I think he expected something like that.

The 3-3 thing is a typo, really. More me trying to type fast and just hitting the same number key after the hyphen. I'm an awful typist. Half the corrections I end up going back and finding are stuff like miss-typed keys. I actually had a discussion with my brother the other day about searching through the story to find all the instances of 'mu' and correct them as 'my'. My spell-check doesn't identify 'mu' as a mistake, so I have to look for it manually.

Writing this little response, I've had to go back and correct about 20 different typographical errors; missed capitals, wrong letters, and I'm horrible at hitting shift with 'I' in particular. I think I'd like to learn how to actually type someday, but I've gotten used to my method... bad as it is. You should see my hand when I play WoW... good God, I think I'd make a contortionist faint.

I've already edited this post twice since posting it less than 5 minutes ago.

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Re: Chapter 10 - Making Waves

Post by griffon8 » Sat Jul 21, 2012 4:02 pm

Helbereth wrote:
griffon8 wrote:Hmm, there was a 'to' that should have been a 'too', but I can't find it right now.
A hunting I will go...
Can't find it, even looking at every occurrence of 'to' in the post. Probably my mistake.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/21

Post by Total Destruction » Sat Jul 21, 2012 8:44 pm

Dammit. I'm like halfway through rereading when another chapter is up.

You are some kind of prolific sorcerer.

You also write a Shizune I'd want to punch in the face for being a manipulative bitch, then immediately apologize and and lick her boots.
... Danger.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 7/21

Post by Helbereth » Sat Jul 21, 2012 9:18 pm

Total Destruction wrote:You also write a Shizune I'd want to punch in the face for being a manipulative bitch, then immediately apologize and and lick her boots.
I made sure to make use of that side of her personality to great effect. Things like bumping Misha to stop her from translating when she's being covert and only wants Aiko to understand. The thing is that Aiko respects Shizune, so she doesn't take the challenge lightly - which seems to be part of Shizune's plan as well. Understanding your opponent like Sun Tzu would recommend, and exploiting their knowledge of you.

It's a lot of fun thinking up the best way for her to quickly signal her intent in the middle of a conversation and without it appearing obvious to someone other than Aiko. Even when Hisao can understand sign in their hallyway meeting, he doesn't pick up on the implications of Shizune's casual banning of Aiko from helping with the Tanabata building prep - he doesn't have any reason to think she might be doing anything wrong.

It took a couple rewrites to get all those conversations to flow right. The hallway scene was twice as long before but ended up being less than believable, so I shocked off a whole section where Misha and Hisao actually came back from their huddle and told both Aiko and Shizune directly about Hisao learning sign. Instead they come back and leave Aiko and Shizune to wonder - until Misha kinda blows it when Shizune isn't looking.

I liked that a lot better... it gave me a chance to have Aiko flip on Hisao over something stupid. Put on her murder-face, so to speak, and start planning to bury the body if she doesn't like his answer.

I don't think I'm done having fun with that Shizune thread, either. It's way too much fun to write those covert exchanges - though I'll have to be craftier in the future with Hisao around able to understand sign.

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