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Chapter 21 - Swooners and Crooners (part 1)

Post by Helbereth » Sun Sep 16, 2012 6:50 am

Holy crap this is late! Rumors of my demise were greatly exaggerated. This vexing chapter took far longer than I expected to carve out, and I've had other things (real life) distracting me as well, so its late arrival is somewhat justified.

Also, it ended up being one of the longer chapters at 12,151 words. Feel free to use the break between parts as an intermission. This marks the first time I've used a made-up word as part of a chapter title, and I rather like it, honestly.

Author's note: having nine characters all in one place makes writing a story like this very difficult. In the future, I'll avoid having so many in one place while using the narrow first-person perspective.

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Chapter 21 – Swooners and Crooners

Waking to the sound of rolling waves and the hauntingly sweet smell of some unidentified confection wafting through the air, I feel warm and secure in this strange bed. Hidden under the covers, and stuffed deep within the darkness of the lower bunk, I'm not sure if anyone has even noticed I haven't gotten up yet, but that's fine; I was up late, anyway. Time seems immaterial considering I don't exactly have any obligations for the next couple days; the feeling is quite liberating. Huddling into the blankets deeper, I don't even care if I leave this spot all day.

However, as that smell begins to permeate the air, another sensation creeps over me, that of hunger. Feeling a little betrayed by that most primal of urges, I roll out of my comfortably numb state and flop the blanket off to the side, looking around for a clock. Not finding one, I notice I still have my watch on, and I pull my hand up to read it more closely.

They let me sleep until after ten? I love my friends.

Groggily, and slowly, I pull myself up out of the recesses of the bed and swing my feet out, grinning as I take a deep breath and stretch into a head-clearing yawn. Standing with the stretch, I place my hands on the top bunk and lean backward, practically inverting my spine, then bend down to touch my toes. Giggling as I stand and catch my balance with a few steps forward, I nearly fall onto the twin bed.

Rubbing my eyes as I cross the room to the closet, I realize I still have my khaki shorts and tank-top on from yesterday, but it doesn't matter. With my eyes half-shut, I pick out one of the sun dresses Mom bought for me, lay it out on my bunk, and head for the bathroom to take a nice, hot shower. Letting the warm water relax away the last of whatever worries kept me awake so late last night, I take longer than I normally might, but there's no reason to rush.

After using it to pat myself dry, I wrap the large towel around myself and take another smaller one for my hair. Stepping out into the bedroom, I expect someone, likely Amaya, to be waiting with a scornful look. Upon seeing Hisao sitting on the edge of the twin bed, drowsily reading through a magazine, I yelp and nearly rush back into the bathroom. Stopping mid-stride, I clasp the towel with my hand to ensure it stays up, and clear my throat to indicate I've caught him. Standing like he's set on springs, Hisao looks at me wide-eyed, his cheeks flushed with embarrassment; or maybe something else.

Repress the dirty thoughts!

“Amaya sent me to-” he starts to explain, but stops and shakes his head. “I... uh,” he sputters and chuckles nervously. Settling himself with a breath, he skips the explanation and greets me, “good morning!”

Maintaining my angry look becomes quite difficult when faced with his apologetic eyes; which is helped even more when he spins to avert them. Instead of being outraged, I smile sleepily, still hazy from the shower, and reply, “morning~!”

Hearing the forgiving lilt, he keeps his eyes away and asks, “hungry?”

“I could eat,” I say, still clutching the towel, “still waking up, though.”

“There's coffee and tea ready,” he informs me as I walk across to the dresser. Turning to keep his eyes facing away, he continues, “but it's just the four of us here to enjoy it.”

Based on him saying Amaya sent him, I assume the other two are her and Tadao, but I still ask, “four of us?”

“Amaya and Kenta, actually,” he replies, causing me to stare at him quizzically. Offering a dismissive wave, he heads for the door and turns as he pulls it open to add, “we're out on the deck whenever you're ready.”

I'm not even mildly offended by his veiled peek.

Quickly looking away, he rushes out the door and closes it swiftly. Part of me wants to ask him to stay, the dirty-minded part that often makes me envision all sorts of deviant behavior, but I repress that side of my psyche and reply, loud enough to hear through the door, “alright, I should be out in five.”

Oh the deviant things I had in mind...

After making myself presentable, I head out through the living room and outside to join the other three on the deck. Greeting me with tea and a fresh-baked and buttered croissant, Amaya bursts into laughter as I step outside, but apparently the source is Hisao's bewildered look. Like a good errand boy, I assume she sent him to fetch me for brunch, probably in the hopes of him catching me between dressed states, and now he sits, sipping coffee, shying away from eye contact; maybe he thought I'd get dressed in the bathroom.

I'm actually not mad, though.

Sitting down beside him, I smirk at his reaction and inquire, “you make a habit of invading girls' rooms while they're in the shower~?” Adding an accusatory lilt to my voice seems to make him shift uncomfortably, but I know he can see through my insincere tone.

“I saw nothing,” he states coolly, “though Amaya suggested I join you.”

“Join me?” I prompt, turning my raised eyebrow at Amaya's cracking visage. Whatever intent Hisao may have had with his visit, if what he says is true, there might need to be some shin-kicking in Amaya's future.

She squirms under my gaze and laughs nervously for a second, then holds up the plate of sweet-smelling breads and offers, “croissant?”

Oh no you don't, Little Miss Dirty Mind!

The discomfort around the table is palpable as she and I stare at each-other, this time with at least some actual animosity. Buying me frilly lingerie, I can forgive. Accusing me of unintentionally instigating an intimate encounter, I can deal with. However, straight-out suggesting the consummation of my relationship with Hisao is rather reprehensible; even though I wouldn't be completely against the idea.

“That's a lovely dress,” Kenta compliments, trying to break the tension. “I haven't seen you in a dress since last summer,” he continues, “green with white trim and nice yellow flowers; it looks nice on you! Really highlights your-” He stops and settles into his chair, frowning.

His attempt at levity is short-lived, falling silent when neither of us so much as turn a glance at him. Hisao remains quiet as well, though that might be due to guilt since he did just rat her out; though I'm happy to see he chose being honest with me over protecting my friend's indiscretion. Sitting at the table with my hands firmly against my hips, locking eyes disdainfully with my best friend, we carry on for a few minutes, but eventually something has to give.

Hisao finally speaks, “she was kidding, I'm sure.”

Amaya doesn't budge, but she does manage a small smile accompanied by puppy-dog eyes filled with apology. Looking at her, I realize I'm the one holding the tension, and I really just want to forget about the whole thing. “You're forgiven,” I say, “but try not to be so obvious next time.”

Kenta busts out laughing, apparently noticing my hidden suggestion and finding it hilarious. Hisao seems to realize it as well, but he's already flushed red enough to start a fire, so I think he's suppressing his reaction. Amaya, meanwhile, starts pouring me a cup of tea while a devious smirk spreads across her face; she clearly has plans to do just that.

That kind of tension can wait until after brunch.

The mid-morning sun is warm and inviting, and the gentle breeze brings with it the promise of another calm, seaside day, despite the tense beginning. The surf is less wild than yesterday, today's prevailing wind being much less intense, so it might be a nice day for a swim. Then again, I'm on vacation, and lately I've been associating swimming with regimented exercise, so that might seem like work rather than play. Perhaps in the right company, it could be enjoyable, though. Inspecting my three companions, I think I might make the suggestion after we eat.

Amaya has a her bikini on underneath a thin, white sun-dress with gold trim, so I have no doubt she'd be willing to go for a dip. Kenta is wearing denim shorts and a white t-shirt, resting his feet up on the table as he nibbles on a croissant, apparently content to laze about. Next to me, dressed down as much as I've ever seen him, Hisao wears khaki shorts and a polo shirt, without a sweater-vest to be seen. He seems as surprised as Kenta to see me wearing something so girlish, but when he questions my attire, I retort by inquiring about his socks and sandals combination.

I should have expected that, really.

Asking about the absence of the other five, Amaya mentions that Tadao left with Naoko earlier; some secret mission neither would disclose. There's a hint of jealousy in her tone as she describes their clandestine exit shortly after waking, but I don't think she's really worried. Kenta describes how Shizune and Misha convinced Yoko to go with them to the marina, apparently for another secretive mission. Having thought the secrets would be done with once they got me here, I'm a little disappointed, but, whatever they're planning, it's probably going to be fun.

Speaking of fun, I stand and start helping to clear the table, which Amaya takes as a cue to head inside for a brief chat. Once we've entered the air-conditioned bungalow, she immediately turns to apologize, “sorry about that whole shower thing, I thought it was funny.”

“Don't worry about it,” I retort, “can't say I didn't have similar ideas...”

She laughs hard at that, nearly dropping the plates. Seeing her mischievous expression, I decide to stop her dirty little mind before it can start planning anything. “Just ideas, though,” I tell her, keeping a straight face, “nothing I'd act on.”

“Yeah, right,” she says dismissively.

Deciding not to turn this into another staring contest, I brush past her to the kitchen and set about washing while she does the drying. After a few minutes, I turn and suggest, “how about we go swimming after this.”

“We just ate!” she complains, offering a childishly serious face.

“That's an old wives tale,” I retort, “besides that surf looks inviting.”

“Fine,” she agrees, “I've been meaning to see what he's got under that shirt anyway.”

That catches me off guard. Turning a quizzical look her way, I wonder if she knows about Hisao's scar. Then again, she could just be teasing me since I've basically seen him shirtless almost every day for the past month. Remaining vague, I ask, “why do you say that?”

“Something keeps you chasing after him like a lost puppy,” she says, adding with a lewd smirk, “maybe that box was more fact than fiction.”

Ah, that... She would bring that up.

Unable to stop the hot flush across my cheeks as she brings up the little box I left in my desk, I keep myself busy by repeatedly sponging a dish that was already clean. Squeaking resonates through the kitchen as I repeatedly brush circles around its surface, wearing away the enamel.

“You brought it, right?” she inquires, nearly causing me to drop the dish.

“What?” I prompt, keeping my eyes on the sink.

Flipping the dish towel onto her shoulder she replies, “the box.”

Why would I?

“No, why?” I ask, awkwardly trying to sound innocent.

“You're either very smart or very stupid,” she says, making me turn a bewildered look at her, “don't worry, though, I brought some you could borrow~!”

“Borrow what?” Hisao asks, causing us both to spin around and regard his quizzical expression. Evidently he picked up a few more dishes to bring inside, and we didn't hear him.

Bursting into resounding laughter after a short pause, she leans against the counter-top and nearly falls over. Meanwhile I have a hard time not dropping the dish on the floor as I start laughing nervously.

“Nothing!” I exclaim, probably too forcefully. “Just girl stuff,” I add as a flimsy explanation, “what did you hear?”

He blinks a few times, apparently confused by our suspicious reaction to such a simple question. Amaya finally settles herself and holds up her hands, professing, “tampons~!”

What? Seriously?

Closing my eyes, I start slowly shaking my head as Amaya cracks up again. That may have actually been worse than just telling him about the prophylactics. When I open my eyes again, I can see the shocked expression on Hisao's face, and his following comment comes in a monotone whisper, “oh... sorry I asked.”

That said, he places the plate and teacups he was carrying by the sink, then turns an about face and walks back out to the deck. Neither of us even try to add to the explanation, being too dumbstruck to even thank him for bringing in the dishes. Amaya continues having trouble keeping her composure until he's gone, then she just flops down on the floor laughing hysterically.

“Tampons!?” I blurt, once I'm sure Hisao is out of earshot, “that's the best you could come up with?”

“I'm sorry, I blanked completely!” she says between guffaws, her eyes starting to streak with tears, “would you rather explain Nurse's gift?”

Bowing my head in defeat, I proclaim, “no, probably not. You probably killed any chance of anything happening, now, though.”

Shrugging as she stands, finally regaining muscular control, her face twists into a devious smirk. Before she can put her lewd thought into words, though, the door bursts open and in steps Kenta, saving me from another lascivious suggestion from my increasingly debaucherous friend. Although, if Hisao told him about what we said we were talking about, he might be here to make things worse. Looking at his sarcastic grin, I think I'm right.

“Which one of you should I be avoiding for the next few days?” he asks, narrowing his eyes suspiciously.

Damn you, Kenta!

Though I should probably blame Hisao, who walks in behind Kenta looking a lot more apologetic than when he left; something tells me he didn't exactly intend to say anything. Crossing my arms, I lock eyes with Kenta's ocean-blue irises and exclaim, “you should avoid both of us!”

He takes a step back and holds his hand to his chest, protesting, “moi!? What did I do?”

“You were born, Gimpy~!” Amaya retorts, “that's enough reason!”

Kenta recoils and imitates a shocked expression, still clutching the front of his shirt, and gasps, “I'm hurt!”

“You'll live,” I remark, rolling my eyes, “maybe.”

Deciding we should change the subject before this gets any more embarrassing, I smile and point toward my intrepid cohort. She looks a little confused for a second, until I start to say, “we were thinking of going for a swim.”

“Aren't you supposed to wait a while after eating?” Hisao asks, apparently eager to leave the previous discussion behind.

“And what about your... condition,” Kenta inquires, apparently being less willing to let the conversation die. Seeing all three of us offer him disdainful looks, he amends his inquiry, “er, well...”

Evidently he's at a loss for words, so Hisao helps him out, “it'll take us a while to get changed, right?”

“Unless you wanna go skinny dipping,” Kenta suggests, back to his normal, quick-witted self.

“By all means, Gimpy,” Amaya retorts, “what difference would it really make in your case?”

“Oh the barbs!” Kenta exclaims, spinning and starting to walk toward the bedrooms. Wrapping his hands around the back of his neck, he warns, “I might just decide to wear my banana-hammock!”

“Please, don't,” Amaya says quietly, “seriously~!”

Around twenty minutes later, we're headed out toward the beach in our swim-wear, carrying towels, a cooler filled with soft drinks, and some big umbrellas for shade. Amaya's bright yellow, solid knot bikini is complimented by a purple sarong around her waist, complete with big yellow smiley faces. Meanwhile, my black and white, low-cut, zebra-print bikini is drawing a lot of attention from both boys, despite the white sarong covering my hips.

Amaya hardly seems surprised by their lack of attention toward her, but I honestly don't feel bad. Since I started swimming regularly, I'm actually happy with my curves, and her mournful expression is not going to dampen my mood.

Kenta's leering I could do without, though.

Hisao has his school swim trunks on, apparently not having any other kind of swim-wear, along with a white t-shirt. Kenta has his a black t-shirt slung over his shoulder, but he still has the same pair of denim shorts on; I hope he wasn't serious about the banana-hammock. Though, I doubt Kenta ever planned to go swimming since he has a hard enough time walking.

Once we've got our little temporary beach-camp set up in the sand, which is around twenty feet from the high-tide mark, Amaya tosses the sarong under her towel and dashes off to play hopscotch in the surf, whining, “it's cold!”

“You're not a reptile, you'll adapt!” Kenta remarks, “wait, you're not a reptile, right?”

Turning back to regard him sardonically, she sticks out her tongue and shakes her head playfully before quickly turning back. In her defense, I swat his arm and smirk. He responds by dropping down to sit in the sand, turning his eyes out at the rolling surf, wearing a contemplative expression. Running a hand through his sandy-colored hair, he leans against his good arm, caught in a brief reminder, it seems, that he shouldn't try certain things. In the interest of preserving his dignity, I don't bother pointing out when I see him have these reactions.

It's just not right using it against him like that.

Turning my gaze back out to watch Amaya, catching the rolling waves in her hand and tossing some of the foam back out to sea, I realize she too could potentially have a bad reaction just to the change of temperature. Rarely does she let things like that bother her, though. As much as her epilepsy really is on her mind all the time, she has developed a fairly Devil-may-care attitude when it comes to potential risks. Secretly, I think she's terrified of certain things, like the way she fears fireworks, but she never lets it show through that mischievous smile.

Hisao chose to keep his shirt on, which effectively hides the thin red line separating him from the so-called normal people of the world. Honestly, I don't blame him for wanting to hide it, especially considering he's still getting used to it himself. Looking at me with his warm smile, though it's mixed in with worried eyes, I'm hardly surprised when I see his hand moving up to trace along his sternum. There's a caged-animal quality to his expression, but he also looks determined; I've seen that look before.

Amaya reappears next to me as I apparently let my mind wander a bit while sharing a look with Hisao. Her giddy laughter breaking the spell as she exclaims, “Aiko! Fight the Swooner's powers~! Resist~!”

“What?” I prompt, sounding a little dazed.

Maybe I really am caught in some kind of spell.

She busts out laughing and sinks down to her knees. For a moment, she opens her mouth as if to respond, but just shakes her head and continues laughing, apparently content just to observe my spellbound state. Breaking out of my daze, I sit down next to her and smile up at Hisao, patting the sand, inviting him to sit with the rest of us. Something in his look tells me he intends to be up-front about his scar and his condition, and I'm ready to offer my support.

Taking my cue, he sits down between me and Kenta. Seeing his expression change, now hanging his mouth open as though caught between saying something and keeping a secret, my other two friends turn a quiet gaze at him. Giving him a slight nod, I glance at Kenta, then Amaya, and they both look like they know what's coming.

Deciding, apparently, to rip the band-aid off quickly, Hisao tugs his shirt off and sets it down beside him, puffing his chest out to ensure they notice the scar; though I doubt anyone within two-hundred feet wouldn't notice the surgically straight quarter-inch-wide red line curving ever so slightly as it snakes between his pectoral muscles. Letting out a sigh, he gives them a moment to inspect it, and perhaps wonder, before explaining about his heart attack, the four-month hospital stay, and even the seventeen pills he takes every day to keep his arrhythmia in check.

They've both heard similar tales before; two years at a school for disabled kids numbs you to a lot of medical jargon and related distressing emotions. However, I'm glad to see they're both sympathetic. This isn't just a random student to them; Hisao has become their friend.

“Tough break,” Kenta says after letting Hisao finish his entire explanation. Having been working against his condition since birth, he knows how difficult it is dealing with the associated pratfalls of being different and having physical restrictions. “If you wanna talk about it sometime, lemme know,” he says, pointing at himself with his thumb, “I've got some experience with that kind of stuff.” Assuming a delightfully flat expression, he adds, “no homo.”

Surprisingly, Amaya chirps, “we've all dealt with crap like that for a while.”

Turning a quizzical eye at her, I'm somewhat shocked she's saying anything; usually she clams up when someone starts talking about their condition. Shaking her head at me, she takes a deep, steadying breath and smiles, turning back toward Hisao and explaining, “I was diagnosed with epilepsy when I was five.”

Whoa! Is she having a seizure?

Seeing Kenta, and probably myself, looking at her with shocked expressions, she lets out a nervous giggle and forces a smile. “Tadao convinced me I should be a little more up-front about it,” she explains, her cheeks flushing for a moment as she adds, “don't go blabbering to people, though.”

Hisao already knew about the condition, but, after seeing what it nearly did to her relationship with Tadao, I'm sure he understands this is new territory. He's also smart enough not to let on he was already informed. Shaking his head, he holds up a hand and smiles, replying, “I'll tell no-one.”

Realizing how monumental a change this is in Amaya's behavior, and knowing it's really a positive step, I can't keep the proud smile off my face. Whatever else it may have put them through emotionally, I've found that pushing my mismatched friends together has really been more beneficial than detrimental. Seeing my almost motherly expression, Amaya punches my arm and exclaims, “stop looking so smug~!”

Kenta's nervous laugh breaks into a maniacal guffaw, to which Amaya rolls her eyes and folds her arms. She knows how significant a change it is, though, so she chooses to join in rather than berate him. Hisao seems somewhat relieved, probably because he expected a lot more focus to end up placed on him after telling about his condition.

“I told you they probably wouldn't even care,” I chide, smirking derisively, “are you gonna hide it again when the rest of them get back?”

“Oh my God, wait~!” Amaya suddenly stops her laughter and places a hand on my shoulder to steady herself. Taking a few quick glances between Hisao and I, she lets out a singular, “Ha~!” then closes her eyes and remarks, “so, the Swooner has a broken heart~?”

Cracking up laughing, she falls backward and curls into a fetal position, apparently overwhelmed by the silliness of the realization. Having never really thought of it that way myself, I find the incongruity humorous, but not quite on the same level. Kenta is similarly less fazed by it, but, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, he's shaking his bowed head as his shoulders bob with internal laughs.

After we all calm down, we don't end up swimming at all. Instead, we while away the rest of the morning telling embarrassing stories about our respective childhoods. Mostly Hisao listens, still remaining aloof about most of his past, but there are some topics that pique his interest.

Kenta grew up in the city like Hisao, which I already knew, but I had no idea how much he missed trolling the streets with his friends, and spending an inordinate amount of time at arcades. When he was sent to his first boarding school, at the start of middle school, he turned to online connections, and still maintains friendships with the same group through online gaming. Unlike Kenta, though, Hisao hasn't expressed any interest in reconnecting with his friends. Sharing a quick glance with me, he relates his distress with a simple look; he doesn't want to talk about feeling abandoned.

Feeling a little disappointed, but not surprised, I follow his cue. Changing the subject, I start telling about my late-night excursions tracking down fireflies while my parents thought I was safely asleep. Smiling mischievously, I tell them about the old seaman I met, or found, rather, out in a grassy field lying face-down; a story I still haven't told Mom. “He was passed out drunk, though I didn't quite understand that at the time,” I say, smirking innocently, “I thought he was dead, but I was curious, so I found a stick and-”

“He wasn't dead, right?” Amaya asks, looking shocked; I've never told her this story either.

“Hey, we listened to your tree-climbing story; let her finish!” Kenta scolds her, finishing with a laugh.

Crossing her arms, she sticks her tongue out at him and grunts, “hmph!”

“Anyway!” I continue, rolling my eyes at their exchange, “I started poking his shoulder. After a few solid shoves, he bolted upright and started screaming incoherently, slurring every word.”

Amaya looks relieved, but then screws up her face and asks, “what did you do?”

Laughing, I reply, “what else would a ten-year-old girl do?” Pausing for a second, for dramatic effect, I continue, “I ran away screaming; left the jar on the ground and bolted.” Cracking up laughing, quickly joined by three other voices, I flop down on the towel and let the laughter pour out of me.

After a few minutes, I hear Kenta shuffling a bit and look over to see him regarding me with a questioning look. Seeing my glance, he smirks and inquires, “what happened to the fireflies?”

Sitting up again, I shrug and offer a bewildered smile. “Never saw the jar again,” I explain, “though that wasn't the last time I saw the old man.”

As I'm about to continue the story, I notice Kenta's eyes shift; something behind me caught his eye. Turning, I can see a car in the driveway at the far end of the bungalow; a little blue sedan. Standing, I look over at Amaya, whom I figure might recognize the vehicle, but she shrugs and shakes her head.

All of us standing now, Hisao stretches upward on his toes beside me, making use of his height to see over the brush. “Tadao?” he mumbles, squinting.

Suddenly jealous of his height, I paw his shoulder and try to make myself taller, but it doesn't work. Instead, I sigh and ask, “are you sure?”

“Yeah, and Naoko... and...” he trails off, leaning leans his head forward and squinting; this time in thought. “I think it's her brother,” he says, raising an eyebrow, “I forgot his name-”

“Nobuo!” Kenta exclaims, starting to hobble his way up the sandy hill, “she actually did call him!”

Is that her surprise?

Hisao goes back and grabs his shirt before following us up the beach with Kenta. Catching Naoko's eye before she can run up the stairs, Kenta waves to her. While Tadao leads Nobuo through the kitchen door, both carrying brown paper grocery bags, she runs toward us with a giant smile on her face, signing, [Nobuo owed me a favor~!]

We all stop and let the little ball of energy run up to us, still grinning broadly. Once she's stopped, Kenta replies, [it was just a suggestion!]

For a second, I see her eyes catch something strange and I see a faintly shocked expression appear, but the smile returns quickly, redoubled. A fast glance at Hisao, and I realize he still has his shirt off; she probably saw the scar. He pulls it on quickly, shrugging, then assumes a neutral expression.

Never being one to bother about anything like that, she signs, [he agreed to cook for us and he brought some-] Stopping her signing, she glances at Amaya and I realize she might be looking for approval.

“She called in her brother to cook for us, and,” I say, then look back to Naoko and sign, [and?]

[Wine~!] she replies, [for cooking, and maybe some extra.] She pauses and starts swaying her shoulders for a second, then shrugs and adds, [okay, a lot extra~!]

“He brought wine,” I say, almost frowning, uncertain how Amaya might react.

The bright smile spreading on Amaya's face quickly dispels any thought I might have had about her wanting to follow her aunt's wishes. “Devious~!” she exclaims, practically singing the word, “I approve~!”

Naoko doesn't need a translation for Amaya's exuberant response, instead she bounces where she stands and grins happily. Glancing at Kenta, I get the sense he had something to do with this. “This is your doing, I imagine,” I accuse him, smiling playfully.

“I might have put the idea in her head, but it was really Tadao's-” he starts to reply, but stops himself and glances at Amaya. Shrugging, he lets out a sharp sigh and continues, “he told me there wouldn't be any booze, and I almost didn't come along.”

“You had nothing planned,” I retort. “You just wanna get us drunk and have your way with us!” I accuse him derisively, folding my arms and glowering.

Falling silent, he chuckles and shrugs again, apparently not having an argument; though I'm not sure which accusation is making him feel guilty; perhaps it's both on some level. Seeing him this quiet, maybe he hadn't really thought of it that way until just now. Feeling Hisao's hand come up on my shoulder, I remember it's not just Kenta and myself having this conversation.

“I'm sure his intentions were perfectly innocent,” Hisao says in Kenta's defense, though his tone is no less playful than my own, “besides, it sounds like a good idea.” That earns him an elbow to the side from me, and a dirty look, but I know he's just messing around.

Or is he? Hmm...

Kenta breaks his silence by adding, “see, maybe we'll get that harem going after all!”

Choosing to ignore his lecherous comments, Amaya brushes past Kenta and breaks into a jog headed for the stairs; likely to interrogate Tadao. While she's headed inside, I translate the brief conversation to Naoko, and she promptly directs a sneer at Kenta, but it's short-lived. Spinning and kicking sand at him, she beckons us to follow and heads inside.

Nobuo is already getting settled into the kitchen when we step in, and the bright smile on his otherwise sleepy expression makes me grin in response. Taller than his sister, really by a lot, he isn't wearing a chef's coat this time; opting for a faded blue polo shirt and black slacks. Inspecting the kitchen with his woodsy brown eyes, the delighted smile on his chubby features indicates he likes what he sees.

Glancing around the open areas, I notice Amaya and Tadao are nowhere to be seen. For a second, I wonder what debaucherous thing she might have dragged him away for, but I control the thought; I need to stop thinking such devious thoughts. Kenta heads for the bedrooms almost immediately, and I consider warning him, but I doubt he's any less observant where those two are concerned.

Naoko, meanwhile, waits expectantly for Nobuo to finish looking through the cabinets and testing the facilities. Leaning on her elbows against the island, her cheerful expression is edged with a little bit of anxiety. Whatever Nobuo thinks of the arrangement, she apparently wants him to enjoy the weekend.

Raising an eyebrow, he finally settles his gaze on her and shrugs. His monotone voice is accompanied by similarly drowsy signing, “this'll do.”

Naoko rolls her eyes at his lackadaisical response, but decides not to press him for anything further. Looking at me, she smiles and then glances past me to Hisao, who's inspecting the bags of groceries; though I'm not sure why, really.

Is he as interested in the alcohol as Kenta?

“What're you looking for?” I inquire, causing him to snap a surprised look on me and smirk nervously.

“Just looking,” he explains, “I don't know much about wine, but I'm curious, I guess.” Drawing out one of the bottles, he turns it over in his hands to read the label.

“There'll be plenty left when I'm done,” Nobuo reasons, his voice still in monotone. “I only agreed to this so I'd get some feedback,” he explains, “not so you can get my sister shitfaced.”

His vulgarity is a little surprising, but I notice he doesn't sign it for Naoko, instead substituting for the less antagonistic “drunk.” Evidently he doesn't want her hearing what he really said, and I don't want to seem ungrateful, so I don't mention the difference.

“He'd be getting me drunk, if anything,” I respond, quickly signing it for Naoko.

Hisao looks at me with an odd expression; something like an apology, but closer to shocked. Setting the bottle down beside Naoko, he looks over toward Nobuo and grins sheepishly. “Probably true,” he remarks, smirking at me, “maybe we can get her to sing for us, then.”

Blushing, I roll my eyes. Sometimes I wish he'd never found out I like to sing, but I can't help smiling at the vote of confidence. Still, I can't let him think he has the upper hand.

Feminine wiles, activate!

“Just sing?” I reply, turning my face into a mischievous pout, “nothing else?”

His eyes widen and he chuckles nervously while Nobuo translates for Naoko. Meanwhile, I lean against the counter and aim my considerable cleavage at him, maintaining the pout and adding a sway to my hips. The combination seems to be too much for him, and he turns away. The second he does so, I straighten up and stop swaying.

Naoko rolls her eyes at me and signs, [how long are you going to torture him?]

[I haven't decided,] I reply, giggling.

Hearing my laugh, Hisao turns back around. Still blushing, he protests, [no fair talking about me behind my back!]

“Sorry,” I reply, “just teasing.”

“I'm starting to think Kenta was right,” he comments.

“Right about what?” says a voice from behind me. Turning, I see Amaya and Tadao have emerged from their escapade. His question is accompanied by a derisive smile.

Hisao replies, “Aiko being a temptress.”

“Aren't they all,” Tadao remarks, reflexively pulling away from the oncoming jab to his ribs.

“Okay, for that, I'm gonna go change into something less revealing,” I say, grabbing Amaya's arm and walking toward the bedrooms.

She protests for a second, but, seeing my half-serious expression, she decides to go along with my plan; even turning to stick her tongue out at the boys. “You brought this on yourselves~!” she remarks as we disappear down the hallway.

Once in the bedroom, I head straight for the closet for a white t-shirt and then grab those cut-off jeans from my suitcase. Amaya puts her adorable white and gold sun-dress back on while I slip into the shirt and shorts.
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Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 7:26 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Chapter 21 - Swooners and Crooners (part 2)

Post by Helbereth » Sun Sep 16, 2012 6:51 am

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After we've redressed, Amaya looks at me with a raised eyebrow and smirks. “Y'know, you're an evil genius sometimes,” she remarks.

“Only sometimes?” I reply, faking a hurt expression.

Shrugging, she turns toward the door, but stops when a sudden burst of distinct laughter shakes through the house. Announcing her arrival with a trademark, “Wahaha~!” Misha is apparently back; probably with Shizune and Yoko. Hearing her footsteps headed down the hall, we both stand away from the door, expecting it to burst inward.

Instead, the door opens slightly, and Misha's bright voice inquires, “Are you decent~?”

Almost in unison, we reply, “Yes.”

The door swings open and her bright grin leads as she walks in and heads for her closet-bag. Having noticed a bit of mischief in her expression, I close the door and watch as she starts flipping through her things. Settling on a pink and white one-piece bathing suit, she sets it on her bed and starts undressing. Amaya and I look away, to be polite, and wait. If not for her being practically naked, I would walk right out the door.

She didn't even close the- What if one of the boys walks by...!?

After a minute or so, Misha giggles and mentions, “You don't have to look away, y'know~!”

Neither of us acknowledge that invitation, choosing to continue staring at the closed door. I can't necessarily speak for Amaya, but I'm too modest to go around naked in front of anyone. Misha, apparently, isn't quite so reserved.

Do I find that surprising...? No...

“You can look now~!” she exclaims, her voice maintaining a mocking edge, “You girls up for some fun~?”

Her question seems out of place considering the situation, but I turn around anyway. Now wearing the bathing suit with some khaki shorts, she grins brightly, almost deviously. Whatever she might have planned, her smile is intriguing enough, so I reply, “What do you have in mind?”

“Well, Shicchan wanted to charter a boat for the day, but Yoko-chan convinced her it was a bad idea,” she explains, making me raise an eyebrow.

Nodding, Amaya replies, “Well, that's probably a good thing—Aiko's not great with boats...”

“Wahaha~!” Misha laughs, nodding as she explains, “Yoko said she gets seasick.”

Before Amaya can say anything else that might be embarrassing, I interject, “Yeah, inner-ear deal.” Desiring to get away from that subject, I ask, “So, what's the alternative?”

“A competitive game in which we can all participate~!” Misha announces, which sounds rehearsed, even with the lilt. Holding her hand up victoriously, she finishes with a bouncing flourish, “Volleyball!”

Shizune suggesting a potentially divisive activity...? Sounds about right....

Amaya and I share a quick derisive glance, then I reply, “Well, it sounds better than a boat trip. Why volleyball?”

“Shicchan was unhappy about all the lazing about we did yesterday,” she explains, “besides, it'll give us a chance to jiggle for the boys~!”

I doubt that was part of Shicch- Shizune's plan...

“I'm in,” Amaya says, apparently hooked by that idea. “So's she,” she adds, shoving my shoulder with a balled fist, “there's no way you're backing out, either!”

Sighing a little, I simply nod. Little does she know I have a lot of experience with beach volleyball—not just in video games—though I haven't played in years. Still grinning, Misha leads with her upraised hand and marches out the door. Amaya follows, her steps somewhat springy as she mimics the airy salute. Meanwhile I bring up the rear with my arms folded, shaking my head as I pause to close the door.

Yoko emerges from the room across the hall wearing a dark green t-shirt and black denim shorts with a similarly tentative smile on her face. Our eyes catch for a second, and it seems like we're probably having similar thoughts. Neither of us likely has much enthusiasm for the coming activity, though maybe for different reasons. Still, it's better than spending an afternoon hugging the bow of a little boat, chumming the ocean with my lunch.

Shizune steps out behind her and casts her bobcat grin my way, pulling a white t-shirt on over her black one-piece bathing suit as she goes. [Sleep okay?] she asks, starting down the hallway.

[Yeah, once I could get to sleep,] I reply, following behind.

She nods a little and turns away, heading straight out through the kitchen and onto the deck where the rest of our troop is assembled. Amaya is already walking toward us when we step outside, her face lit up with a disturbingly bright smile. While I'm an excellent swimmer, she's leaps and bounds ahead of me in ground sports; especially tennis, but also other similar sports.

Though I know volleyball much better than she thinks...

“Misha tells me they decided on some ground rules already,” she explains, motioning for me to translate to Shizune. Doing so, I feel a little strange. Usually it's Misha performing this task, but her hands are occupied with a bundle of equipment—a net, poles and a bundle of balls—as she and Hisao start marching down the stairs. Apparently they visited a sporting goods store somewhere nearby, though I'm not sure why they bothered bringing it all up the stairs.

“Where'd the gear come from?” I ask, not really sure to whom I should look for the answer.

“Shed around the side,” Amaya replies, “it's full of stuff like that.”

Shizune smirks at me as I relay the answer and replies, [didn't you survey the surroundings when we arrived?]

[I was a little bit blindfolded,] I complain, shrugging.

She shakes her head and shrugs in response. Perhaps I should have taken a look around instead of lazing about on the patio all afternoon, but, dammit, I'm on vacation. Deciding not to defend myself verbally, I simply follow behind as we head down to the beach. Once there, Misha and the boys set about staking the net in place above the high-tide mark while Yoko and Naoko draw out the boundaries. Meanwhile, Shizune, Amaya and myself figure out the teams and the rules.

Shizune's rules are simple; teams cannot include couples or close friends, and are to be made as evenly matched as possible. That means Hisao and I can't be on the same team, and neither can Amaya and Tadao, but it also separates Shizune and Misha. Playing to fifteen points with the ball being kept as long as a team continues to score, Shizune wants good teamwork to be awarded with an advantage.

Kenta bows out to prevent upsetting the team balance, instead deciding to serve as referee; we all know it's because he's not great on his feet due to his condition, but nobody holds it against him. Considering the other rather arbitrary rules, we conclude that the first team will consist of Hisao, Amaya, Yoko and Shizune while my team would include Tadao, Misha, Naoko and myself. All we really have left to decide are the team names, though I don't think I'll get much say in those decisions.

“We'll be the Swooners~!” Amaya blurts, slapping Hisao on the shoulder in response to Shizune's question.

Translating the name for her, I offer a roll of my eyes but she smiles and replies with an affirming nod. Meanwhile, Kenta shuffles over from his spot by one of the poles and smirks at me as he suggests, “Well, if they're the Swooners because of Hisao, then you four should be the Crooners, for Aiko.”

Amaya claps her hands giddily and nods emphatically, “For once, I agree with the Elf-Lord~!”

As I suspected, neither of them chooses to consult me on the matter, but I don't really mind. Either way, with the team names and members decided, the boundaries marked, and the net set, there's just one last detail anyone needs to bring up: the stakes. Considering this was all Shizune's idea, we'll definitely be playing for stakes of some kind, and I have no doubt she has something particularly devious in mind.

Now that Misha is free to translate, I turn a curious eye toward Shizune and innocently inquire, “So, what are we competing for?”

Before Misha even finishes signing my question, Shizune is grinning her bobcat grin and leaning back, pushing her glasses up with one hand while the other rests against her hip. Seeing that look confirms my assumption about the deviousness of her plot, and as I consider the way we set up teams, I'm sure that will be a contributing factor. After a few seconds of anticipatory silence, she locks a stern gaze that hovers across the whole group, holding us in suspense.

Finally, she stops the dramatic pause and starts signing, [The losing team must do whatever the winners want for the rest of the day. They will effectively become indentured slaves at the beck and call of the winning team.]

I like these deliciously devious stakes...

For a moment, nobody quite understands, but then the idea sinks in; especially after Misha translates verbally for Amaya and Yoko. The exact limit of the bargain isn't described, so it seems Shizune doesn't mean there to be one. No matter which team wins, half of us will be doomed to perform whatever degenerate, indecent, or downright vulgar acts the victors see fit—a potentially merciless situation. The prospect is daunting, and the majority of the group looks a little pale, but nobody is protesting.

How much do they trust their friends, I wonder...

Unsurprisingly, the first one to respond is Kenta, who shrugs and laments, “Of course! Now that there's a chance of getting that harem, I'm on the sidelines.”

Watching him walk away dejectedly and slump down in the wicker chair he carried over from the patio, I try to cheer him up by mentioning, “You get to watch the whole thing, though.”

Waving a disgusted hand at me, he folds his arms and looks away. His reaction is probably mostly bluster, but it likely comes from being genuinely hurt by the idea of missing out. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yoko turns a sympathetic stare toward him, though I'm not sure if she's sad because he's being left out, or because she wanted him to be included for her own selfish reasons—it's probably a little of both.

I'm looking forward to having Hisao as my slave...

Before his reaction can dampen the mood, Amaya chirps, “Excellent~! Always wanted a slave for a day...”

Tadao groans, “How is that any different from-” An elbow in his ribs stops his comment.

The only other rule Shizune sets forth before we start the game seems peculiar, but somehow appropriate: no spiking. As we take positions on either side of the net and decide a serving order, I ponder whether Shizune knows about Hisao's heart condition. Obviously a fast-moving ball could cause him some heart trouble if it landed just right, but he's embarrassed to tell anyone about his condition, so I'm not sure how she could have found out. Thinking rationally, I know she sees all the attendance records as part of her Student Council duties, and she's probably privy to limited, pertinent medical information—so she understands when someone's absence if for medical reasons.

However, I wonder why she would have looked at his records; he so far hasn't been absent under her watch. They do work together almost every day, though, so it might have come up conversationally—I could see Misha blundering into that question. Then again, considering everyone here is at least partially disabled in some way, it might be more of a blanket statement. It's also possible she just wants to avoid getting pelted in the face by a rubber ball. Either way, nobody disagrees, and Hisao visibly relaxes at knowing there's one less thing to worry about. Whatever reason Shizune has for the rule, I'm glad for the relief it brought him.

Having four on each team, we place two in the front row and two in the rear, circling counter-clockwise each time there's a turnover. The rear right position being that of the server; which I have the privilege of being placed in first. Tadao stands directly in front of me with Naoko to his left, making up the front line, while Misha digs in on my left. Meanwhile, Hisao commands the serving position for the Swooners, with Shizune and Yoko in front and Amaya beside. There's a bit more enthusiasm among some of us, but, with the stakes set out, and the potential humiliation involved with losing, nobody is looking distracted, even though Kenta is trying like hell to make himself an obstruction.

Leaning heavily against the pole on my right, his leery expression floats around, landing on each of the girls and staying there for a few long moments. With all of us opting to wear swimming attire, most of which with very little supplemental clothing, I don't think he really regrets staying on the sidelines. When his eyes land on Yoko, she blushes for a moment, then starts pulling her t-shirt down. For a moment I think she's just being bashful, but then she clamps the lower half together and ties it in a quick knot, which leaves her waist bare.

In response, Kenta whistles loudly and starts slapping the pole with his palm as he cheers, "Thank God for hot days, and-" stopping as Shizune directs a disdainful sneer at him. Straightening his face, he stops his pole-beating and turns a sheepish smirk at her as he inquires, [So, how do we decide first serve?]

“Coin toss~!” Misha bellows before Shizune can answer. Bounding toward Kenta, she reaches into her tight-fitting pocket and produces a silver coin, holding it out for him to inspect.

Rolling it over in his hand a few times, he holds it up and explains, “Okay, this is heads,” then rolls it over before adding, “And this is tails.”

Everyone nods in agreement, so he grins and looks to me. “Aiko,” he beckons, flicking the coin into the air, “call it!”

“Tails~!” I reply, watching the coin catch the sunlight as it flips through the breeze and falls to the sand with a soft thump.

“Tails it is,” Kenta remarks, picking up the coin, “Aiko decides who serves.”

For whatever reason, I want to watch Hisao serve, so I reply, “We defer to the Swooners.”

I might not be thinking strategically...

“Saw that coming,” Amaya groans.

Kenta tosses the ball to Hisao and steps back to sit in his little wicker chair, all the while watching Yoko dig into position—it's like she's the only girl here all of a sudden. Meanwhile, Misha returns to her spot, and silence settles over us as each team shares a few determined glances. Taking his time, Hisao surveys the field and finally centers his gaze on Misha, whom I suspect he thinks might be the weak link. Launching the ball skyward, he bats it on a rather direct trajectory, streaking straight at my pink-haired teammate.

Misha, being much more agile than she often seems, deflects the ball with ease, sending it in a lofty arc toward Tadao. His eyes follow it and he prepares to knock it back into Swooner territory, but Naoko signals her intent and he steps back to give her the opening. Leaping, she hammers the ball toward the back row where Amaya barely manages to get a hand on it, diving into the sand and sending the ball at an awkward angle toward Shizune.

Deflecting it deftly, Shizune's strike sends the ball skyward, though it loses most of its momentum. As it drifts toward Yoko, she sees it coming and a huge smile spreads across her lips. Leaping gracefully, she heels the ball as it drops, sending it toward an empty spot between the four Crooners, but Tadao's reach and proximity thwarts her attempt. Bouncing downward from his outstretched hand, the ball streaks over the net and arcing downward, landing just inches in front of Amaya's reaching hands as she skids to a halt face down in the sand.

“Dammit~!” she yells, leaping up on her knees and grabbing the ball before it skitters off down the beach, “You did that on purpose, String-Bean~!”

Tadao smirks and looks back toward me, nodding at her accusation. Smirking generously, he whispers, "If she were just a few inches taller, am I right?"

Unaware of his comment, Kenta calls out, “Point, Crooners!”

Tossing the ball over to me, Amaya huffs, “This'll be the last time you lead~!”

“We'll see about that~!” I taunt, catching the ball and nodding toward Naoko. She takes a few steps back in response and I take aim at my feint target, Shizune. The fake-out works, and when the ball sails over at Yoko, she's unprepared. Leaping to get a hand on it, the awkward spin causes it to deflect off of Amaya's flailing hand, and Hisao can't get to the wild ball before it drops into the sand.

“Crooners up two!” Kenta exclaims as Hisao chases the ball toward the surf.

Amaya turns a disdainful look on Kenta, but keeps her frustrations silent. When Hisao returns with the ball, he nods toward Kenta and tosses it over to Misha. Rotating forward, I take Tadao's position while he moves to Naoko's spot and she heads back to Misha's former position. Misha grins giddily as she narrows her eyes to pick a target, sending the ball floating toward Hisao with the heel of an underhanded strike.

The game continues on as both teams score points and Kenta keeps making colorful commentary—some of which has nothing to do with the game, and earns him more than a few dirty looks from the girls. It's all in good fun, though. With the game going until one team scores fifteen points, there's plenty of time for taunting and bickering, though strangely Shizune and Amaya are getting along surprisingly well; the spirit of teamwork is getting the better of them, I suspect.

With the score tied at eight, Amaya steps up to serve, and I imagine she's aiming at me again—she still isn't convinced I know what I'm doing. Although she attempts the feint, looking toward Naoko, I can tell from her repeated glances that the ball will be sailing my way. Tossing the ball up and leaping to hammer it as it falls, her aim is as predictable as the tongue sticking out of her mouth, and I deftly swat the ball upward toward Misha.

Giggling, her pink drills sailing wildly, she leaps up to meet the ball and punches it with the heel of her hand, sending it darting downward toward Yoko; we've discovered through trial and error that she's the least adept at this game among the Swooners, despite her exceptional footwork. This time she manages to deflect the ball gracefully, setting up Shizune for another volley. Her face edged with glee, Shizune redirects the ball across the net and toward an empty space between Tadao and myself.

Diving down into the sand, Tadao pushes the ball up into a slight arc toward me, and I bounce it into the air, giving him time to recover. Falling toward Naoko, the ball cuts a line through the air and I see Hisao standing at the net, ready to deflect Naoko's impending volley. She notices his intent, but her stature makes changing her target difficult, so she opts to launch the ball skyward over the net rather than risk a hasty ricochet.

Amaya is there to punt the ball back toward Hisao, and he backs away to prepare for an empowered strike. Catching the ball with the heel of his fist as it drops, he sends it blazing over the net, clipping the top and arcing downward, straight at Tadao. Responding with a grunt, he balls his fists and volleys, but the amount of power behind Hisao's blow causes the ball to bounce much harder than Tadao predicted. Sailing skyward, it arcs out toward the surf, and I give it chase, but the wet sand claims it before I can even get close.

“Point Swooners!” Kenta bellows.

As I'm dipping down to grab the ball, I can hear slapping hands; high-fives all around for the Swooners. Looking back with a derisive smirk, I angle a glare at Amaya and toss her the ball, remarking, “Finally took that lead you promised~!”

“I plan to keep it,” she replies, pointing toward Tadao. “There's no way I'm becoming someone's slave~!”

“Hey can we take a breather?” Hisao asks, looking a little ragged.

A few frustrated glares turn his way, but Kenta quiets them. “You wouldn't want your slaves passing out, would you?” he asks, smirking and crossing his arms, “We should go see why Nobuo isn't out here, anyway.”

[He's probably asleep,] Naoko comments, heading toward the bungalow.

Kenta follows her along with Yoko while the remainder walk over and sit down under the umbrellas we had set up earlier. Hisao sits down next to me, still looking a little flustered; I worry he might be pushing himself a little too much to save face. Regardless of how much the daily swims help strengthen his heart, it can still just decide to start beating erratically if he strains himself.

Instead of saying anything about that, I take his hand and lean against him, whispering, “Having fun?”

“Yeah, actually,” he replies, sighing as he falls back to lay down in the sand.

Rolling over on my stomach, I lay down next to him and sit up on my elbows. Looking at him sidelong, I compliment, “You're not too bad at volleyball.”

“Really?” he replies, shaking his head, “I've been faking it the whole time... You're the one who seems to know what she's doing.”

Smirking at the compliment, I mention, “Well, I did play this game a lot years ago, but not so much lately...”

Nodding, he closes his eyes and smiles inwardly. Letting him rest for a while, I lay down with my chin on my arms and close my eyes. The warm breeze floating across the beach has a soothing effect on the muscles I've been straining to keep up with the game; I'm not used to darting around chasing a ball. My shoulder has been aching almost since that first serve, but I'm not about to admit any kind of discomfort—it might seem like a sympathy strategy.

After a few minutes of rest, I open my eyes and look over at Hisao. Still lying there, the ragged look he had when we sat down has left, replaced with something more serene. Curious about the change, I inquire, “What're you so happy about?”

“Well,” he says, keeping his eyes closed, “if we win, what will that mean about your years of experience.”

“You're not gonna find out!” I retort, reaching over to swat his shoulder, “Don't get cocky just 'cause your team is leading!”

“Oh, really? And who was the cocky one for the entire first half of the game?” he questions, turning a mocking smile at me. Glancing toward his tiny teammate, he inquires, “Amaya, wasn't she the one taunting us the whole time?”

Amaya looks away from her written conversation with Shizune, something I can only imagine is a strategy meeting, and responds, “Ever since the first play of the game.”

“I have not!” I protest, sitting up on my knees, “I was just calling things how I saw them.”

“That's my job,” Kenta chimes in, shooting me a sarcastic grin. Evidently they've returned without Nobuo.

“Oh I see how it is; everyone dump on Aiko,” I say, standing and folding my arms. “Well, we'll see who ends up being the slaves~!”

Marching back over to the net, I glance over toward the group and give a nod, indicating the break is over. Standing and dusting themselves off, they get back into their positions, Amaya palming the ball. Tossing it to Yoko so she can serve, I catch a narrowed look from Amaya as she whispers something in her ear. Yoko nods and stretches her arms, ball in hand, and smirks at me; I get the sense Amaya's plan is to work on wearing me out. Looking over at Shizune, I see her face is lit up with that bobcat grin, confirming my suspicion—this second half will be a trial.

Two can play this psychological game...

“Don't let her tell you what to do,” I advise, trying to break Yoko's concentration.

Hefting the ball up with one hand, she belts it like a tee-ball, sending it sailing toward me with an awkward horizontal spin. Angling my hand to counter the spin, I barely manage deflect the serve upward toward Naoko—so much for psyching her out. Naoko quickly spots the ball and waves to indicate she's ready, then bounces it skyward toward Tadao, our resident return expert.

Batting it with the palm of his hand, he sends it sailing downward over the net, toward Amaya. Quickly reacting, her palms come up and send the ball into the air backward toward Shizune. Pressing it forward and upward, Shizune sets up Hisao, who pummels the ball with a waiting fist, sending it rocketing toward me once again, but I'm ready. With my fingers laced together, I deflect the ball upward, taking away most of its momentum with the soft impact.

Watching it fly skyward, Tadao calls out, “I got it!” and proceeds to slap it down, again toward Amaya—his favorite target.

She darts forward to get a hand under the rubber bullet, but its trajectory and spin sends the ball sailing over Kenta's head and away into the tall grass above the water line. Almost before the ball hits the ground, the four of us are meeting in the middle for a four-way high-five—or high twenty, as it were. Meanwhile, Amaya leaps to her feet and directs a seething glare at us, though it's aimed more directly at Tadao.

“Dammit, Tadao!” she bellows, stomping up the beach to fetch the ball, "Of all the- God damn! Son of a-"

As her words turn into an incoherent grumble, Tadao replies, “What can I say, I like the idea of having a slave!”

“Hey, speaking of slaves, where's Nobuo?” Yoko asks wryly, directing the question toward Naoko.

Tadao moves to translate, but has to stop and protect his midsection from the rubber projectile aimed at his family jewels. Instead of glaring at her, he just laughs, but since they're busy quarreling I decide to translate for Naoko. [We're wondering what happened to your slave of a brother,] I state, pointing over my shoulder, [Or Yoko was, at least.]

[He's not my slave,] she protests, shrugging noncommittally, [He's kinda hapless and lonely, though. He didn't want to spend the day meeting family without his ex...]

“Kinda sad, really,” Kenta comments, picking up where she left off, “He's in there taking a nap... he didn't even flinch when I said there's a half dozen half naked girls playing volleyball on the beach...”

"Did you mention one of them was his sister?" Hisao asks with a raised eyebrow.

"Dude, I have two sisters," Kenta counters with a devious smirk, "the best part about having a sister is ogling their scantily clad friends!"

Rolling my eyes, I request, "Okay, can we get off this topic and get on with the game?"

“Right, your serve,” Hisao agrees, smirking at me. As he heads back to his position, he rallies his team with a few claps and cheers, "Let's go, guys! We have a lead to regain! Aiko's serving, so put on your kid gloves!"

Tossing the ball to me, Tadao requests, “Let's make him eat those words.”

“Count on it!” I reply as I move into the server's position.

Surveying the Swooners, I look toward each one individually before settling on Yoko. Her being in the front row makes aiming at her difficult, but she moved back a few paces in anticipation of my serve. Normally I'd try to fake out my target by looking elsewhere, but they're probably predicting that by now, so instead I look straight at her. She hunkers down and gets ready to spring while the other three squint at me expectantly, all probably predicting that they'll be my actual target.

Holding the ball low in preparation for an underhanded serve, I wind up and send a streaking white missile toward Yoko, not expecting Tadao to move at just the wrong moment. His blunder places his head perfectly in line with the ball's trajectory, and I can only watch and grit my teeth as a comically loud thump indicates the impact, sending him lurching forward.

“Oomph!” he groans, dropping down on one knee.

Did that really just happen...?

Slapping both hands over my mouth, I let out a stifled yelp and take a few steps forward. “Oh... crap! I'm sorry!” I yell in a pleading tone, “Are... are you alright?”

Snapping around to face me, he's smiling broadly, though his hand is firmly pressed at the base of his skull. “I'll be fine, where's the ball?” he asks, turning toward Kenta, “And does that count?”

Kenta is too busy laughing to reply, but Shizune seems to have some idea. [I'd call that a false start, but wouldn't count it as a point,] she signs, then looks at me and grins, [Try not to forfeit the game by knocking out one of your own players.]

Gaining some semblance of control over his laughter, Kenta adds, “Yeah, you don't wanna end up with me subbing for Tadao!”

“As much as I'd like to win, try not to kill my man, there, Swimderella,” Amaya taunts.

Swimderella...? That's a new one...

Retaking our positions after Tadao gives another nod, I serve again, this time over Tadao instead of through him. Despite being shaken up by the fumble, I quickly get my game face back, and the score board continues to climb incrementally for both teams. Continuing back and forth, the game reaches another tie at twelve. Still keeping to their apparent plan to force me into plays, most of their serves come my way, and I've had to use every trick I know to counter their volleys. Meanwhile my shoulder feels half-dead—I'm starting to think I pulled something.

The Swooners keep ahead, but me and my Crooners continually catch up, until finally we're tied at fourteen. Tossing the ball to Amaya, Kenta advises, “This will be game point, so make it count!”

Leering at me snidely, Amaya yells, “I can't wait to start ordering you around~!”

“Don't get your hopes up, Small Fry,” I retort, “the game isn't over yet!”

“It's about to be~!” she taunts, tossing the ball up and battering it toward Naoko—a surprising change in tactics.

Naoko isn't caught unaware by any means, easily deflecting the ball skyward in my direction. Misha laughs, “Wahaha~!” as the ball sails down and I give her a nod. She moves forward as I punt the ball in her direction and she leaps to send it sailing fast and hard into Swooner territory, where it's deflected by Shizune.

Yoko is there to send it skyward again, down toward Hisao. His typical forward thrust sends the ball streaking toward Tadao, who defiantly palms the ball, sending it sailing back over the net toward Amaya. She launches the ball toward Shizune, who deflects the ball into an arc toward an empty spot in our back row. Misha dives and gets her hands under it, sending it toward Naoko, who launches it into the air.

As Misha stands, I watch Tadao preparing to batter the ball back over the net, and I can see his intended target, Yoko, stepping back to put some distance between her and the impending rocket. Her feet firmly planted, she almost looks feral as the ball streaks down at her, but the amount of force in the strike causes her to overbalance as it deflects off her hand, headed skyward.

Falling backward, she stumbles and yelps, backpedaling out of control. Hisao is too busy watching the ball to see her coming, so when she plows into him, he's caught completely by surprise. Falling over in a heap, Yoko's shoulder slams into Hisao's chest as they land, and I hear him grunt painfully as the ball drops into the sand beside them.

“Point Crooners!” Kenta calls out, “Crooners win!”

A chorus of cheers follow from my teammates, but I'm too busy running over to Hisao to join the celebration—that hit didn't look good. Yoko looks a little dazed as she rolls away and sits up, but Hisao is positively beside himself. His eyes are wide with pain or fear and he's clutching at his chest as his face turns bright red. Having seen him fake this before, there's a moment where I'm almost ready to mock him, but this is different.

He's not joking this time...!

“Hisao!” I yell, louder than I probably should as I drop to my knees beside him, and start cradling his head.

His eyes slam shut and seem to turn toward me, but his reaction is otherwise neutral. My hand across his back can feel the erratic pounding of his heart, and it's much quicker and harder than I'd ever noticed. A sinking feeling creeps over me, and it's accompanied by more than concern. My mouth is dry, my lungs are strained and I'm on the verge of tears just seeing him like this; I don't want to see this.

I don't ever want to see this.

Whatever else Hisao might mean to me, I never want to see someone I care for in pain, especially not this kind of pain, but, right now, he doesn't need me to start blubbering or screaming. I need to focus. I need to stay calm. I need to not panic. Hisao needs me to remain clear, calm and collected. I took a CPR class, so I know what to do if his heart stops, I think. Amaya was there; she probably remembers, and can probably help.

Do I even remember...?

Realizing his heart hasn't stopped, I shove those thoughts aside and concentrate on keeping my face from looking panicked—I don't think I'm being particularly successful. Failing that, I choose to at least keep my voice calm as I lean forward and whisper, “Are you alright?”

Having absolutely no idea what to do, his complete lack of a response causes my insides to tie in knots. The panicking feeling begins to overtake me, but I fight it and look up toward Tadao. Apparently no less concerned than myself, his grim expression is accompanied by six others. Yoko looks worst of all, probably feeling guilty for having triggered the attack, but I can deal with that later.

“What's wrong?” someone asks, my mind too addled to identify who's talking.

Hisao nudges me and takes a deep breath, then another. His eyes open and look at me pleadingly. Getting the sense he doesn't really want to have people find out like this, I decide this is no time for foolish pride. “He has a heart condition—arrhythmia,” I explain in a surprisingly calm voice, “getting knocked in the chest like that can cause problems.”

Yoko looks at me apologetically, her face as pale as the morning before Tanabata. Backing away, she gets all the way around behind Naoko before I realize I'm giving her a disdainful look. Straightening my face into something less threatening, I feel bewildered by my own reaction; it's not her fault, really. Her losing her balance and falling against him was an accident, so there's really no sense blaming her.

But this is Hisao and he's... I... Dammit...!

“Should we call emergency?” I hear Kenta ask, and I'm about to agree with him. Hisao continues his heavy breathing and I look back at him, scanning my eyes over his reddened expression, looking for a hint of what he's going through. Neither of us probably has any real idea what to do, even if we do know CPR, and, at some point, it's just being irresponsible not to call for help.

Hisao protests with a hand on my arm, tugging me toward him and huffing, “No!”

Elated that he finally said something, I smile, but quickly frown. “Are you sure?” I ask, wondering whether he's just trying to salvage his pride, “You don't look that great...”

Still clutching at his chest, he gasps for air and closes his eyes, steadying his quickened breaths. As he continues breathing deeply, the redness of his face begins to dissipate, and I can feel his heartbeat start to calm. Holding up a hand to ward off our concerns—similar to when he's finished his laps in the pool—we give him the time to calm down and regain control over his breathing. Crouching beside him, Shizune places her hand on his opposite shoulder and shakes her head at him, looking as apologetic as Yoko.

[Had I known this could happen, I would have chosen a less boisterous activity,] she remarks, turning her uncharacteristically sympathetic expression toward me, [Why didn't you say anything?]

“She's not to blame either,” Hisao forces out between breaths. Still not quite recovered, he turns a loving look my way and smiles, reassuring me, “She's been protecting my pride for a while.”

“She has a habit of doing that,” Kenta remarks, “good intentions and all...”

[Are you sure you don't want to see a doctor?] Shizune asks, standing up and nodding toward Misha.

“I think I'm fine,” he says, taking one last big breath, “just got the wind knocked out of me, and-”

“You missed the ball~!” Amaya remarks, trying to lighten the mood, “but I'll forgive you... eventually.”

Hisao raises an eyebrow at her and retorts, “you didn't get it either.”

“Rude!” she balks, crossing her arms, “you just want all the girls falling over you~!”

“I didn't-” Yoko protests, looking shyly at the ground, blushing fiercely, “I didn't do it on purpose!”

Looking toward Yoko, Hisao offers a kind smile and reaches his hand up for her to take. “No worries,” he says, assuring the petrified girl he doesn't hold it against her, “I zigged when I should have zagged.”

Blushing slightly, she helps him up and quickly retracts her hand, looking toward me with an apology written in her eyes. Not to be outdone, I stand and offer, “Sorry, I got a little over-protective, I guess. Tadao had more to do with it than you did.”

My accusation doesn't go unnoticed as Tadao turns a playful glare on me and retorts, “Hey, I earned us four slaves with that maneuver!” The Swooners let out a collective groan at the reminder; minus Shizune of course.

Yoko smiles lightly as Naoko grabs her hand and starts leading her toward the bungalow. “I'm doomed!” she proclaims, giggling as she's led to whatever task her little green-haired friend has in mind. Seeing her recover so quickly makes me smile despite the circumstances.

Shrugging, Amaya nods and looks toward Tadao and rolls her eyes. “So, Master,” she says, emphasizing his new title, “What would you have me do?”

“Make me a sandwich,” he replies quickly.

That's all he had planned...?

“You will feed it to me under the shade of yonder umbrella!” he adds, pointing toward the patio.

Ah, well, that makes more sense...

“I'll feed it to ya, alright~!” she balks, turning to head inside.

“Fetch me my hat as well,” Tadao calls after her, “this sun is somewhat of a bother...”

Amaya waves over her shoulder, but says nothing in response. Regardless of the outcome, she's never been one to welsh on a bet, and I think she might actually enjoy being Tadao's slave.

As for Hisao...

Squeezing my hand, Hisao comments, “I guess I'm your slave now, too.”

“Technically,” Tadao says with a smirk, “they're all our slaves.”

Misha chirps, “Yep~! Shicchan didn't specify who would be who's slave, so-”

“This one's mine!” I claim, grabbing Hisao's shoulder.

“Wahaha~!” she replies, leaning toward Shizune, “We know~!”

Shizune sighs and rolls her eyes, frowning at Hisao and signing, [Count yourself lucky we weren't on opposing teams.]

Standing, he grins and waves dismissively, then replies, [Whatever you might have had planned couldn't be worse than building those stalls.]

Smirking derisively, she starts walking by, swaying her hips playfully, and signing, [You'll never know.]

What the hell was that...?

Hisao's eyes follow her as she walks by, and his gaping expression is all the response I need to justify elbowing his ribs. Coughing, he looks at me sheepishly and glances toward Misha, who hasn't yet followed her friend. Looking Hisao over, she smirks and shakes her head, saying, “Not gonna say it~! Wahaha~!”

Brushing past him, she follows after Shizune, giggling the whole way. Tadao and Kenta follow after them at a leisurely pace, leaving us standing on the beach. After a few seconds, he leans toward me and kisses my cheek. Turning a raised eyebrow at him, I balk, “I didn't ask you to kiss me, Slave!”

“Sorry, Master,” he replies, “I wanted to thank you for your concern...”

Laughing at his use of such a title for me, I wrap my arm around his back and lean against him in a side-hug. “I was just worried you would have to welsh on the bet~!” I retort, looking at him mischievously, “I have some things planned.”

“Yes, Master,” he replies, nodding stiffly.

Still uncertain exactly how much he's recovered from the spill, and the ensuing attack, I'm tentative about being too elaborate with my demands. However, there's a pain in my shoulder I'm sure he could help do away with, and that's just for starters. Smiling at his compliant attitude, I start walking us back toward the bungalow, my head full of ideas.

I think I'm going to enjoy this...

Previous Chapter|Part 1|Next Chapter

This is the place where you go to read my final thoughts after the chapter; if you haven't read it yet, don't be a dumb-ass.
Sending most of the characters away for the first half of the chapter reduced the amount of interplay required, and allowed me to focus on nurturing the relationship between Aiko and Amaya, as well as having some interesting moments with Hisao and Kenta.

Going through a whole volleyball game without having Hisao on the verge of a coronary just wasn't going to happen. I really hope the details of the game came through, since I was in my own head, watching, practically being the game announcer as I wrote. Focusing on the key plays rather than relaying every pointless detail is what i planned to do; and I'd like to extend a vestigial apology to Erik Zelinski, who was the victim of my serving blunder upon which Aiko's is based (that's gotta hurt).

Slavery is back and better than ever!
Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 10:12 pm, edited 7 times in total.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 8/29

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Sun Sep 16, 2012 9:22 am

Oh, looks like I'm the first reader. Cool beans. First up; I loved reading the volleyball scene. Many fond memories of volleyball for me; mostly being roped into it in highschool and discovering I had a talent for it. The interplay between the characters during it all was very interesting. And oh man, Misha stripping, ha! Haha! Hahahahaha- I'll stop. It's just that she did it so casually, and so soon after being conservative enough to ask if Aiko and Amaya were decent. Again, I like how Shizune has so much more personality in this, it's refreshing. Although, I must admit I had forgotten who Nobuo was at first. Been a while since I last read about him. I'll remember to reread the lost next time a chapter comes out. Overall, a good read. Nice work.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 8/29

Post by griffon8 » Sun Sep 16, 2012 10:36 pm

BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Oh, looks like I'm the first reader.
That's because nobody is expecting an actual update here—the thread title wasn't updated. So I was very surprised to find an actual update here. Beyond happy to see a long-awaited update of course.

The volleyball game worked well. Good that you didn't detail every point.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 8/29

Post by Helbereth » Mon Sep 17, 2012 12:20 am

BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:First up; I loved reading the volleyball scene. Many fond memories of volleyball for me; mostly being roped into it in highschool and discovering I had a talent for it.
Yeah, I haven't played in about 15 years and I actually didn't refresh my memory with Google or a video search. It was one of the few activities in the gym curriculum I enjoyed.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:And oh man, Misha stripping, ha! Haha! Hahahahaha- I'll stop. It's just that she did it so casually, and so soon after being conservative enough to ask if Aiko and Amaya were decent.
It's courtesy, I think, making her stop and ask before entering. She never seemed like the sort to be skittish about stripping in front of other girls, though. You can blame Doomish a little for that bit of influence on her character, partially, but it fit into her exuberant personae.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Again, I like how Shizune has so much more personality in this, it's refreshing.
I do try. She and Misha are the only two primary characters that regularly appear (apart from Hisao), so I make use of them to their fullest whenever they're around. I'm of the camp that thinks Shizune is one of the more complete characters, and I like portraying all sides of her sometimes abrasive personality.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Although, I must admit I had forgotten who Nobuo was at first. Been a while since I last read about him. I'll remember to reread the lost next time a chapter comes out.
Nobuo only appeared briefly during the Tanabata chapter; working the rice and dumplings booth behind his sister Naoko. His unnamed girlfriend dumping him just prior sets up Naoko to be filling in at the booth, which results in a pretense for Aiko extending an invite for the weekend, and also causes Naoko to extend the invite to her love-lorn brother; with the pretense of bringing alcohol to the party. Most of the reasons why are really between him and Naoko, out of Aiko's purview, and thus his presence is somewhat of a mystery to her.
griffon8 wrote:That's because nobody is expecting an actual update here—the thread title wasn't updated.
Whoops... one little detail. Fixed.
griffon8 wrote:The volleyball game worked well. Good that you didn't detail every point.
That would have been incredibly long and ultimately pointless. Even with the sections I actually told, I was worried about taking too long.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Mirage_GSM » Mon Sep 17, 2012 8:20 am

Having nine characters all in one place makes writing a story like this very difficult.
Tell me about it...
Something om his look tells me...
I think you meant to type "in"
“A competitive game we can all participate in,” Misha replies, which sounds rehearsed. She even holds up a finger as she finishes the thought, “volleyball.”
All except for Hisao...
Hmm, seems he's playing anyway without regard for potentially lethal consequences.
Not sure what "spiking" is, but volleyball is probably still quite dangerous for him without it.
Falling over in a heap, Yoko's shoulder slams into Hisao's chest as they land,...
Called it!
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:03 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:Not sure what "spiking" is, but volleyball is probably still quite dangerous for him without it.
It's one of the main "shots" of volleyball. It pretty much consists of hi-fiving the ball forcefully such that the ball descends at high speed. Compare with "digging", wherein you sorta cup your hands together and hit the ball from underneath to give it elevation (usually performed near the ground) and "setting", wherein you again use both hands from under the ball to get elevation, but instead from about head height up and using a motion somewhat resembling what you get if you align hands, palm up, touching the tips of the thumb and index finger of each hand to the other, and shape both hands into a "beak" as the contact with the ball. That was badly described. Google is your friend here, sir.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Helbereth » Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:29 am

Mirage_GSM wrote:
Helbereth wrote:“A competitive game we can all participate in,” Misha replies, which sounds rehearsed. She even holds up a finger as she finishes the thought, “volleyball.”
All except for Hisao...
Hmm, seems he's playing anyway without regard for potentially lethal consequences.
Not sure what "spiking" is, but volleyball is probably still quite dangerous for him without it.
Helbereth wrote:Falling over in a heap, Yoko's shoulder slams into Hisao's chest as they land,...
Called it!
I knew all this going in, and Aiko is similarly concerned, but Hisao is protecting his pride and most of the rest (including Misha) don't know about his condition. Yoko simply overbalances and it ends up being that causing Hisao's trouble rather than the game itself; he was largely fine up until then, having been conditioning his heart through the swimming routine.

Basically, I knew it was going to end up being somewhat predictable that he'd have some kind of an attack as a result of the game, but I left it to an accidental fall from one of his teammates rather than the game itself.

My take on volleyball:
Volleyball is largely a technical game akin to tennis or badminton, except it's played with the hands and a large, leather-wrapped rubber ball rather than rackets and small balls or shuttlecocks(birdies). Objectively similar to both games, the boundaries are similar, though narrower, and the net is raised to between 6 and 8 feet off the ground (a friendly game like this probably has it set around 6-7 feet or around 2 meters). Use of the feet, head or chest to hit the ball is actually against the rules in volleyball, unlike soccer.

Spiking is an action whereby you leap up and slam the ball directly downward over the net from very close proximity, attempting to propel it into the ground on the other side before any of the opposition can react. It's also used to fire the ball directly at someone as a psych-out, or simply to be a jackass, but that practice is generally frowned upon, and can be considered a foul if done intentionally. The second one is what Shizune is trying to prevent by ruling against the practice.

With so many players on both sides (in this case 4) the amount of ground one person has to cover is lessened (ending up being about an 8 by 10 rectangle), and the game emphasizes working as a team. Once it's successfully volleyed back into play, teammates attempt to 'set up' the other players so they can propel the ball back over the net (like lay-ups in basketball, but without ever catching the ball). It's not as strenuous as it sounds, and much less likely to result in injury since there's rarely any player-to-player contact.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Total Destruction » Tue Sep 18, 2012 5:20 am

I love how this updated at pretty much the same time I decide to give real life the finger for a sec and read fanfiction. Hahah. Salud, Helbereth.

Really digging the volleyball scene. When I was in my last year of high school, I worked on campus and took a lot more classes than the norm because I was an absolute fuckup my first three years. I was on campus all day, repairing things, organizing stuff, running errands and deliveries, the whole nine yards. I practically ran the joint. Well, one of the cooler things I did was run A/V for sporting events. In doing so, I wound up following and getting involved in sports I wouldn't have normally batted an eyelash at. This story takes me back to working for the volleyball team (who were all smokin' hawt and cool as hell to boot), and oh, man, I'm too young for nostalgia. Hahah. Good stuff.

Looking back at the past three (!) months of following this, I've arrived at the weirdest Goddamned conclusion about something totally ancillary, but good nonetheless. Naoko's fucking adorable. Well done.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Helbereth » Tue Sep 18, 2012 7:14 am

Total Destruction wrote:Looking back at the past three (!) months of following this, I've arrived at the weirdest Goddamned conclusion about something totally ancillary, but good nonetheless. Naoko's fucking adorable. Well done.
I'm curious what makes you say that; specifically, why Naoko?

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Total Destruction » Tue Sep 18, 2012 4:07 pm

I think it's the same reason why I like Shizune, and why I've been fascinated with the deaf people I've met in my life. For someone that can't actually speak, she has an awful lot to say, and even without actual spoken words, has a presence that's just as loud, if not more, than everyone else in the room, and has a signature "voice" all the same. Much like Shizune, except rather than "sounding" like a devil in leather boots, she "sounds" like an overenthusiastic girly-girl with a tiny pair of horns holding up her halo. Hahah.

Legit spoiler-type question: does she bat for the other team?
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/16

Post by Helbereth » Tue Sep 18, 2012 5:51 pm

Total Destruction wrote:Legit spoiler-type question: does she bat for the other team?
Honestly, I haven't thought about that much. The possibility is there, and it might be an interesting sub-plot with the developing friendship concerning Yoko, and her mutual affection with Kenta, but whether I'll explore it thoroughly within the confines of this story is another matter entirely. The three of them are tertiary characters (to put a finer point on it), on the same level as Shizune and Misha where this tale is concerned, so what gets included concerning them ends up mostly being to support or iterate on the plight of the protagonist.

Even the Tadao/Amaya (both being secondary characters due to their close relationship with the protagonist) relationship resolution was kept out of the narrative; the results defining the action taken. Obviously whatever they talked about in the shed was important, and they came to more conclusions than Aiko may have expected, but the exact nature of what was said is privy only to them.

Most of this is because of the first-person perspective. Aiko doesn't see everything that's going on with all the other characters(she isn't omniscient), so it doesn't end up in the narrative; apart from her speculation about what events transpired. In my own head, and/or my story notes, their discussion is fairly well-defined -as are any pertinent actions with the peripheral characters- but that never finds its way into the story because Aiko isn't there to see Misha running the 3-1 game booth (which, in my head, was hilarious), her friends setting up the trip while keeping her out of the loop (which started weeks ago; long before Tanabata), Shizune and Misha taking Yoko to the marina(which had less to do with finding a boat than I've let on), Naoko and Tadao meeting Nobuo in town (or their following romp through a liquor store), or other actions that affect Aiko without her being present.

Many of which might make interesting one-shots on their own.

In any case, the tl:dr response to your query would likely be, "I'm not sure."

It isn't something that will come up in the story, so I'll probably leave some ambiguity about the subject. That could change, I suppose -my outline has changed a lot since its first iteration- but being this close to the resolution (I'm way closer to the end than the beginning), introducing a triangle like that with tertiary characters would probably be literary suicide. If I do end up writing about it (assuming I decide to define it), I'll likely do so as a one-shot or short story of sorts from a different perspective - Yoko, perhaps.

I think my other characters are probably well-defined enough to etch out part of their stories in that way, and I might do some of that before finishing with Aiko's tale; no promises, though.

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Re: Chapter 21 - Swooners and Crooners (part 2)

Post by DelusionsOfGrandeur » Wed Sep 19, 2012 7:35 am

Helbereth wrote:
Shizune sighs and rolls her eyes, frowning at Hisao and signing, [count yourself lucky we weren't on opposing teams.]

Standing, he grins and waves dismissively, then replies, [whatever you might have had planned couldn't be worse than building those stalls.]

Smirking derisively, she starts walking by, swaying her hips playfully, and signing, [you'll never know.]
Loved it.

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Chapter 22 - Unruly Slaves

Post by Helbereth » Thu Sep 27, 2012 11:01 pm

Okay, this is the shortest chapter I've released in a while, just barely tipping 6000 words. I had planned to continue further, but it turned out to run very long and this worked nicely as a chapter, so I decided to forego trying to cram two chapters together and give myself a break by posting this, which is a bridge, really.

Parts of my outline are under reconstruction since I've been deviating from it a fair amount; it's nothing bad, really, but it needs some straightening.

Parallel to this, over the next month I'm going to be writing a Halloween story, which I plan to have finished and ready to start releasing during the week prior to the 31st. I don't want to give anything away, but it will be a deviation (in every sense of the word) from the canon tale I've been writing; another splinter reality, perhaps. It will involve Aiko as the protagonist, along with the OC cast I've built, and take place after this tale would have finished (the following October), but that's about all it will have in common with this universe.

With that in mind, I might get a little lax on updating this, but it's due to the double workload more than anything else. I'll try to maintain a weekly release schedule, but I'll either have to make shorter chapters or just release things slower. The second option seems more likely considering my track record.

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Chapter 22 - Unruly Slaves

Shortly after finishing the game, a stray dark cloud strolled over the horizon and brought with it a brief thunderstorm. A sudden torrent drenched the ground, along with anyone caught outside, and some lightning flashes brought the echo of thunder rumbling between the bungalow's stilts, reverberating throughout the house. Tadao was the last to head inside at Amaya's request, but only after the rain had already soaked the patio and ruined his sandwich.

Nobuo is all smiles when we burst through the door, giggling at the suddenness of the downpour, but, upon figuring out why, I could see the diasppointment on his face. Evidently he had planned to go do some fishing before dusk, but the rainstorm is enough to thwart his half-hearted plans. Instead, he finds his way to the bench along the window in the kitchen to sit and watch the rain.

Apparently, according to Naoko, he was ready to propose to his girlfriend, but, deciding she needed to focus on her education, she preempted his proposal by breaking up just before Tanabata. Knowing that now, I feel a little bad about flaunting the budding relationship between Hisao and I when we visited their booth. It also makes me a little self-conscious; I'm not sure if seeing happy couples might be adding insult to injury.

While Nobuo sulks by the window, the rest of us retreat into the living room to wait out the rain by watching a movie. True to their word, our indentured slaves dutifully follow our beck and call, usually laughing or simply nodding at the increasingly silly requests. The heierarchy established by the volleyball game makes it more work for the Swooners, who go about fetching drinks and snacks while the rest of us change out of our damp clothes. Once everyone has settled into seats, or on the plush area rug, Kenta begs for silence and starts the movie.

Apparently it's one of his favorites, but I'm not particularly thrilled by the noir genre. According to him, it's based on an American graphic novel, but I've tuned both him and the movie out within the first ten minutes.

Shizune is no more interested in the film, instead sinking into an armchair, busying herself with some schoolwork she apparently brought along. Taking the role reversal with Misha rather well, her stoic acceptance of her game's terms isn't really surprising. If nothing else, Shizune is a good sport.

Considering Misha's usually bubbly personality, seeing her so perplexed by the role reversal is almost worrisome. Were it anyone else, I don't think she would be so tentative about making requests, but she has a lot of respect for Shizune, it seems, and doesn't seem thrilled by the prospect of ordering her around. Either that, or whatever she's thinking about asking is too outlandish to even utter aloud.

Yoko is somewhat less compliant, but it's mostly out of embarrassment. Keeping a smile on her face anyway, she never seems certain whether Naoko's requests are genuine or just teasing. Since they sat down in front of Kenta, Naoko has been relaying his outlandish, rude and or lascivious requests, all signed rather than spoken, to poor Yoko, causing her face to assume some of the most desperate, confused and shocked expressions I've ever seen.

Tadao has Amaya waiting on him hand and foot, which brings amusement to everyone in earshot. Returning sarcastic comments, Amaya only protests verbally, otherwise following his orders happily. Wrapped around each-other on the couch, basically spooning, both of them are caught up in the drama of the film. Every so often I can hear Amaya giggle, but the source remains a mystery.

I don't think I want to know the source, really.

Seeing them comfortable enough to stay so close even in the presence of so many prying eyes, I'm a tiny bit jealous. It would be too embarrassing for me to sit like that with Hisao. It might be enjoyable, but I'd never be able to keep a straight face or make eye contact with anyone.

Considering Hisao as he sits in the plush armchair behind me, I realize that, despite being my slave, I've actually been tending to his needs more than the other way around. Watching him go through an arrhythmic attack still has me tied in knots, and I'm concerned he could end up relapsing if he strains himself. Having chosen to sit on the floor a few feet in front of him, I periodically glance back reflexively; like I'm checking to make sure he's still there.

Feeling content just having him nearby, I'm glad it turned out to be benign, but thinking about what I saw out on the beach keeps me listening to his every motion and breath. Amaya's epileptic attacks often leave me in a similar hypersensitive state, but the churning in my stomach is new; like butterflies but worse. This mix of terror, concern and a little bit of resentment has me wishing I really could cuddle with Hisao so I wouldn't have to keep looking to make sure he's alive and breathing.

Shifting uncomfortably, I attempt to roll a little to assume a new sitting position, but leaning on my shoulder makes me wince. Whatever I did, the rain seems to be making the pain there multiply, and sitting down here like this probably isn't helping. When we first came in, Shizune noticed I was favoring my shoulder and asked whether I wanted to take something for it, even relaying me to Yoko, but I refused; I don't even like taking aspirin.

Before she let the subject drop, she did turn me on to an interesting suggestion; asking Hisao for assistance. Maybe I can't cuddle with him just yet, but if I got him to rub my shoulder, I could get the fabled two birds with one stone; relief from the pain and assurance that he's still there. Glancing back and wincing again, I look up at his blank expression, still absorbed in the movie, and decide to allow myself the luxury of asking for his help.

Nudging his knee, I grin and wait for his eyes to peel away from the movie before whispering, “Slave, I have a task for you.”

Best to make it sound like an order.

Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, Hisao's eyes perk up at the notion and he leans forward. Assuming a neutral expression, he addresses me, “yes, Mistress?” and inquires, “what is your desire?”

“My shoulder is killing me,” I say, blushing a little, “I think I pulled it chasing after a few of your volleys.” That might actually be true, or it could be a convenient lie, but neither of us can really tell. Suggesting he might have had something to do with my discomfort makes him straighten up and look apologetic, which I find amusing.

“Which one?” he asks, his eyes darting back and forth, “I thought you were favoring the right one.”

“Yeah, but you might as well get both while you're at it,“ I reply. Turning back, I scoot back along the floor until I'm flush with the front of his chair between his knees. It's an awkward position, but the other option consists of sitting in his lap.

Yeah, no... not with people watching.

Bowing my head, I pull my hair out around to the front, exposing my shoulders and start to say, “just-”

His warm hands gently grasp just below my neck on either side, causing the rest of my words to get lost in a comfortable groan. Making circular motions, his hands dig in ever so slightly, sliding outward along both shoulders, pushing the tension further away with each stroke. The sensation makes my head swim and plants a contented smile on my face, which I'm sorry he can't see.

Wriggling and swaying as his hands start pushing down along my arms, I stifle a giggle and hold up a hand, grasping his and squeezing it so he'll stop for a moment. “Is something wrong?” he asks, “I barely know what I'm doing, so if I hurt-”

“I'm just a little ticklish,” I interject, giggling at the concern in his voice, “mostly around my shoulders at the top of my arms.”

“Oh,” he says, breathing out a sigh of relief; or maybe realization.

“Unless you want to send me into a giggling fit,” I explain, letting go of his hand, “try to keep away from there, okay?”

Closing my eyes as he continues working out kinks I didn't even realize were there, I hear some whispering from over on the couch and smirk. Amaya and Tadao have apparently noticed his masseuse work, and I can't quite hear what they're saying, but I imagine it's mostly lewd. Not feeling like I need to explain myself, I let them whisper their lecherous litany, though I can't help but think they're being a little hypocritical.

At least we aren't dry-humping in front of all our friends.

Working mostly on my right shoulder, Hisao's hands work wonders for the soreness, and he manages not to trigger any giggling. Feeling his warm hands continually thrumming across my shoulders and down my back causes my mind to wander as a hot feeling begins emanating from my core. Imagining his hands moving over more delicate parts of my body causes my heart to quicken and my breathing becomes ragged; though I'm not sure if it's because of the thoughts or his hands.

Letting my head swim in the feeling, I have to keep reminding myself there are other people around. Part of me just wants to let go and give in to the sensations, especially when his hands start wandering down over my collar bones, which sends little electrical charges straight down my chest and all the way to my toes. Fighting the desire to pull his hands further downward, I'm thankful my hair is covering my expression because there isn't a doubt in my mind the face I'm making looks positively lustful.

I need a distraction!

Snapping my eyes open, I turn a curious look toward Amaya, but she's still in a loving daze. Seeing no help there, I continue scanning until I set my eyes on Kenta. Almost blurting something immediately, I realize that would probably make the situation obvious, so I fake a smirk and look at him with a forced quizzical expression that he doesn't seem to notice.

Hisao's fingers trace circles along the front of my shoulders while I'm searching for a distraction, making me wonder if he's doing this on purpose. My response to his advances so far has been either neutral or encouraging, so I can hardly blame him for pushing further. However, that same logical side of my brain is also screaming that I have to resist; even if I'd like nothing more than for his hands to find their way over every inch of me.

Sitting on the floor across from me, I notice Yoko has set about braiding Naoko's green locks, probably at her request, and is blissfully ignoring the movie. Glancing at Kenta again, I think of a particularly devious suggestion, but wonder if it might be overstepping my self-imposed bounds. At this moment, though, my mind is too addled to come up with something better, so I lean forward a little and nod toward Yoko, beckoning, “hey!”

The act of breaking the silence does wonders to push the fantasies out of my mind, and the red flush on my face begins to dissipate. However, now Yoko is looking at me with a perplexed expression. For a moment I reconsider the idea, but it's really too late for that. Pointing a thumb behind me, I whisper, “you should try this.”

For a second, Yoko stares blankly, but realization dawns across her suddenly, causing her eyes to widen. Seeing her reaction, I don't think she quite took it the way I intended. Waving at her to come closer, I stifle a giggle as I wonder if Hisao heard my suggestion, and what he might be thinking in that case.

Does he wonder if I'd make him do that?

Pushing away that line of thinking, I flit my eyes toward Kenta as I whisper, “from the other one there.”

Yoko turns and follows my eyes, but quickly turns back, her freckled features flushing bright red as she scowls at me and shakes her head emphatically. Kenta doesn't notice the exchange, but Naoko's attention isn't quite so focused elsewhere. Turning toward me, she raises an eyebrow and asks, [what're you planning?]

Smiling innocently, I fidget for a moment before realizing she can't have understood what we were talking about. My hands come up defensively for a few seconds before I sign a hasty reply, [nothing! Just making a suggestion.]

[You realize you could make it an order,] Naoko retorts, smirking deviously.

Maybe she does know what we were talking about.

Her suggestion makes me smile brightly and bob my eyebrows at Yoko, but she's not playing along. Instead, she stares back pleadingly. For a moment, I entertain the idea of doing just that, but her doe-eyed expression does well to defeat my moxie. Realizing she would probably have a coronary if I made her ask Kenta for a back-rub, I decide against pushing the subject further. Happy just to have put the idea in her head, I sigh and lean back.

My mind temporarily cleared, feeling sufficiently distracted from Hisao's wandering hands, I smile contentedly. From behind me, I hear a gentle, though somewhat sarcastic whisper, “pardon my comment, Mistress, but I'm glad to see you're not poking the bear.”

He's right, though; all I really did was sacrifice one temptation for another. Reaching my hands up to grab onto his wrists, I lean my head back and find him leaning forward, wearing a mocking half-smile. Caught in his deep brown eyes again, I smirk playfully and shrug. Whatever other power Hisao might hold over me, I'm still getting lost in his eyes regularly, but I don't find it bothersome. The somewhat disappointed look he's using on me is humbling, though, and I almost feel like apologizing.

Instead, I break eye contact by leaning forward and letting go of his wrists. Reaching skyward, I stretch my arms and back, then rotate my shoulder as I let my hands drop down to my sides. His ministrations have pulled most of the tension out of the shoulder, but there's still a lingering ache.

“Feel better?” Hisao asks, placing a hand on my shoulder.

“Yes, mostly” I reply. His index finger begins tracing along my shoulder and I suppress a giggle. Letting it linger there without protesting, I lean my head against his other hand and sigh contentedly, “thank you, Slave.”

Continuing to trace his finger up and down, I'm getting the sense he's teasing me intentionally, but I'm letting him get away with it for now. Pressing my ear against his hand, I bite my lip and close my eyes, trying hard not to giggle as his finger starts moving faster. Lifting my head, I feel his other hand start tracing up along my shoulder to the nape of my neck, and then all the way up to my ear. While I'm still busy trying to stop myself from giggling, which would mean he's winning, he leans down and kisses my earlobe.

“Ticklish, eh?” he whispers, lingering beside my ear as his hand moves down to rest on my other shoulder, “now why would you tell me that?”

“Don't you dare!” I breathe, but it's too late. His fingers start rippling against my exposed shoulders, sending tingling all up and down my arms and along my spine. The stifled giggle turns into a raucous laugh and I start squirming with my feet and hips, trying to slide away from his relentless, twitching fingers.

My unhinged laughter draws the attention of the rest of the group, and, much to my chagrin, they start cheering for Hisao. Following me as I continually try sliding away, writhing on the floor, he kneels beside me, and I suddenly regret ever desiring to have his hands all over me.

Well, maybe I don't, actually. I feel like I should, but I don't.

Relentlessly twitching, his fingers move across my sides and around my arms, then down as far as my hips. The thin fabric of my t-shirt hardly does anything to dull the sensation, and my cut-off jeans do nothing to protect my legs, but when he starts down toward my knees, I grab his shirt and pull him away, shaking my head furiously. Catching on to my unspoken protest, he reins back, but his hands are still free to roam across my abdomen and back up to my shoulders.

“You brought this on yourself!” he roars playfully, and I can do nothing but agree; this is penance for poking the bear. He's enjoying this far more than I am, if his nearly maniacal laughter is any indication.

Gasping for air between loud guffaws, my face is bright red, I'm sure, and my hands keep pawing at him; trying to push him away, even as I'm thoroughly enjoying his assault. Thrashing, rolling and laughing thunderously while mumbling incoherently, I can't help but think it's ironic I was just wishing his hands were all over me, and now he's torturing me kindly with them.

Eventually, he slows the persistent attack, choosing to let me breath in between short bursts of tickling. Managing to sit up and turn to face him, I breathe deeply and try to calm myself; though every time I get close to regaining composure, he directs another few seconds of tickling at my abdomen, shoulders or ribs. Finally, I've had enough, so I cross my arms and set a sour look on him, which makes him recoil and lean back on his elbows, still smirking pridefully.

From behind me, Amaya exclaims, “get him back~!”

Holding up his hand to ward me off, he continues smirking as I roll up onto my knees and crawl toward him, plastering a mischievous grin on my face. Still catching my breath, I stare at him, glowering. “Such a defiant slave!” I accuse, narrowing my eyes and folding my arms as I sit back on my knees, “you should be punished for your insolence!”

“A thousand deaths~!” Amaya suggests mirthfully.

“Make him wear a dress!” Kenta adds, laughing hysterically.

Sitting up and setting a delighted stare on me for a moment, Hisao glances around the room, looking nowhere near as terrified as he should; the prideful smirk remaining. Amaya's suggestion is somewhat drastic considering the offense, although I know it was meant in jest, and Kenta's would likely be entertaining, but I want him to suffer beyond the sarcastic barbs of his peers; I want him to be damaged internally, psychologically.

How do I do that, though?

Realizing I'm probably taking longer than I should to imagine a decent response, I think the silence is starting to wear on him. That's perfectly fine with me. He should feel uneasy about what I might be planning. Seeing him start to fidget makes me wonder what I could do to make Hisao even more distressed.

What do I know about him?

Obviously he has confidence enough to turn a back-rub into a tickle attack in full-view of all his new friends, so I won't get far assaulting his bravado. That really shoves Kenta's suggestion completely out of the list of possibilities.

Somehow I'm certain he'd enjoy being tickled in response, and I'm probably too shy to do that in front of people, anyway. Besides, making him laugh hard enough to lose his breath might cause more problems than I want to invoke; really bad problems.

Heart problems.

That gives me an idea, though. Hisao obviously cares about what people think of him; keeping his heart condition secret even from Tadao, whom he has been friends with the longest other than myself, is proof of that. Telling people about the past concerning his heart would be a breach of trust, but I recall something he left out of his retelling; something I'm not even supposed to know about, I'm sure.

That colorful letter on his desk. Iwanako was the name on the back.

Catching his eyes with mine as I lean forward, finally motioning to speak, I smirk sardonically and point at him. “I know things about you Hisao,” I state coolly, staring into his brown eyes, “things you don't think I know about!”

Straightening his face, his eyes widen a little and he furrows his brow. His expression is somewhere between abject terror and accusation; he has no idea what I might be talking about, and that's just fine. Letting him stew in his thoughts for a few moments, I grin when his hand comes up to rub his sternum, and almost laugh seeing his face contorting back and forth between silent contemplation and motioning to protest.

The pattering raindrops against the window fill the room as the tittering around us falls to dead silence, everyone fixing their eyes on either Hisao or myself, all waiting with baited breath for my inevitable disclosure. Even Nobuo has taken notice of the exchange, walking over to stand behind the couch with a dreamy expression and a half-smile.

Feeling their eyes all start to move onto me, I decide it's time I break the tension, but I want this exchange to be between me and Hisao. Standing, I take a few steps closer and kneel beside him. Leaning close and cupping my hand over his ear, I ask a very simple question, “who is Iwanako?”

Retreating back to observe his expression, I'm not surprised he looks a little angry, but it's mostly shock carving deep worry-lines into the corners of his eyes as a grimace spreads across his lips. Somewhere in his look there's an apology of some kind, but I'm content just to see him squirm, so I don't indicate he has to answer; him merely knowing I have such information to lord over him is torture enough.

I still don't know who Iwanako is, but that's not the point right now.

What the letter, Iwanako, or his secrecy about both means is immaterial. All that matters is his bewildered reaction to my confessed knowledge, and the hint I may know more than he ever thought to tell me. Effectively putting him on the defensive, I'll hold this bit of information over him for a while; unless it's not important, in which case I don't think he'd look so anxious.

My other friends remain silent, watching Hisao as I take his seat and smirk proudly, delighting in their curious stares. After he doesn't say anything for a few moments, Amaya throws up her arms and sighs, “well? What's the big secret~!”

“Nothing I plan to share so long as Hisao acts as my loyal pet,” I explain, beckoning to him with an upraised palm, “you will sit by my side and dote over my every whim,” pointing my index finger at him woefully, I add, “or I'll tell them your sordid secrets.”

Frowning, Hisao glances around the room, looking for support, but everyone knew the rules before the game started; he'll either comply or risk further humiliation. Turning his gaze back at me, he locks his eyes on mine and sets his jaw in a firm grimace. Nodding finally, he follows my beckoning hand, taking a seat cross-legged beside my chair like a good dog – slave, rather.

The look in his eyes, though, as he looks up at me from his new position, is nothing but apologetic. Relaxing my cold expression, I smile at him to alleviate his distress a little. The look doesn't dissipate so much as transform into a more worried look, similar to the one he wore when he first told me about his heart condition; he wants to tell me something.

The importance of the letter may be deeper than I suspected.

My pondering time is cut short when Kenta stands suddenly and heads toward the kitchen, absently asking, “there any food around here?”

“I was about to start on dinner,” Nobuo says, following him, “anyone got any allergies?”

Shaking heads and a few negative grunts make him wave his hand and nod approvingly. “Just know I warned you,” he remarks, heading over to the window bench.

Looking back down at Hisao, he's happily distracted by the subject change. Catching my look for a moment, he blinks and shrugs. “Ask me about it again sometime,” he says, his face turning serious again, “it's something you should probably know.”

Nodding, I make a note to hold him to that later, but, for now, it seems like my suspicions were partially correct. Exactly what part I was right about isn't clear, but I'm actually happy to know there are still unsolved enigmas concerning my mystery man. He said he would tell me when I asked, and that's enough for now; I don't think it's something he wants to discuss in front of an audience.

Maybe I'm not really cut out to be the Master in this situation.

“Hey the sun's peeking out,” Nobuo remarks, “it's turning into a sun-shower out there.”

That catches everyone's attention. Standing, I beckon toward my pet and head for the window. Pulling back the curtain, I smile seeing clear blue sky peeking between the dissipating clouds. Hisao stands beside me, looking unsure what to do with himself, so I wrap an arm around him and remark melodically, “sunny day, sweeping the clouds away~!”

From behind me, Amaya picks up on the lyrics and answers in her somewhat grating singing voice, “on my way... to where the air... is... clear~!” Squeaking and rasping as her voice goes out of pitch.

Blocking my ear before she can continue, I hear her muffled gasp and turn to see Tadao holding a hand against her mouth, shaking his head and sighing disdainfully. “You'll stop strangling the cat, wench, or I'll put you over my knee!” he threatens. A delightful smirk spreads across his face as he holds her, responding to her playful elbow jabs with hearty laughs.

“Will you just calm down!” he exclaims, which actually seems to work. At least she stops her thrashing and calms, nodding complicitly.

When he takes his hand away, she sticks her tongue out at him, then continues, “can you tell me how to get,” tossing her arms up wide, dramatically, as she holds the off-key notes, “how to get to Sesame Street~!” Her voice cracks terribly as she holds the last phrase.

Quicker than I would have expected from laid-back Tadao, he scoops her tiny frame up into his arms, tossing her over his shoulder, and starts walking toward the bedrooms. Turning back he rolls his eyes and explains, “excuse me, I must discipline my slave or her unruly behavior could become habitual!”

Amaya is nothing but a giant grin as she's carried away, and everyone, even sullen Nobuo, busts out laughing. Nobody bothers making any comments, though we're all likely thinking the same thing. Hearing one of the doors open and close, I shake my head and wonder exactly what he means by “discipline.”

Probably something unsavory.

Feeling my cheeks flush a little at the thought, I catch a smirk on Hisao's face and turn away. The laughter behind us continues for a while, finally calming enough for Nobuo to start making noise, clanging pans in the kitchen. Unfortunately it isn't enough to distract Hisao, who's still staring at me. Not that I mind his attention, but the thoughts I imagine are running through his mind just make my blush deepen. Whatever Tadao really meant, I can guess what it's making Hisao think about.

Teenage boys think about that every seven seconds or something, right?

Before I start glowing, I step over to the French door, slipping by Hisao, and pull it open, stepping out into the cool, damp air. The wet deck is cold and clammy on my bare feet, but that's helping the blush subside. The rolling waves are lapping up near the high tide mark, foamy and churning as the wind continues cutting across the beach, sending the tall grass waving about erratically.

Leaning down to rest my elbows on the wet rail, trying to keep my clothes dry, I hear another pair of feet slapping against the wet cedar planks and turn to see Hisao has followed me outside. There's still a hint of bewilderment in his expression, but the sunny sky has drawn his attention upward and forced a broad grin into his chiseled features.

Maybe it's the shafts of light streaking through the clouds, or the wind tossing his messy hair wildly, but right now, he looks more handsome and serene than I've ever seen. This strange, geeky, mysterious boy probably looks plain to most people, but, ever since I first saw him, sitting in dark contemplation at a desk five weeks ago, he's been worming his way into my heart. Gazing at him, I feel weaker and stronger at the same time.

Mom said something like that about Dad once, but it was under very different circumstances. Standing behind a modest podium, barely able to stand, she told a room full of strangers and family the story about how she met him, and how he won her heart without trying. Looking away from Hisao, I remember where Mom told that story, and I can't even imagine how hard it was for her; Dad's funeral was pretty surreal.

Taking a deep breath, I lean harder against the rail, forgetting about keeping my clothes from getting wet. It doesn't matter, I'll take any discomfort right now not to be thinking about Dad's funeral. Instead, a comforting hand finds my shoulder. Hisao stands beside me now, but I can't bear to look at him.

Not because I'm afraid of him seeing me look sad, but because, for the first time, he's actually the source. Inadvertently reminding me of a bittersweet memory isn't what he planned, I surmise, but it happened anyway. Maybe it's because of the place we're in that reminds me so much of Dad and Mom; and even Midori.

“She would have been running around out in the rain, y'know,” I say, absently reminiscing.

“The younger you?” he inquires, making me smile.

He does that so easily.

Looking over him, I wonder if that's what he's been doing; winning me over without trying. Once before, I told him Dad would probably approve, and he consistently makes that assumption seem more probable.

“Well, yes,” I reply, shrugging and smiling sheepishly, “but I was thinking of Midori.”

“Your sister?” he prompts.

“Yeah, she's thirteen and attending middle-school in Italy,” I explain.

Nodding he replies, “you mentioned that, I think.”

“Did I tell you she speaks fluent Italian?” I ask, though I already know the answer.

“No,” he says, “but that makes sense. Did you learn any?”

“I can barely grasp Japanese, never mind Italian,” I reply disdainfully, “she answers the phone in Italian sometimes, even when she knows it's me; just to spite me.”

Laughing, he retracts the hand on my shoulder and leans against the rail with his elbows, mimicking my position. “You're not that bad with Japanese,” he says, “though I've heard your English, and it's about as good as mine.”

We share a self-deprecating laugh at that. When we've recovered, he looks out toward the surf and remarks, “I'd like to meet her sometime.”

“She's thirteen; did I mention that?” I retort, raising a mocking eyebrow.

Rolling his eyes at my attempted innuendo, he wraps his arm across my waist and proclaims, “she sounds like she'd be good for a laugh.”

“Well,” I lead, grinning at him, “you might get that chance.”

“Oh?” he prompts, his eyes widening with what seems like excitement.

I hadn't planned to tell him so soon, but, oh well.

“Yeah, assuming you're hanging around during summer break for a while,” I say, leading him into answering an unasked question.

Looking away, he gets that narrowed expression I've come to find amusing and then turns back to nod and reply, “probably for the first week or so, maybe. My parents want me to come back for a while, at least.”

Shrugging, I nod and explain, “I talked to Mom earlier in the week and she's probably gonna pack Midori on a plane and fly out to spend a few weeks in the city near Yamaku.”

“Just to see you?” he asks, looking a little surprised.

“Well,” I start to say, but I stop myself. Hisao mentioned he isn't that close to his parents, and I don't want to seem ungrateful for her attention, but his innocent question really makes me wonder. Mom and I get along and she loves me, I know that, but I'm not actually sure why she would jump on a plane and fly half-way across the world to spend a few weeks with me.

I'm taking too long to answer.

“I guess so,” I say finally, offering another shrug of uncertainty, “since Dad... left...” I start, frowning at my inability to mention is death casually, “and she moved to be close to her family in Italy, we only see each-other a couple times during the year.”

“Must be rough,” he says, his hand starting to rub my back, “from what you described, you're a lot closer to your family than I am with mine.”

“Sorry,” I say reflexively.

“Hey, it's not your fault,” he assures me, leaning over and kissing the top of my head, “different strokes for different folks.”

“Is that a swimming joke?” I ask sardonically.

“What's your mom like, anyway?” he asks, realigning the subject.

“Well, I told you she's a chef instructor,” I reply, smiling at his quick nod; he remembers. “But she's also a hobbyist painter, singer and she plays a few different instruments,” I continue, “and she's a royal pain in my ass sometimes.”

“I was waiting for that part,” he replies, smirking, “figured you didn't talk about her much for a reason.”

“Yeah, well,” I remark with a shrug, “I still love her to death, but sometimes...” Trailing off, I let out a long sigh and slump down against the railing. “I told her about you,” I mention, “about us... dating.”

Hearing that, he pales a little and rocks back on his heels. Setting a concerned look on me, he raises his eyebrows, but says nothing. “Nothing too specific,” I say, alleviating his nerves, “she was mostly just excited to find out I was finally dating.” Seeing his face relax, I decide to drop the other shoe. “She wants to meet you,” I say, adding a derisive little laugh, “that's part of why she decided to head out for a summer break visit.”

Taking a deep breath, he fights against looking frightened, but isn't doing very well. Continuing to laugh at him, I can't help but picture his first meeting with my boisterous mother; it's a delightfully evil image, really. Standing apart with forced smiles, him with his hand tracing along his sternum, and her studying him with her eagle-eyed, analytical expression, the deafening silence would be interminable. Once broken, she would barrage him with questions, demanding to know everything he was thinking, I'm sure; it's how she starts conversations sometimes.

Midori will probably be the tie-breaker. Stepping in to look him over and practically sniff him out like a dog, she'd either bounce playfully and approve, or turn up her nose and walk away in disgust; there's very little gray area with her. However, I think she'll approve, and so will Mom.

“She'll like you, I think,” I say, which has the immediate effect of making his shoulders relax.

“I'm not worried,” he retorts, trying to save his pride.

“Yes you are!” I accuse, slapping his shoulder and turning a derisive smile at him, “but that's fine; you ought to be terrified. Mom is many things, but her best trait is her ability to judge character.” Wrapping my hands around his neck, I pull him away from the rail and grin up at him approvingly. “But I'm even harsher sometimes, and I like you,” I say sincerely, “even if you're an unruly slave.”

Setting his hands on my shoulders, he gives me that warm smile and replies, “You enjoyed the whole thing.”

“Maybe,” I admit, “but don't think you can get away with that all the time.” Before he can say anything else, I stand up on my tip-toes and plant a soft kiss on his lips. Brief and sweet, I pull back quickly and duck under his arms, headed for the door.

Turning to see him slightly mesmerized, apparently taking longer than expected to recover, I prompt, “Come along, Slave!”

Shaking his head to clear the far away expression, he pivots and chases after me, breathing, “Yes, Mistress.”

I really like that title...
Previous Chapter|Next Chapter

Well, it's short and sweet, but it was fun, I think.
Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 11:04 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/27

Post by Tysan1 » Fri Sep 28, 2012 4:10 pm

Short? Yes. Still a great continuation? Yes.

I would rather see a longer period between updates if it means you can continue with this level of writing.

But, that's just my opinion :D

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