Tomorrow's Doom ~ Up: 04/30/16 ~ recommitted to completion.

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

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Sat Sep 29, 2012 6:23 am

Helbereth wrote:but I'm not particularly thrilled by the noir genre. According to him, it's based on an American graphic novel
Hmm. Watchmen? I've yet to see that, I hear it's quite good.
Helbereth wrote:whatever she's thinking about asking is too outlandish to even utter aloud.
Heh. Giggity.
Helbereth wrote:Telling people about the past concerning his heart would be a breech of trust,
Helbereth wrote:“sunny day, sweeping the clouds away~!”
Wait a sec, I know this song...
Helbereth wrote:“on my way... to where the air... is... clear~!”
“can you tell me how to get,”
“how to get to Sesame Street~!”
Yep, I knew it. Do they even have that in Japan? :S

Okay, now for general comments. I get the feeling there's imminent le sexy time, probably after talking about Iwanako. I'm thinking the word "lascivious" is a favourite of yours, with how often it appears. Not that I'm complaining, I'd much rather see that than "perverted" or "dirty". The news about Nobuo, man... sucks for him. Big time. Looking forward to the meeting of Aiko's family and Hisao; it sounds like it could be pretty fun.
Cheers, BlackWaltz.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/27

Post by Helbereth » Sat Sep 29, 2012 11:51 am

BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:
Helbereth wrote:but I'm not particularly thrilled by the noir genre. According to him, it's based on an American graphic novel
Hmm. Watchmen? I've yet to see that, I hear it's quite good.
Good guess, but Watchmen was 2009, and this movie had to be out and available on DvD in 2007. Similar in style and timbre, though, people often compare these two films.

It's Sin City.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Breech
Herp derp... fixing that now.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:
Helbereth wrote:“sunny day, sweeping the clouds away~!”
Wait a sec, I know this song...
Helbereth wrote:“on my way... to where the air... is... clear~!”
“can you tell me how to get,”
“how to get to Sesame Street~!”
Yep, I knew it. Do they even have that in Japan? :S
I have no idea, personally, but I imagine the song has gotten that far at least.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:I get the feeling there's imminent le sexy time, probably after talking about Iwanako.
Just gonna quote this here because I find it amusing when people try to guess what's next.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:I'm thinking the word "lascivious" is a favourite of yours, with how often it appears. Not that I'm complaining, I'd much rather see that than "perverted" or "dirty".
Indeed, it sort of is, and Aiko inherited at least some of my vocabulary preferences. I'm not sure what's wrong with 'perverted', though, and I use 'dirty mind' quite regularly when she describes herself.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:The news about Nobuo, man... sucks for him. Big time.
Surprisingly that was part of my mental rendition of Nobuo back when I wrote the Tanabata sequence, though it wasn't specified.I hadn't actually planned to reuse him at the time; which, I know, might sound like poor planning, but it worked out. His plight is a(n) (un)happy accident of sorts.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Looking forward to the meeting of Aiko's family and Hisao; it sounds like it could be pretty fun.
Or horrifying...

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

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Sat Sep 29, 2012 11:57 am

Helbereth wrote:Good guess, but Watchmen was 2009, and this movie had to be out and available on DvD in 2007. Similar in style and timbre, though, people often compare these two films. It's Sin City.
Ah, my bad. Probably should have checked the dates. Also Sin City, that was the one with Bruce Willis yeah? I think I've seen that. Or part of it.
Helbereth wrote:I'm not sure what's wrong with 'perverted', though, and I use 'dirty mind' quite regularly when she describes herself.
It's just that it's so clichéd. And dirty-minded is fine, but you often find perverted and dirty to be overused in-, certain publications. Particularly those of a lascivious nature.
Helbereth wrote:Or horrifying...
Oh dear.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 9/27

Post by Helbereth » Sat Sep 29, 2012 2:50 pm

BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:
Helbereth wrote:I'm not sure what's wrong with 'perverted', though, and I use 'dirty mind' quite regularly when she describes herself.
It's just that it's so clichéd. And dirty-minded is fine, but you often find perverted and dirty to be overused in-, certain publications. Particularly those of a lascivious nature.
I'm also fond of lewd, debaucherous and unsavory. 'Perverted' sounds juvenile to me.

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Chapter 23 – Nocturnum Vinosum (part 1)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:10 pm

Hey check it out! It's Wednesday, and I actually have a chapter finished and ready for posting! It's an Octoberfest miracle! Well, okay, maybe not really. You should all be happy that I managed to break away from WoW enough to get this thing together, in any case.

Okay, that's presumptuous of me, but, dammit, it's the truth. Tearing myself away from my MMO of choice as it begins the first week of the new expansion has been a trying experience. In the past, other expansions have caused my creative efforts to falter completely, so getting this done amidst the release of MoP (which I'm enjoying thoroughly) really is something to behold; it's at least a bit of personal growth.

Anyway, without further ado, I present a chapter with a hokey Latin name; I think I'll allow myself to be pretentious.

Previous Chapter|Part 2|Next Chapter
Chapter 23 – Nocturnum Vinosum

Returning inside, we learn the storm has moved along northward as Kenta is watching the weather report. It's still a wet mess outside, though, so as dusk settles over the house we stay inside. Everyone is rather content to do so since the smell of whatever Nobuo is cooking has us all talking. Keeping my distance since I'm better at causing fires than actually cooking, I take a seat on the vacated couch next to Hisao and Kenta, talking lightly to pass the time.

While we're talking, Naoko and Yoko get up and, mentioning something about preparing a surprise, head over to their bedroom. Enthralled by the odors wafting from the kitchen, Misha heads out there to see if Nobuo needs any help; though I think she's probably looking for samples. Meanwhile, Amaya and Tadao remain locked in our bedroom doing who knows what, so it's just the four of us sitting in the living room.

Still curled up in the armchair, Shizune sets aside her schoolwork and sniffs the air. Seeing her smile broadly, I wonder just how much she might have missed as she stared into those books. Now that I have the chance to give it a thought, I imagine not being able to hear distractions probably makes studying a lot easier.

[Welcome back,] I sign, smirking at her somewhat bewildered expression.

Stretching, she drops her feet off the chair and sits up to look around. Settling a questioning look on me, she inquires, [where is everyone?]

[Well, Misha's helping Nobuo,] I reply, pointing a thumb over my shoulder, [Naoko and Yoko secreted away for some reason, and Tadao is still disciplining Amaya, apparently.]

[Disciplining?] she prompts, making me wonder just how distracted she was by that studying.

Deciding to go back to the beginning, I describe the previous events as well as I can remember. Her expression runs between shock and derision as I relate the silly things that happened during the movie, and I'm surprised to see her finding it all amusing rather than distressing. With Kenta and Hisao there, she doesn't go into detail with her responses, but I can tell she isn't really offended, so much as intrigued.

Shizune always struck me as a bit of a prude, but, apparently, that's just part of her Class President personae. While I can't say for certain, it almost seems like she has a dirty mind equal to my own. In any case, it's fun talking to her like this with her guard down.

[So, what about your shoulder?] she asks, smiling innocently.

Reflexively, I glance at Hisao, but he's distracted talking to Kenta about science fiction shows. When I look back, I see a knowing smirk on Shizune's narrow face and I grin stupidly. [I got him to help with that,] I reply, smiling despite myself, [I'm surprised you didn't notice the aftermath.]

Her bobcat grin returns, making me feel a little uncomfortable, but at least it's not malicious. [I saw that part,] she admits, [I just wanted to see your face when I brought it up.]

Cheeky devil.

[I'm glad things are working with you two,] she remarks candidly, [though...] Ending her gestures, I see her eyes flit toward Hisao. Looking over, I see he's looking our way now, so I frown and wave him away. Shrugging, he goes back to talking with Kenta, and I look back to see Shizune shaking her head.

[What?] I prompt, [he's not looking now,] I assure her.

[Nevermind,] she replies.

There's more she's hiding, and I don't think seeing Hisao looking had anything to do with her stopping. Standing and heading for the kitchen, she has a tinge of regret hidden behind her devious smile, and I wonder what she was going to say. It had something to do with Hisao, I gather, and apparently it's something she doesn't want to admit; at least not to me. Thinking about it, I'm not sure I really want to know.

Maybe she regrets pushing Hisao and I together? Is she jealous?

Whatever it is, she's intentionally clearing away from the conversation. Perhaps that's for the best. As she leaves, I notice Kenta has a raised eyebrow pointed at me, but I'm in no mood to hear his commentary. Glaring at him has the desired effect of cutting off whatever he was going to say.

Leaning back, I sink into the plush cushions and close my eyes. Instead of wondering about Shizune, my mind wanders back to the letter. Hisao's reaction was apologetic and shocked, but there was fear in his eyes too, and I'm not sure why he might be fearful. Thinking about it too much would probably just drive me crazy, but I can't help wondering what all the fuss is about. Hisao said I could ask, but we aren't really alone right now, even if Kenta got up and left, nor do I feel ready to hear what he might say.

What if he's betrothed or something?

Perhaps Hisao's aloof parents practice the custom of Omiai, and arranged a marriage for him; it's not unheard of, but it's not particularly likely. It's a rare practice, especially in the modern age, and usually it's within tight-knit families rather than the kind he described. That leaves few other options; the most obvious being that she's one of his former classmates.

Iwanako may have been, or perhaps still is, or thinks she is, Hisao's girlfriend. Maybe Shizune's efforts were in vain and Hisao is already taken. He could be leading me on for his own personal amusement; it wouldn't be the first time I've had that happen. The last month of awkwardness followed by friendship and eventually dating could be a ploy, a long con designed to humiliate me.

Snapping my eyes open, I settle a sneer on him, sitting blissfully unaware of my internal debate, and see only the peaceful, sensitive, geeky boy I've come to know. Shaking my head, I close my eyes again and sigh quietly to myself. Hisao isn't one of the self-absorbed, malicious boys from middle-school. He wouldn't hurt me intentionally, I should know that much by now.

Clanging bottles resonating from the kitchen effectively interrupt my line of thinking, thankfully. Hearing the ringing glass causes Kenta to practically leap out of his seat and send him walking briskly into the kitchen. Being somewhat curious myself, I stand and follow, leaving Hisao to watch us with mild curiosity. Misha is retrieving the bottles, apparently, while Nobuo looks on and smirks at Kenta's curious expression.

Looking around the kitchen, I notice Shizune has apparently slipped out; perhaps outside, even. Glancing at Misha, I consider asking her where her friend went, or even what she might be holding back, but I feel like it's not my place. Maybe I'm over-thinking this, anyway. Her sudden departure might have had nothing to do with Hisao or myself; Shizune isn't the easiest person to understand, and not just because she can't talk.

Kenta looks like he wouldn't let me ask anyway, setting his eyes on me over the top of a bottle of merlot. Nobuo snatches it from his hands and carries it over to the cook-top, setting it down nearby while Misha looks on and grins.

“Wahaha~!” her signature laugh echoes across the hanging pans.

Kenta rolls his eyes and grabs another bottle. “Just keep laughing, Chuckles!” he chides.

“I kinda like that laugh,” Nobuo says absently, “especially when it's directed at one of these idiots.” Pointing lethargically at Kenta over his shoulder, he goes back to tossing the contents of a frying pan.

Misha grins broadly at the compliment; which I assume is one she rarely hears, since most people find her laugh grating. Sometimes, so do I, but it isn't really that awful. Maybe if it weren't bubbling out of her so frequently, its lilting echo might be appreciated more.

Kenta doesn't agree. “Give it time, man,” he remarks, pointing at Misha with the wine bottle, “you'll want to strangle her sometimes like the rest of us.”

Nobuo laughs, which I'm glad to hear, and shakes his head. “Don't count out the quirks of the fairer sex, my friend,” he advises, “often, they're the best thing about them.”

That sounds like experience rather than assumption, and I can agree, but there's something missing from his assessment. “That works both ways,” I say, adding to his statement.

Misha's unhinged laugh echoes once more, “Wahaha~!” After she settles down, she turns an approving grin at me and inquires, “What's so special about Hicchan?” Sometimes Misha is really good at putting people on the spot, and right now I'm feeling a sinking sensation.

I don't know.

Staring blankly, I fidget, shifting uncomfortably as I try to think of a response. Really, aside from the fact that it happened, I haven't considered why I'm attracted to Hisao. Some of it might have been the Florence Nightingale effect, with wanting to help the poor, depressed new guy find his way at Yamaku, but now... I just like being around him. I trust him, and he seems to trust me; which is something I've found to be quite rare among most people, especially classmates, in my short life thus far.

Maybe it's as simple as that, then?

“Trust,” I say, almost mumbling the word incoherently. Misha's reaction is a a confused stare; it's probably not the answer she was expecting. Kenta sets down the wine bottle, nodding in understanding; he knows how important that word is to me. Admitting to anyone that I've placed my trust in someone is a little embarrassing, but also liberating. “I trust him,” I say more confidently, “and he trusts me.”

Misha starts to nod slowly, seemingly understanding what I mean. Nobuo, however, turns a curious look from his position by the stove and, for a moment, seems to be inspecting my expression; perhaps checking for sincerity. Reaching some kind of conclusion, he starts nodding and offers some simple advice, “Hold on to that.”

Looking back toward the living room where Hisao remains, seemingly oblivious to the conversation, I start nodding absently. Hearing Nobuo's words echo in my mind, I realize whatever Hisao has to tell me about Iwanako, I've come to trust him, so I shouldn't feel jealous or frightened.

One lingering thought nags at me, though: he doesn't know everything about me. In front of three witnesses, I just admitted I trust Hisao, but I still can't bring myself to tell him everything. Perhaps it's not a lack of trust, exactly, but it's a lie of omission, and that's just as bad as a broken trust. I've been keeping it from him is so he doesn't have to bear its burden, but I wonder what right I have to hold it back.

Am I just being selfish?

My conflicted expression hasn't gone unnoticed. Kenta pokes my shoulder, which surprises me since I didn't notice him walking over. Looking at his sea-green eyes, I feel a little embarrassed, but the face I'm making is probably something more like fear or worry. “You need to stop thinking so much,” he says, smirking, “it'll cause wrinkles.”

Settling a stern look on him, I can't hold it for long before cracking a smile. Sometimes Kenta can be a hard to get along with, but he knows well enough that I sometimes need a push to get out of my head for a while. Behind the sarcasm and the teasing, he always has the best interest of his friends in mind, which is something I like to think we have in common.

“Thanks,” I reply, though I don't indicate the source of my gratitude; he can believe it's for the beauty advice for all I care.

“Just keep it in mind,” he says, “you're too young for worry lines.”

Now I elbow his ribs, since his propensity for overstating his opinion shouldn't be encouraged. “And you wonder why you don't have a girlfriend,” I chide, rolling my eyes and nodding toward Misha, “right?”

She nods in response, placing her hands on her hips and glaring at Kenta scornfully. “Maybe if you were a little nicer,” she points at him and waves her finger woefully, “Yoko-chan wouldn't be so shy around you~!”

Is Misha poking the bear against my mandate?

Kenta freezes and stares at her, rendered speechless. Meanwhile, Misha's face deflates a bit and she drops her hand down beside her as an embarrassed blush crosses her puffy cheeks. While I'm glad someone finally said something, realizing the source makes me wonder who else might have noticed the Kenta and Yoko situation. Perhaps I'm not the only one forbidden from getting involved.

Nobuo, listening the whole time, lets out a laugh and starts shaking his head, muttering incoherently as he endures the uncomfortable silence. The laugh helps Kenta break out of the frozen expression of shock, and he turns toward me with widened eyes. For the first time in a long time, I see a faint blush streaking his cheeks. Unfortunately, I'm not doing a very good job at keeping the knowing expression off my face, which causes him to narrow his eyes at me, settling on a questioning look that makes me uncomfortable.

Instead of asking anything, he shoots his look down at the floor and shakes his head, still unable to speak. By the time I think of saying something, he's already turning on his heel and heading for the door. Practically bowling Shizune over as he steps out onto the darkened deck, he disappears into the night. When the door closes, Shizune is looking at me, but her gaze turns quickly over to Misha, who's staring at the floor, swaying and muttering like a child caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

[What was that about?] Shizune inquires, but Misha isn't paying attention.

Walking toward the door, I hastily sign, [She didn't mean to.]

Before I can head out after him, I feel a hand on my shoulder and spin around to see Hisao. “I'll go,” he says, nodding toward the door, “guy talk.”

Before I can protest, he's already stepping through the door, and I'm left to explain what happened to Shizune. Evidently, as I suspected, she figured out the dynamic between Yoko and Kenta while on the bus ride down here, and told Misha not to say anything. That makes me think Naoko must have it figured out, too, and I have little doubt Amaya saw them exchanging glances.

Every one of us decided to keep it under our hats.

That shouldn't surprise me, really. Behind the sarcasm and joking, Kenta is really shy and almost reclusive when it comes to being social. He talks big and carries himself with feigned confidence, but inside he's conflicted and introverted. That's why it's difficult for people to get to know him; he projects himself as being bombastic and irreverent, but it's all an act.

Yoko, too, is similarly shy and reserved, though it's much more obvious where she's concerned. Being humble almost to a fault, and somewhat suspicious of praise, she reminds me of myself from two years ago; though I was much more abrasive. Meek and unassuming, instead of projecting, she hides herself away such that her own classmates hardly notice she's there sometimes.

Thinking about it now, I wonder if leaving them to their own devices was the best approach. When Kenta and I tried dating, I was the one who asked. His agreement came swiftly and with a broad smile at the time, but he was completely terrified, he later told me. Considering that, I doubt either of them would ever initiate anything, so I wonder whether Misha's slip might actually be a blessing in disguise.

[Maybe,] Shizune replies, looking at me with a raised eyebrow, [still, it's not our place to push them together.]

[Like with Hisao and myself,] I retort.

[That was-] she starts to say, but shakes her head and concedes, [okay, it's not so different.] Her concession comes with a questioning look, and I hold back my response while she contemplates. After a few moments, she smirks mischievously and suggests, [Subtlety will be required.]

Nodding in full agreement, I hear a door click open from the bedrooms. Patting the air and pointing, I nod at Shizune, and my signal causes her to straighten her face and wait. As I suspected, Naoko and Yoko round the corner a few moments later, both smiling giddily. The living room is somewhat dark, but when they cross into the kitchen, I can see Naoko's hair is braided and wrapped around the sides of her head, held tightly in place with a few hair clips.

A pleasant surprise? Had to be at least one of those today.

Misha is the first to react, bounding over and clapping her hands together as Naoko spins and curtsies, grinning broadly. “Wahaha~!” she laughs, then signs as she speaks, “you look like a princess~!”

Smiling broadly, I step forward and sign, [Now you just need a crown, princess.]

Replying with a toothy grin and a fast nod, she spins and wraps Yoko in a quick hug. When she breaks away, she signs, “Thank you” to her, then repeats it about twelve more times.

Somewhat overwhelmed by the outpouring, Yoko smiles shyly and finally holds up a hand. [Don't mention it,] she manages to sign in response, and Naoko wraps her in another hug; presumably because of the signing. After breaking away, Naoko immediately heads into the kitchen and steps right up beside Nobuo, watching him hawkishly with an impish grin. Watching Nobuo ignore her, quite intentionally, makes me smile.

Midori usually pouts and starts whining when I ignore her, but, unfortunately, as the door opens and Hisao steps in with Kenta following close behind, I don't get to watch the sibling rivalry. After passing the threshold, Kenta hesitates and looks over my shoulder at Yoko, but he quickly shakes his head and brushes past Hisao, headed for the wine. At least he doesn't look angry, but I'm still worried about him.

Not wanting to indicate there might be something wrong, I quickly look away back toward my red-haired friend. Her eyes are locked on Kenta, from what I can tell, though I don't think she knows what happened. Seeing my gaze, she quickly spins and walks back toward the living room. Something about her gait tells me there's something wrong, so I follow her.

She sits in one of the armchairs and leans back heavily, closing her eyes. Sitting on the arm of the couch, I put my feet up on the arm of her chair and nudge her shoulder with my foot. Ignoring my nudge, she looks exhausted and I'm starting to think the flush of red on her cheeks isn't from embarrassment. Recalling her accident, and the resulting trauma, I ask, “Another migraine?”

Keeping her eyes closed, she turns toward the sound of my voice and shakes her head. “Not exactly,” she replies, “remember how I couldn't sleep?” Nodding, I think I'm starting to understand. “Well, Shizune and Misha got me up at the crack of nobody ever gets up this early,” she explains, which makes me frown, “so this isn't quite a migraine.”

Having no small amount of experience with sleeplessness and insomnia, I understand completely. “Why don't you go lie down,” I advise her, “I'm sure Naoko can get by without her slave.” Seeing her smile a little, I nudge her shoulder again and add, “Maybe I can convince Shizune to sleep out here tonight.”

Opening her eyes, she sets a frightened look on me and winces. “You didn't tell her, did you?” she asks pleadingly.

“No, of course not!” I reply, giggling at the reminder, “but I can come up with something.”

With some help, maybe.

“What about dinner?” she asks as she leans forward, already ready to follow my advice.

Smirking, I can't help myself from saying, “I'll have Kenta deliver a plate.”

Stopping to glare at me, she seems to realize I'm not being serious, but takes a moment to make sure. Satisfied that I wouldn't do something so bold, or at least deciding she's too tired to care, she sets off down the hall. With her gone out of sight, I turn myself around and slip down onto the couch, then wave at Shizune, beckoning her over.

On her way, she waves Hisao along, and they both head over. Sitting in Yoko's vacated seat, Shizune immediately asks, [Is she alright?]

Hisao sits next to me and looks equally concerned. [She's just tired,] I explain, then nod toward Shizune and add, [someone woke her up early after keeping her up past midnight.]

Shizune furrows her brow at the accusation and balks, [She went to bed the same time as us!]

[She couldn't sleep in there because-] I almost just say it, but I cut off my own signing. Taking a breath, I redirect my line of thought and conclude, [Because it's a weird place.]

Accepting the explanation, Shizune nods, and pushes on to the real question, [What do we do about her and Kenta?]

For a few minutes, neither of us have any good ideas; nothing suitable, anyway. The subtle approach is definitely not my area of expertise, nor is it Shizune's, not by a long shot, but Hisao, on the other hand, seems to have a handle on subtlety. Both of us turn out attention when he finally holds up a hand to offer a simple solution.

“Strand them alone together,” he suggests aloud, and I quickly relay it to Shizune.

Initially, we're both a little confused by the idea, but when what he means starts sinking in, we both start smiling wickedly. Just to confirm what I think he means, I ask, “You mean have everyone else drum up reasons and leave them here?”

“Yeah, it's a nice moonlit night out there; I'm sure Amaya and Tadao would enjoy a walk,” he explains, gaining confidence as he speaks, “you and I could do the same,” he smirks weirdly as he says that, “and the other three could bow out beforehand to... um-”

[Misha, Naoko and I can come up with something, I'm sure,] Shizune interrupts him, which is quite a thing for a mute to do, actually. Looking at me, her devilish grin is all the indication I need to understand her enthusiasm. Instead, she nods toward Hisao and comments, [He's smarter than he looks sometimes.]

Hisao feigns a protest, “Hey, I can read sign, y'know.”

Ignoring him, I see Shizune's delighted expression falter as she glances toward the kitchen. [What about Nobuo?] she inquires.

Looking over at him, I see Misha has gone back to his side, along with Naoko, and they're both competing for his attention. Noticing that, I get a stupid idea, but it's probably dumb enough to work. [Invite him along with the three of you,] I suggest, [he could probably use the distraction, and the company.]

Settling a cross expression on me, she folds her arms and frowns a little. Glancing back out at the kitchen, she raises an eyebrow and seems to sigh. Shrugging, she looks back at me and nods. [Fine, for the good of the plan at least,] she relents, smirking as she adds, [Misha seems to like him, anyway.]

One last look at her and Hisao, and I start nodding. With the plan settled, now all we have to do is set it in motion, which means informing the rest of the troupe clandestinely. Shizune sets off to tell Misha and Naoko about our devious little plan, while I'm left to inform Amaya and Tadao. Of course, they're still hidden away in one of the bedrooms.

Doing God knows what.

Serendipity steps in and inspires Kenta to bellow from the kitchen, “Hey you guys think the lovebirds are done yet?” his question hangs in the air for a few seconds, bringing silence to all the chatter, “Nobuo's almost done, and I think we should have a toast before dinner!”

His timing might be impeccable, but the prospect of actually fulfilling that request has me tied in knots. Images from the shed come back to mind immediately; images I've tried to forget, but have actually grown more detailed. It's made worse by the fact that, although there are seven people other than me, I'm the only one Kenta is talking to about fetching Amaya and Tadao.

More penance for being the one to push them together, I imagine.

Hisao is suppressing a laugh as I stand, and I nearly swat his shin for the suggestive smirk on his lips, but I restrain myself. The look in his eyes is one of sympathy as I back away slowly and sigh loudly. Spinning on my heel, I start marching down the hall, waving my hand behind me and mumbling, “I'll go check.”

The hallway light isn't on, so what little light there is is beaming out from under the bedroom doors; two of them at least. One from the room where Yoko went to lay down, and the other from my room, which is the one I assume they chose for their little soirée. That thought is dashed a moment later when I hear thudding footsteps, at least I think -hope- they're footsteps, resonating from the boys' room; the one that's still dark. Taking the last few strides slowly, I measure my steps so as not to make a sound, listening for any sign of... activity.

Please let there be no activity. Please let there be no activity!

Standing in front of the wooden door, I raise my hand to knock, but hesitate. Images from the shed flash back through my mind, and I can almost smell that strange, lemony scent as I stand there, wondering if I should even bother knocking. Closing my eyes, I shake away the memory and take a deep breath before steadying my nerves, balling my hand into a fist, and knocking lightly, three times.

A short silence follows as the knocks echo in the hallway, and I wonder whether this was a good idea. They've been in there for at least an hour, so they're probably finished, and might even be famished after doing whatever two horny adolescents do behind closed doors during a weekend getaway without adult supervision.

I can't do this!

Feeling my insides flipping over, I spin around quickly and start tip-toeing briskly away, but Amaya's saccharine voice stops me dead in my tracks. “Who is it~?” she inquires.

My shoulders tense and my thoughts race as I analyze her voice. She sounds very happy, or maybe relieved, though that sounds even worse. Whatever state her mind is in, it seems Tadao's version of discipline agreed with her. Then again, I haven't heard Tadao say anything, so maybe he's asleep; I've heard guys fall asleep afterward.

Dammit! Why do I have friends?

Creeping back toward the door, I have trouble voicing any kind of sounds, but I manage to force out, “It's Aiko.”

There's some shuffling, followed by a loud bang, like something large falling to the floor, followed by a stifled groan. Amaya's melodic tone cracks as she blurts, “wake up, Master~!”

Did she just roll him onto the floor?

Instead of giving myself a chance to picture that, I clear my throat and go about explaining, “Kenta's about to start opening the wine, and thought we should all be there.”

“Ooh~!” she exclaims, “we'll be right out~!”

“Okay,” I say, turning to leave.

“We have to clean up first~!” she adds, making me stop dead in my tracks and bow my head as my cheeks flush.

Why did you think I wanted to know that!?

Heaving a sigh as my dirty mind starts showing me a lewd clip-show, I shake my head and bury my face in an upraised palm. Rolling my eyes, and without even turning around to look at the door, I reply, “Um... okay,” and start walking briskly away, not wanting to hear any more snippets of their discussion.

Keeping my head down, I head directly for the couch and lay down, propping my feet up in Hisao's lap as he sits on the far end, watching me with a bewildered expression. Of course, his is no match for my own. Closing my eyes, I can't help but start laughing at all this absurdity. Six weeks ago, those two wouldn't even sit down in a room alone; I had to chaperone any time they were together, at the request of one or the other. Outside of literature club, I had to be there, or they wouldn't so much as look at each-other.

I almost miss those days.

Now, not only are they alone in a room together, but they're engaged in post-coitus cleaning efforts. Clearly they have no shame about what they're doing, but I can't even think it, much less say it; it simply isn't something I can be casual about. Even the word refuses to pass my thoughts or my lips, even though I've had a lot of moments thinking about it, especially in the past month.

Sex. Okay, there it is!

It's a small victory, really, but it's on my mind enough that I ought to be able to use the right word; the casual word. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but it's a meaningful word to me, and I think it gets thrown around too much lately. Not that it's a bad word, or something that's wrong to do, but I firmly believe it shouldn't be done casually. Amaya and Tadao are in love, and all early indications are that it won't merely be a fling, so I don't really have a problem with them being intimate, but I could do with less flaunting.

Opening my eyes, I see Hisao fidgeting a little, wincing as my heels dig into his thigh, but I need the stress relief. Centering an apologetic look on him, I stuff my head back and grab one of the pillows to cover my face. Thankfully, Hisao stays quiet, apparently realizing I don't want to talk about it; either that or he's taking his slave role very seriously at this moment. Whatever the reason, I'm glad he doesn't need to be told to keep quiet.

If only I could forget what I just heard.

Unfortunately, there isn't any way to erase memories without incurring potential brain damage, at least as far as I know. Plenty of science fiction stories have some device, spell or ritual to remove memories, but none of those are real. Perhaps someday, someone, maybe even Hisao or Kenta, will come up with an actual way to do that, but, for now, I'll have to go without.

Although, maybe it's not so bad knowing things, sometimes unsavory things, about the people I love. Considering how much I focused on finding out what Hisao was doing at Yamaku, I think not knowing might be worse. Then again, if I never knew the information existed, I wonder if I would have been so curious about him from the start. Maybe I owe Emi a debt of gratitude for stopping me in the hallway on that busy morning to explain about the new student.

She inadvertently set me on a path to find out more about him, after all; made me curious about him, at least. That led to this entire last month, which has, for the most part, been very enjoyable. There were a few dark moments, especially right after last weekend, but having Hisao around has been mostly positive, at least for me. My mystery man, my partner in crime, and my confidant, Hisao has somehow, without trying very hard, become important to me; as important as any of my other friends, and maybe, just maybe, a bit more.

Lying here on the couch in this far-away beach-house, I'm very slowly coming to the realization that Hisao might mean more to me than anyone else in my life. Butterflies in my stomach signal something primal in the realization, a feeling I haven't exactly experienced before. Resisting the urge to remove the pillow so I can inspect him more clearly, I pull my heels off his thigh and rest the arches of my feet against him instead.

Do I love him...? Can I love him?

Furrowing my brow in confusion, I try to think about it logically. Hisao and I have been dating, officially, at least, for barely a week. Most of that time was spent sneaking around the school grounds, plotting a sordid reunion between my friends, who have become his friends, and being led to this distant location on the promise of good times; which have been delivered upon thus far.

Without even thinking about it, I showed him a place I've kept from everyone; my secret hiding spot atop the pool building. There, I sat him down and told him about Dad, my past, and why I found myself up there in the first place. His reaction was genuine and thoughtful, and he even understood why I'd become so depressed and uncouth.

But can I love him and let him love me without telling him everything?

Shamelessly risking the eventual heartache he would feel upon my early demise seems cruel. Seeing Amaya crestfallen and heartbroken after she nearly destroyed her relationship with Tadao put me in a downward spiral, and that was just a lovers spat. The thought of bringing that kind of pain down on Hisao's shoulders, magnified by the circumstances, makes me feel physically ill.

Twenty years, maybe twenty-five, and I'll be gone, leaving a hole in the lives of anyone who deigned to love me. There's really nothing I can do about that where Mom and Midori are concerned, but the thought of adding more people to the pew rows, to look on as I'm prepared for the long oblivion, strikes me as cruel beyond words. Still, part of me wonders what it might be like to have someone to share that burden.

That's selfish, though.

Otherwise, I wonder if Hisao will even remember me in twenty-five years; I'd like to think he would. Amaya will probably still be around, along with Tadao; probably with kids our age by then. Kenta might stay in contact as well, probably by annoying me with explicit, unruly e-mails not unlike the ones he sometimes sends now, but I can't say the same for the rest.

Shizune and Misha would probably attend the funeral, assuming they remember me at all, though they'll probably be busy. Naoko might make it out if she isn't buried hip-deep in clay, sculpting her way through Eastern Europe, or maybe she'll be a professor of history at some university. Yoko will probably be living in Canada by then, or someplace equally distant, and might not even hear about my death until years later.

Thinking about this is depressing.
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Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 11:09 pm, edited 11 times in total.

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Chapter 23 – Nocturnum Vinosum (part 2)

Post by Helbereth » Wed Oct 03, 2012 7:10 pm

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“You okay?” Amaya asks, sounding concerned.

Opening my eyes slightly, the concerned look on her face catches me feeling self-conscious. Sitting up, I swing my feet off the couch in a rush, causing my head to loll with a little dizzy spell. Grinning sheepishly, I turn up to look at her squarely and reply, “I'm fine, why?”

“You're not sick or anything, right~?” she asks, a smile cutting away the look of concern.

“Nope, fit as a fiddle,” I answer, standing, “just laying around with my boyfriend.”

Hisao nods in affirmation, offering Amaya a complicit smile. The last five minutes were hardly time spent together, but he's apparently willing to agree with a white lie to save us from further inquiry.

“Good!” she exclaims, “c'mon, we have a date with the bottom of a bottle of wine.”

Nodding kindly, she waves her hand, beckoning us to follow, and heads for the kitchen. Reaching my hand out for Hisao to take, I help him to his feet, then retain his hand, pulling it up to wrap around my elbow as we follow Amaya. Misha and Nobuo stand by the cook-top, apparently putting the finishing touches on dinner, while everyone else, except Yoko, hovers around the island.

Seeing the two of us approaching, Kenta beams, “welcome to the party, pals!”

Sometimes his movie references are tiring.

Apparently he has recovered nicely from Misha's verbal stumble; that's good. Maybe he won't be completely awkward when we leave him alone with Yoko later. Shizune sees my slightly devious grin and nods knowingly, pointing toward Misha and Naoko as I approach, indicating they've been informed. Some dread passes over my expression as I recall I'll need to inform Amaya and Tadao still, but that shouldn't be difficult; I just hope they've worked on their acting since their little library trap.

Part of the smile on my face, truthfully, has nothing to do with Kenta, Yoko, or anything else happening on our little beach-side vacation, except the little choir of wine bottles arranged in a circle on the island. Mom actually introduced me to wine years ago, as part of her teaching me a bit about my fading Italian heritage, so it's something I've had experience with. Seeing my longing stare, I'm sure more than a few of my friends are wondering what kind of experience I've had with wine, or alcohol in general, but I think I'll keep that to myself.

They don't need to know.

“I think the birthday girl should pick the first bottle,” Tadao remarks, looking at me with a raised eyebrow.

“It's not my birthday until Wednesday,” I retort, meeting his raised eyebrow with my own.

“Can you pick anyway?” Kenta pleads, “we've been trying to decide since we got here.”

“What makes you think I know anything about wine?” I inquire derisively with a practiced, woeful shrug, feigning innocence. All eyes fall on him as my question also carries the weight of an accusation, and everyone seems to wonder what made him think something so sordid about me; or at least I guess that's what they're thinking.

I've been wrong before.

When he doesn't answer, Amaya perks up and replies, “because you've had experience~!”

Well, there goes that plan.

A chorus of somewhat shocked noises rises from around the group. Hisao looks more disappointed than shocked, though I'm not really sure why. Perhaps he thought I might get completely smashed drunk and he could have his way with me, though I'd like to believe he wasn't thinking that; at least I hope not.

Giving up the facade of ignorance, I scan over the sea of bottles with a more critical eye. Realizing after a moment that the selection probably doesn't matter, I let out a resigned sigh and reach for a bottle of merlot. Handing it over to Kenta with a confident smirk, I imagine he's probably harboring a bit of fear behind that facade of excitement. As far as I know, he hasn't imbibed any kind of alcohol before, but he probably thought the same about me until a moment ago, so I probably shouldn't assume anything.

Looking at me, and wiping the excited smile off his face for a moment, he glances toward the bedrooms and asks, “What about Yoko?”

“She'll be back out later,” I reply confidently, “she's just taking a nap.”

The disappointment written on his face makes my smile falter. “Oh,” he says flatly.

“Hey, she'll be fine~!” Amaya chirps, slapping Kenta's shoulder. “Now are you going to open that?” she inquires, raising a mocking eyebrow, “or do I have to send the brute squad?”

Tadao grins menacingly; apparently he's the brute squad.

Quickly recovering his grin, Kenta nods and starts trying to uncork the bottle. His left hand being weakened by his condition, it has trouble holding the bottle, so we're forced to watch him pawing at it vainly. Honestly, it's probably not something I should laugh at, but I can't help myself. Hisao hears me stifling the laugh and nudges me with his elbow, but that just serves to force out a loud guffaw.

Grabbing my mouth to stem the flow, I stare at Kenta apologetically, but he doesn't seem offended. Instead he sighs and hands the bottle over to Tadao, remarking, “Give it a go, brute squad.”

Tadao makes a show of wriggling his fingers, then grabs the cork and yanks it free, holding the open bottle out to Kenta. “You loosened it for me, I'm sure,” he says with a condescending smirk. Ignoring the barb, Kenta goes about pouring the wine into the glass stemware.

The first time she let me try wine, Mom was tentative about letting me drink too much, but didn't hold back, letting me decide when I'd had enough. The following morning was unpleasant, to say the least. On later occasions, I was more reserved, and managed to enjoy being tipsy without waking up to a thousand hammers beating on my brain. With that in mind, I have no plans to drown myself in alcohol; especially not with such dirty thoughts edging at the borders of my consciousness.

Alcohol plus hormones and opportunity equals bad decisions.

Being a mathematician-in-training, I know how to calculate that outcome; Mom would probably murder me. That might be a little extreme, but, keeping those consequences in mind, I'm terrified to go beyond my limits. Of course, I don't think Hisao is the type to take advantage of me, but, really, I'm not sure if I might end up attacking him, pinning him to a chair, or a bed, or the wall of a closet, and having my way with him; I'd rather not find out.

Spread equally among ten glasses, apparently setting one aside for Yoko, the single bottle leaves them less than half full, but that's plenty enough for a taste. Kenta carries glasses over for Misha and Nobuo, but our indentured cook refuses, saying he already sampled enough.

Rejoining us at the island, Kenta holds up his glass and says solemnly, “To Yamaku.” Smirking and shaking his head, he adds, “And our horrible luck!”

How appropriately inappropriate.

Sipping the dark liquid, and rolling it around my mouth to try enjoying the experience, I watch as the rest approach the floral-smelling concoction with various levels of ease. Amaya looks a little confused by the taste, I think, her brow furrowing as it passes her lips. Hisao reacts similarly, sipping tentatively and then looking confused by the disparity in odor and flavor.

Shizune seems the least unaccustomed to it, sipping it casually like myself, and holding it in her mouth before swallowing; she probably has some experience. Unable to see behind me, I don't quite know how Misha is taking it, but I can hear her giggling approvingly. Naoko appears not to like it at all, setting the glass down and making a sour face, looking like she wants to spit it out. Tadao and Kenta, on the other hand, toss the burgundy liquid back like the last remnants of a canteen, swallowing before the taste can even settle on their tongues.

Kenta nods and slaps the counter a few times, then screws up his face and grunts, “Yeah!”

Shizune scowls at him and signs, [You're supposed to enjoy it, not guzzle it, pleb!]

He responds with a toothy grin, signing, [I guess I'm just a pleb, then!]

Must resist the urge to comment.

Shizune comments for me, [Maybe you'd enjoy a nice boxed wine, then.]

Kenta scoffs and slaps Tadao on the shoulder, [We just drink like men!] Tadao grins and nods, apparently supporting the claim. Beside me, I hear a disapproving sigh coming from Hisao, but neither of them seem to notice.

Rolling her eyes, Shizune shakes her head and turns away, taking another sip as she walks over toward the window and sits on the bench. Misha joins her, apparently having drained half her glass, and is met with a resigned shake of Shizune's head; evidently they've done this before, and Misha is a bit less cultured where wine is concerned. Naoko leaves her glass on the counter and joins them, plopping down next to Misha, bouncing her braids absently. They slip into a somewhat covert conversation, the only word out of which I can pick out is 'karaoke', but that hardly makes sense.

Assuming I read the sign wrong, considering the source, I take advantage of everyone being distracted by the wine and motion toward Amaya. Pulling her into the living room, I explain the plan, making a point of reminding her not to act foolish and just slip out unannounced, rather than making a show of their exit. She pouts and protests, but relents eventually, promising to follow my instructions despite her claim that nothing would go wrong.

Soon after, Nobuo announces he's finished, and proceeds to set out his diverse selection on the dining table. Having grown up with a four-star chef, I'm used to seeing a spread like this, but I'm still a little overwhelmed by how much effort he put into creating such a feast. He wasn't kidding when he mentioned desiring feedback.

Introducing each dish separately, his eyes light up and he smiles more than I've seen since his arrival, but, just like with Amaya's creations, I'm completely lost trying to understand his explanations. Luckily, there are other people at the table who know more about cooking, namely Amaya and Shizune, so nobody looks to me for commentary.

Sitting beside me, I can tell Hisao is about as interested in Nobuo's explanations as I am, but he's faking interest to be polite. While he's nodding at something Nobuo said about a particular technique, something about wrapping fish in banana leaves, I shake my head at him and smile mockingly. Both of us know he has no clue what Nobuo is talking about, and I can't help but wonder if I've seen that phony expression before.

Leaning close, resting my chin on my palm, I whisper, “You're trying too hard.”

“At least I'm trying to look interested,” he retorts.

Taking a swig of wine, which is still the first one, I shrug and look back at Nobuo. He and Amaya are hung up on a discussion about cooking temperatures, or something equally mind-numbing, so I drain my glass and stand, patting Hisao's shoulder to indicate he should stay, and head over to grab another bottle. Rolling it over in my hand, I take a few extra moments, standing in the empty kitchen, before heading back to the table.

Evidently, that one glass of wine has already started its work, and I wobble a little as I sit down, giggling as I land in the chair. Nobody seems to notice, but the little rush of dizziness makes me reconsider pouring myself another glass right away. Passing the bottle over to Tadao, I remark, “take it, brute squad,” a little too loud.

Silence falls over the table for a moment, and although I can feel their eyes on me, I simply smirk in response. Tadao pops the cork on the second bottle and fills the silence with the sound of burbling liquid splashing into emptied stemware. When he's finished refilling everyone's glasses, he sits back down and holds up his glass as if to offer a toast.

Looking around the table nervously, he seems a little lost for a moment. Caught with nothing prepared, he pauses and smirks, looking toward Kenta. Over his shoulder, Naoko saves him by signing a quick suggestion that he quickly parrots, “To Nobuo, crafter of this feast!”

A chorus of affirming grunts and nods follows, while Nobuo bows silently. Finally taking his seat, our resident epicurean smiles and says simply, “Enjoy.”

Digging into the meal, the conversations come to an end, replaced by clattering silverware, munching and more than a few delighted noises. Culinary arts is still something that eludes me, but I can appreciate a well made meal, and Nobuo definitely knows what he's doing; everyone seems to agree. Once the initial feasting fades and conversations start bouncing around the table, I'm content just to sit and watch, and listen.

My second glass of wine drains slowly, though the same isn't true all around the table. Kenta and Tadao have almost made a competition out of gulping the wine as quickly as it's poured. Between them, I'm pretty sure they've finished off an entire bottle on their own, and it's starting to show in Kenta's cheeks. Tadao is much less effected, though his tongue has gotten more lax; the alcohol apparently wearing away his barrier between thought and speech.

Misha seems to enjoy the wine with almost as much gusto, but Shizune is there to stop her from going overboard. Despite that, Shizune is working on her third glass, and I can see her eyes getting a little leery, though she retains her posture. Eerily silent, her hands hardly contribute to the conversation, but she does keep looking over at me as if expecting a signal.

After one such hand wave, Hisao whispers in my ear, “You're sure about this?”

Smiling broadly, I turn and plant a kiss on his cheek. “I'll go get Yoko,” I say, picking up my glass as I stand.

Noticing my exit, and the direction, Kenta, who's slumped down against the table, holds up a hand and inquires, “You're not goin' to bed, are ya?” His speech isn't slurred, but there's a heavy quality to his voice, though I don't find that surprising.

He's a little sloshed.

“Just getting Yoko so she can get something to eat before it's gone!” I explain, smirking at his alarmed reaction. Walking backwards, I watch him sitting up and running a hand through his hair, apparently deciding to groom himself a little. Shaking my head, I don't bother suppressing the giggle as I turn around and head for the bedrooms.

Noticing the light is off, I approach quietly and calmly, not wanting to disturb her too much. Knocking lightly, and listening closely, I hear a groan through the door and take that as an invitation. Pushing through, I lean against the door-jamb and peer into the darkened room. Yoko is apparently on the bed, rather than one of the bunks, as I can just make out her slender shadow sitting against the headboard.

“Aiko?” she prompts.

“Have a good nap?” I ask, smiling toward the dark figure.

“Y-yeah,” she stutters, “i-is dinner ready?”

“How long have you been sitting here in the dark?” I ask, reaching for the light.

“Don't!” she protests, but my hand is already sweeping across the switch.

The light fills the room revealing Yoko, sitting against the headboard, blankets pulled tightly against her neck, her face flushed with embarrassment and shock. Staring for a moment, I realize the groan I heard probably wasn't an invitation; more an involuntary reaction to whatever she was doing under that blanket. Feeling embarrassed, I quickly turn the light off and back out of the room.

“I'm sorry,” I mumble as I pull the door closed. Closing my eyes, trying to reconcile what I just saw with some other explanation, I find myself leaning my forehead against the door, shaking my head.

Why me?

Before I can ponder that, Naoko appears beside me, tapping my shoulder and smiling brightly. [Can I get by?] she asks, pointing toward the door, [I need to use the bathroom,] she explains.

Backing away from the door, I quickly stop myself, realizing that's probably not the best idea. Fumbling forward, I hold up a hand, stopping her from walking in and making things worse for poor Yoko. [Go use ours,] I say, [Yoko's still asleep,] I lie. Whatever she might think about the wince I'm making as I point toward the other room, she thankfully doesn't need any more convincing.

I'm sure Yoko will appreciate the deflection.

That is, assuming she ever speaks to me again. Watching Naoko heading into the room across the hall, I lean against the door behind me, wondering whether I might have just sent Yoko back inside her shell. Accidentally or not, I feel awful having caught her like that, assuming that's what she was doing. Maybe I'm just jumping to conclusions. Maybe she just likes sitting in the dark. Maybe it was completely innocent.

I'm probably just trying to fool myself.

A shy voice breaks my thoughts, coming through the door. “Aiko, you there?”

Well, she's still talking to me. That's a good sign.

“Yeah,” I answer, trying to sound chipper, “still here.”

A long silence follows, during which I drain the rest of my wine, deciding I need a little liquid courage. Pushing off the door, I turn and wait. Looking down I notice the light is back on, and I hear shuffling, so I imagine she's getting dressed.

Opening the door slightly, she peers out with an embarrassed smile. Seeing her lips starting to move, I can sense an incoming apology, but decide not to let her do that; she did nothing wrong. “My fault,” I say, stopping her words, “should have waited for an actual answer or something.”

The door across from us opens and Naoko bounds out into the hall, smiling blissfully. Waving at Yoko as she passes, her quickened gait seems to indicate she had a purpose behind the restroom visit; Shizune mentioned they wanted to head out first. Yoko is watching Naoko walk away, and I see the question in her eyes. “I'm the only one who-” I start to say, but stop myself, not wanting it to sound like an accusation.

“You did nothing wrong,” I assure her, “heck, I think everyone does that sometimes.” Now I'm just talking ahead of myself; which might be a result of the wine. “I've been down that road myself,” I admit, laughing nervously, “it'll be our little secret.”

Before I can dig any deeper into this conversational hole, Yoko pulls the door the rest of the way open and holds up a hand. “Not so loud!” she scolds.

Was I talking loud?

My eyes open wide and I look back along the hall, but there's nobody close enough to have heard me, I think. Looking back at Yoko, I smile sheepishly and shrug. She notices the glass in my hand and nods, raising an eyebrow at me as though leaping to a hasty conclusion. “I'm fine!” I protest, whispering loudly, “just two glasses! The first thing I lose control over is my voice, though, so... there goes that, I guess.”

She eyes me warily, but slowly nods and even giggles a little at my admission.

“C'mon,” I say, waving my hand down the hall, “Nobuo made us a feast, and you look hungry.”

Can someone look hungry?

Giggling at that thought, I start walking back toward the dinner party, Yoko in tow. When we reach the dining room, I notice there are four empty chairs; apparently Shizune, Misha, Naoko and Nobuo have already left. Tadao is standing as we approach, and Amaya gets up alongside, smirking at me; or maybe at Yoko.

Stop that, Amaya!

Seeing my glare, she turns away and grabs Tadao's hand, heading for the door. As they quietly make their exit, I notice Kenta straightening up in his seat, trying not to stare at my bashful companion. Their eyes lock anyway, if only for a moment. The awkward exchange doesn't last very long, but, for that brief second, I do wonder what Yoko was imagining in that darkened room. Perhaps I should avoid thinking about that, though.

Hurriedly sitting down across from Kenta, Yoko starts fixing herself a plate while I lean back in my seat and start pouring myself a third glass of wine. Offering a refill to Hisao, he shakes his head and nods toward Yoko. Frowning a little at his refusal, I turn and offer, “Wine?”

Her reaction is a little tentative, but she nods slowly and smiles; she could probably use a drink right about now. The glass Kenta poured for her got commandeered by someone, probably Tadao, so I'm forced to go find her another one, a chore that Hisao follows me to help with, despite it being such a simple one.

Does he think I'm that drunk already?

“Are you gonna finish that first, or should we slip out now?” he asks in a hushed tone as I'm searching through the cabinet.

Ah, right. We have a moonlit walk to take.

“We can slip out now, and I'll finish this when we get back,” I explain, grabbing a glass and closing the cabinet; all the while making a conscious effort to keep my voice down.

Nodding, Hisao follows me back to the table but doesn't bother sitting. While I'm pouring for Yoko, I turn toward Hisao and smile. “Great idea~!” I say, misdirecting any suspicion they might have had about our brief interlude, “Hisao and I are gonna follow their lead,” I point toward the door with my thumb, “and take an after-dinner walk.”

Their reactions are priceless. Kenta looks around anywhere but at Yoko, while she stares at me, mouth agape, and starts absently twirling a lock of her hair. For a moment, I wonder whether they realize they're being set up, but it hardly matters now. Taking another sip, draining half the contents, really, to pull my eyes away and assuage some suspicion, I set the glass down on the table near Yoko and grasp her shoulder. “This one's mine,” I declare, “do not touch~!”

Letting out a giggle as I spin, I see Hisao is looking away, probably so they can't see whatever face he's making; that's probably for the best. Wrapping my arm around his elbow, I grin up at him and we start heading for the door. Part of me definitely wants to turn around to see the looks on their faces, but I know that would just break the illusion of coincidence.

If anything, this will get them talking.

Stepping outside, the first thing I notice is the expansive sky. No longer overcast, it's instead dotted with a million points of light, cascading across an indigo blanket that seems to go on forever in every direction. Staring off in wonderment, I see the moon resting just above the ocean, a bright white circle bathing the waves in sparkling reflections. Standing by the railing for a few moments, I feel like I've left the Earth, flying into the starry night.

The cool night air, still a little damp from the rain, rolls over me as a gentle breeze sends goosebumps up around my bare legs and arms. That realization brings me back down to the ground, but the smile remains as I turn and regard Hisao's similarly wistful expression. Feeling a shiver run through me, I regret, for a moment, not wearing a sweatshirt or something, but it's a little late to go back now. Noticing my shiver, Hisao pulls me closer, and I realize that the cold doesn't really bother me as long as he's here.

Feeling heat radiating from him, I smile gently and lean my head on his shoulder, which makes walking down the stairs a little awkward, but I don't think he minds. Reaching the bottom, I notice there are a number of sets of footprints leading through the wet sand. While I can't quite tell which set belongs to who, it's pretty easy to see one group took Nobuo's car, and the other pair headed down along the beach; toward the boardwalk. As I point it out to Hisao, he's already turning us in the other direction, apparently having the same idea.

We'll go our own way.

The sound of crashing waves and crunching sand, mixed with the rustling grass and a chorus of invisible insects, fills the air, but I'm too busy staring at Hisao to notice. Setting a pretty slow pace, neither of us speaks as we trace along the beach, but it's hardly necessary.

There's an ethereal quality to moonlight, and the effect it has on someone's face can be irresistibly alluring; Hisao's is no different. His tousled hair, pale skin, bright, narrow eyes and pointed chin all seem to glow, and his darkened irises, reflecting the dazzling star-field, look like they're seeing straight through me. Perhaps it's just the wine making me think that, but, right now, I don't really care.

Feeling lightheaded and hazy is the best part of drinking, I think, and it can make you more honest, which is often enlightening. Not that I'm a dishonest person, but I sometimes cloud the truth a little, if only to save myself from having to explain something embarrassing. Anything Hisao asked right now would probably be met with an unguarded answer, but he's a little tipsy himself, so I don't think he wants to push his luck.

My legs seem to be feeling the effects of the wine as well, and I feel myself stumble. Hisao reacts quickly, his strong hands keeping me level. Some of the grip he has on me seems to be for my stability, but I'm not offended; actually, I'm glad. Nudging his shoulder as we continue along, I can't help but feel a little safer having him around, and he should know that much.

“You're great at catching me,” I mumble, blushing with a little embarrassment.

He probably can't discern the blush, but he does nod and reply, “You've mentioned that before.”

I guess I have...

“It's one of your finer qualities,” I add, resting my head back against his shoulder and squeezing his hand for emphasis.

Feeling his arm wrap around my side, I grin broadly and giggle when his fingers trace along my ribs. Dulled a little by the alcohol, I'm still pushed into giggling by his gentle touch, though it doesn't bother me much. Reminded of the warm feeling I started to get while he was rubbing my shoulders, I push against him harder and sigh contentedly.

Distant bells indicate a buoy somewhere out in the darkened sea, its chiming acting as the only solid indicator that time has continued moving onward. The waves rolling in work similarly, but they're too constant to feel like anything other than white noise. The beach narrows, and we find ourselves stepping into the chilly surf for a short distance, but it doesn't cause our pace to quicken.

Instead, our pace slows even more, though neither of us complains, but I'm starting to wonder whether this was the best idea. Just the two of us out on a moonlit night, walking along a deserted beach, hanging on each-other for warmth and security, while both being slightly inebriated; this is exactly the kind of thing I had wanted to avoid. However, bringing that up might kill the mood. Seeing the look on Hisao's face is somewhat comforting; he looks a little terrified.

Is he thinking the same thing?

Considering how often that happens, I wouldn't be surprised. Despite the influence of the other guys, Hisao didn't drink terribly much; probably less than I did, really. Whether it's because he's new to drinking, he's worried about his heart condition, or because of some other reason, I think he wanted to keep his head relatively clear. The somewhat frightened look in his eyes as we walk makes me wonder if he avoided getting drunk so he could keep control of himself, perhaps only for my sake.

Thinking that almost makes me want to prove the whole thing wrong. Deep in my mind, there's a fiendish little voice encouraging me to ignore the potential consequences and take the next step. Like our first night together, so long ago it seems, under a starry night with fireworks blazing, I feel like I could tip the scale, sieze this moment the way I couldn't before, and end the suspense. However, I'm not quite drunk enough to lose those inhibitions.

Clearly my body is ready, though. The warm feeling from before has crept back through me and begun battering my senses. My mouth is dry, my breathing is a little ragged, my heart is racing, and I'm probably one well-placed hand away from giving in to that voice's demands. My body is begging my mind to ignore the terror, forget the questions and damn the consequences, but I must resist.

Mom would kill me.

That sobering thought causes me to pull away from Hisao a little. Still holding his arm, I lean far enough to break contact with his side, though I'm pouting at the same time. Thinking a little more clearly, I notice his erratic heartbeat has quickened as well, and I can't help but wonder whether he's even fit enough for what I was thinking; though the somewhat disappointed look indicates his willingness to try.

The sudden break in contact causes us both to stop walking and stare at each-other for a moment. Mentally, I'm resisting, but, physically, I'm a long way from feeling comfortable. One wrong touch could push us both into something I'm sure neither of us is prepared to handle properly. When my eyes shoot downward to avoid his gaze, I notice Hisao is just as physically ready as myself.

Should I be flattered or alarmed?

Turning up and away from that distraction, I smile sheepishly and quickly turn away, finding myself staring back at the light in the windows coming from the distant bungalow. For once, the lewd thoughts running through my head are entirely my own, rather than some horrifying reflection of someone else's assumed experience. It would be comforting if it weren't serving to make this moment even more uncomfortable.

Hearing him step up behind me, I can feel my whole body tense, and I almost twirl around to intercept his advance, but I've lost the ability to concentrate; that fiendish little voice is starting to win. Luckily, he hasn't completely lost himself. “Have we been out long enough?” he asks, his voice sounding strained.

Whether I think so or not, I'll take any excuse to stop whatever might be happening from happening. “Yes, I think so,” I reply, turning around to face him. Of course, not everything my body does is something I have control over. The fast spin combined with the warm feeling, and the partial drunkenness, causes me to lose my balance and I practically toss myself into Hisao's waiting arms.

There are worse things that could happen, I guess.

There's a moment of panic when I realize what just happened, but I also feel safe. Hisao knows enough about me to realize when I'm honestly throwing myself at him and when it's the result of my physical ailment. “Hello again,” he says sympathetically, “are you alright?”

My head is swimming with dizziness, my whole body feels hot, and I can't focus on anything, but I'm nodding. Apparently he doesn't believe me, though, and I feel a little strange as his hand runs down along my thigh. For a second I think he's doing something lewd, but then the world shifts and I find myself being lifted in a daze. Feeling his other hand come under my shoulders, suddenly I'm hovering off the ground, suspended in his arms, being held tightly against his chest.

The hand on my thigh slips down to grasp under my knees, while I toss my hands up over his shoulders and bury my face in his chest, trying not to laugh. Instead of prolonging our stay out in the moonlight, Hisao has decided to carry me back to the bungalow. The fiendish voice returns, suggesting all kinds of lascivious activities that could springboard from this situation, but I grit my teeth and close my eyes, forcing it away.

This is almost better.

With my ear pressed against his chest, I can hear his heart thrumming, but I'm surprised at how little it seems strained. Maybe I'm lighter than I thought, or Hisao is stronger, but either way is fine. My selfish side is siding with my being lighter, especially since there is reason for that to be true. Hisao being stronger is a comforting thought, though, and I can feel responsible for that, too; at least partially.

While he's carrying me, I can feel the dizzy spell subside, but I don't want to leave his arms just yet. Instead, I let the thrumming of his heart, the crashing of the waves, and the crunching of sand under his feet lull me into a state of peaceful comfort. With my eyes already closed, and the warm sensation spread all over, it doesn't take long before I find myself dozing in his arms. Evidently, he doesn't mind at all.

Maybe that should worry me, but I really do trust him.

Drifting off, I barely notice I've fallen asleep before I'm brought back to wakefulness by the sound of knocking on glass; or thudding, rather. With both hands occupied, Hisao is using his head to knock on the door; it's adorable. Apparently I missed the rest of the walk, but I'm not complaining. However, realizing the house is on stilts almost makes me open my eyes in amazement.

He carried me up the stairs, even?

Perhaps I shouldn't be so concerned about the condition of his heart, then. If he can carry me across uneven terrain and heft me up a long flight of stairs, I think he can handle some rigorous aerobic activity. That thought will have to wait, though, since I can hear Kenta's somewhat worried tone through the glass.

When the door clicks open, I hear Yoko gasp a little, but Hisao is on top of the situation. “Just had a dizzy spell is all,” he explains as he carries me across the kitchen. Sighing with a little bit of strain in his voice, he adds, “Apparently she fell asleep on the way back.”

He doesn't know I'm awake; good.

“You're sure it's just that?” Kenta asks, apparently following along.

“She'll be fine,” Hisao assures him.

As I'm being swung around, I can't help but smile, though I think he'll just assume I'm dreaming. When he starts lowering me down, presumably onto the couch, I tighten my grip on his shoulders, refusing to let him leave. Catching on to my plan, he reaches up to try and dislodge my hands, but I yank him downward.

“I guess she's awake,” Kenta remarks.

Hisao relents with a groan, and follows me down onto the couch. Some small part of me is embarrassed by the position I've trapped us in, but right now I don't care. Kenta starts walking away, chuckling to himself, and I hear Yoko giggle in the background, but Hisao's breathing is where my attention is kept. It's a little ragged, but that's to be expected; he just carried me all this way, and that would stress anyone physically. Lying down beside me, facing me, I don't quite know what face he's making, having my eyes still closed, but he isn't protesting.

“My hero,” I whisper, ending with a loving giggle.

“You're heavier than you look,” he chides, but I'm too tired to respond.

Instead, I retract my hands and turn over, facing away from him, toward the back of the couch. Reaching behind me, I get a hand on his side and beckon him to close the gap, which he does quickly, wrapping his free hand across my waist. His breathing is steady and slow, and I can tell he's just as tired as I am, though I know he's a little uncomfortable. This is probably not quite what either of us had in mind when we were staring at each-other a short while ago, but it's less frightening.

Even though there will be a whole group of people ushering by sometime in the near future, I'm simply not concerned. Kenta didn't seem to mind, Yoko's giggle didn't sound judgmental at all, and I'm sure nobody else will bat an eye at our predicament. There's a lingering thought that I'm disappointing myself a little with how evasive I've been, but losing control over myself would be worse.

Hisao seems content to wait, and I should feel good about taking this step anyway. Sleep, after all, is the most comfortable silence two people can share. Smiling contentedly, I rest my trailing hand across Hisao's and let myself drift into peaceful slumber.

Amaya is going to have a field day after seeing this.
Previous Chapter|Part 1|Next Chapter

Need I remind you that this section is for the discerning, intelligent and well-read viewers?
Spending three chapters on the same day has been a trying experience, but I'm happy with the result. I think between the three, this day has over 30,000 words dedicated to it, but a lot can happen on a single day.

Is that scene with Yoko what I think it was? Yes, probably. Maybe. I can say with 100% certainty that Aiko isn't necessarily sure, and we may never really know, but it may very well have been what you are all imagining. You all have dirty minds, by the way; I just thought you should know.

No doubt some of you are disappointed I'm still tugging on the sex thread (so to speak), but I rather enjoy drawing out the tension in that regard. The slow burn followed by the explosive conflagration. Perhaps I was a bigger fan of Cheers than I remember; though with that it was just a kiss... it was over 20 years ago, though.

Times have changed.
Last edited by Helbereth on Thu Nov 21, 2013 11:09 pm, edited 9 times in total.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Thu Oct 04, 2012 12:25 am

Helbereth wrote:“Maybe I can convince Shizune to sleep out her tonight.”
Helbereth wrote:I had to chaperon any time they were together

Okay, with spelling Nazi mode deactivated, onto actual discussion. In regards to Yoko; clearly, she was doing yoga. The groan was the release of tension as she relaxed her pose. Yes. I don't know what else it would have been. :P That walk on the beach seemed awfully short though. It was like, "yep we're on the beach, let's go back now". Not sure if I missed a keyword denoting time passing or something in that respect. I'm dying to know what Shizune is thinking. She keeps hinting things but deciding not to say them. Curse you, Helbereth. Also no one ever mentions something specific and passes it off as misinterpretation. There is clearly going to be some drunken singing soon. Hell to the yes, I say.
Chaars, BlackWaltz.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by Helbereth » Thu Oct 04, 2012 1:32 am

BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:
Helbereth wrote:“Maybe I can convince Shizune to sleep out her tonight.”
Helbereth wrote:I had to chaperon any time they were together
Fixed. For whatever reason, my spell check scoffed at chaperone, but I thought it looked right originally. I need to stop listening to that thing, ever. I've probably added a couple dozen words to its dictionary since I started writing, so I shouldn't be surprised when it's retarded.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:Okay, with spelling Nazi mode deactivated, onto actual discussion. In regards to Yoko; clearly, she was doing yoga. The groan was the release of tension as she relaxed her pose. Yes. I don't know what else it would have been. :P
Right, I guess that's possible. In the dark, though? I don't know anything about yoga, personally, but I don't believe it's typically performed under blankets, on a bed, in the dark. What do I know, though?
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:That walk on the beach seemed awfully short though. It was like, "yep we're on the beach, let's go back now". Not sure if I missed a keyword denoting time passing or something in that respect.

My broken arse (I had been sitting in the same position for entirely too long) is probably to blame for my hurrying through there. I went back and added a couple paragraphs through there, so the time passage and distance ought to be a little clearer now.
I'm dying to know what Shizune is thinking. She keeps hinting things but deciding not to say them. Curse you, Helbereth.
We may never know, honestly. Well, you might never know; I know, just to be clear. Made you look.
Also no one ever mentions something specific and passes it off as misinterpretation. There is clearly going to be some drunken singing soon. Hell to the yes, I say.
Well, it's such a strange thing for two deaf girls to be talking about karaoke that Aiko assumes she misread the sign. Drunken karaoke? Sounds dangerous.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Thu Oct 04, 2012 5:21 am

Helbereth wrote:Made you look.
I reiterate; curse you, Helbereth.
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by DelusionsOfGrandeur » Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:22 am

Isn't it awesome when you miss an update and only find out when it's been updated again.

As always Aiko has drawn me in and made me cheer for her on the metaphorical sidelines, but I think me and BlackWaltz are on the same wavelength with Shizune.
BlackWaltzTheThird wrote:I'm dying to know what Shizune is thinking.
It's killing me and all I can do is speculate.------------------------Made you look---------------------

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by BlackWaltzTheThird » Fri Oct 05, 2012 6:17 am

DelusionsOfGrandeur wrote:------------------------Made you look---------------------
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by Helbereth » Fri Oct 05, 2012 1:40 pm

You two make me kind of want to reveal a bit about her thought process, but I can't. I don't take it lightly when I have a peripheral character internalize something, and Shizune is no different. What that is exactly, you might be able to guess (----Made you look again----), but, since it bears influence on future chapters, I can only let you speculate.

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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by Mader Levap » Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:13 pm

Helbereth wrote: (----Made you look again----)
This does not count, I knew it was "made you look" before mouseover. :P
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Re: Tomorrow's Doom - Aiko Kurai (OC) Updated 10/03

Post by Gilrond » Fri Oct 05, 2012 4:34 pm

Helbereth wrote: (----Made you look again----)
Okay, that's quite enough of that :)

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One-Shot Story - Little Swimmer

Post by Helbereth » Fri Oct 12, 2012 4:35 am

Since I was feeling particularly motivated, I sat down over the past day or so and penned a story from Aiko's past. Perhaps it's not a full chapter update, but I think you'll find it an enjoyable diversion. Instead of linking it with the chapter chain, because it isn't, I'll just leave links back to the front page.

Page One
Little Swimmer
The midday sun hangs in a cerulean sky while wisps of distant clouds parade across like feathers caught in a breeze. The mirror-like stillness of the pool surface is only broken by my own reflection, smiling deviously as I prepare for the coming tirade. In my hands is a silly arrangement of colorful vinyl pads and a pair of tiny goggles, but they're not all I'm carrying.

Slung over my shoulder is the tense, frowning form of my terrified daughter, staring wild-eyed at the water's surface. Running through her mind, I imagine, are memories of the last time I tried this particular tactic, but I have no intention of forcing her into the water this time. She'll do that of her own accord.

Midori has apparently decided to follow us, but she's keeping her distance this time. The grin on her tiny face is no less devious than my own, though I'm sure it's because she enjoys seeing her big sister tortured. Meanwhile, Aiko remains completely silent, clinging to my shoulder as though her life depends on it, burying her face against my neck.

Last time we tried this, I made the mistake of walking right into the water and I nearly lost an arm when she broke away to skitter back to the edge, then ran directly back inside. This time, my idea is to make it her decision. First, though... I need to get her off my back.

Easier said than done...

Hearing her incoherent mumbling, I frown a little. The trauma from her spill was bad enough, but the nightmares have done infinitely more damage. The psychologist we brought her to suggested isolating her from the water, apparently thinking the nightmares might subside. Over a year later, she still wakes up screaming sometimes, crying and blubbering about being swallowed by the waves. Each time I rush to her side, it tears a deeper hole in me, knowing I could have prevented the whole ordeal.

Whatever I may have been able to prevent, the accident made her terrified of water, and I know she's probably on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but she needs her confidence back. Despite the suggestions of her therapist, I'm sure the only way to get the nightmares to subside is by taking away their power; face the nightmare instead of running away. The only way to do that is to get her back in the water.

Hearing Midori giggle in the background probably isn't helping matters, but when I kneel down to set Aiko's feet on the ground, she actually releases her grip; just not entirely. Keeping her hands locked together around my neck, she rests her elbows on my shoulders and bores that adorable two-toned stare into my eyes. The loving father in me wants to let her eyes melt my resolve, but this is more important than a brief smile.

She needs to face this...

“You'll be fine, I promise,” I whisper confidently, smiling despite my apprehension. Her gaze falters, and it kills me to watch her shrug noncommittally, but she isn't running; it's a start.

With my hands free, I pick up the swimming wings and hold them up, nodding toward them and smiling. Her expression is an unreadable mask, which is quite the feat for a nine-year-old girl. With her arms still wrapped around my neck, she stares at me, completely deadpan. Years ago, I used these silly water wings to help her get accustomed to swimming, but she was six then; I can at least tell she's not amused.

“Dad, I'm not six!” she protests, the part between her front teeth causing her to whistle inadvertently. There's confidence in her voice, broken only by an involuntary quiver, and that's an inspiring start compared to previous attempts.

“Humor me,” I reply, holding up one of the wings, “unless you're afraid.”

She finally lets go and crosses her arms, pouting and sneering at the same time; it's a look she inherited from her mother. At least the wild-eyed terror is gone from her expression. Manipulating her like this feels a little wrong, but it's working, and she starts looking between me and the wings. After a few moments of prideful contemplation, she unfurls her arms and sighs.

“Fine!” she yells, closing her eyes as her hands hover toward me.

It's all the affirmation I'm likely to get, so I'm not going to complain. Taking each wing in turn, I slide them up over her arms, smiling delightfully when she opens her eyes to stare at me with a raised eyebrow. Once they're in place, I stand and pat her head lovingly, making her look up just enough for me to see her eyes roll. As she shakes her thick locks of hair from side to side, annoyed by my contact with her perfectly brushed hair, I take a step backward.

“Okay, you stay here,” I say, pointing at her feet, “I'm gonna go for a few laps. All I want you to do is not move from this spot.”

The confused pout she makes isn't exactly what I was expecting, but it might be exactly what the situation calls for. Perhaps she expected me to start pulling her straight into the pool, but she already proved that wouldn't work. My new plan is to make swimming seem like something fun rather than frightening, and I plan to be an exemplar.

Keeping my eyes on her as I back my way to the edge of the pool, there's a bit of fear in her eyes; no doubt she's afraid of anyone slipping into the water as much as herself. Hopefully, that fear won't be enough to overpower her curiosity.

There's one way to find out...

Smiling broadly, I turn and leap, splitting through the surface like an arrow and swimming straight down to the bottom, like always. Swiping my hand along the vinyl, I stop my momentum and bring my legs down, using the inertia to pilot my feet against the spot where I touched, then kicking hard. As I break the surface and toss my head to throw the water off my face, I turn to regard Aiko's reaction.

She hasn't moved, but she isn't smiling. There's a horrified look on her face, but it melts away as I tread water and smile at her. She doesn't exactly smile, but I can see she's conflicted about what she's witnessing. Part of me wants to say something to assuage her fears, maybe even suggest she join me, but I don't want to push her too fast.

Instead, I roll around and start swimming toward the opposite edge. Getting my hand on the side, I glance back and see she still hasn't moved, and she seems to be holding her breath, but there's the start of a smile creeping along the corners of her frown. Seeing that spurns me to kick off and start my laps, making sure to keep my eyes on her every time I come up for air.

Winking as I reach the edge and roll around to kick off again, I think I catch an actual smile on her paled expression, but I might just be imagining things. Aiko used to stand by the edge of the pool and watch me take my evening laps, smiling giddily and often dipping her feet in to kick water at me as I reached the edge. Standing away from the edge, presumably immobilized, is a long way from her playful splashing, but it's a step in the right direction.

After three more laps, I pull up to the edge at her feet and rest my chin on my arms, grinning at the smile on her face. The vinyl wings around her arms catch a slight breeze, and her hair sways slightly in the sudden gust, but she's still not moving.

“Well,” I say, raising an eyebrow, “are you just going to stand there?”

Her smile disappears, replaced by a grimace. She takes a step backwards reflexively, but I keep my eyes locked with hers; I'm not going to drag her into this. The sound of water gently lapping against the edge of the pool fills the air as her eyes dart between me, the pool, and the ground. In this instant, I wish I had a sixth sense; some way of knowing what she's thinking. Unfortunately, all I can do is keep smiling and hope she doesn't decide to break into a run.

Although, I think I'd be happy just with the progress she made being able to stand by the pool. Ina told me it could take a while, especially considering how stubborn her family is known for being; a trait Aiko inherited. Maybe it will take weeks or months to get her into the water again, but I have most of the summer to help her get reacquainted, so I'm in no rush.

That thought is shelved as she takes a step forward. The grimace, I realize, is suddenly one borne of determination, rather than fear. Though her body is still betraying her resolve, her legs starting to shake as she inches closer to the edge, the steely expression and squared shoulders indicate she's fighting her inhibitions. For my part, I don't make any sudden movements, not wanting to scare her away or make her think I'm going to pull her in faster than she's ready.

When her feet are close enough that I could reach out and grab her ankle, I shoot a look at them. Resisting the urge to be playful, I turn back up to regard her cracking visage and assure her, “Nothing to be scared of, Blinky.”

I haven't called her that since she was six...

The nickname makes her smile despite the shaking, and I think she might laugh if not for the mind-numbing terror. Whatever she thinks about being called that again, it's keeping her mind off the water for a few moments. Any other time and she would probably set a stony glare on me and protest being called by such a childish moniker, but the terrified eyes indicate she's beyond the capacity to speak.

Deciding to make sure she knows I'm not going to force her, I push away from the edge and tread away a few feet; staying close enough to give her something to focus on, but far enough that she doesn't feel threatened. After a few moments of silent staring, she heaves a breath and closes her eyes, blowing it out as she crouches down on the balls of her feet.

“C'mon,” I whisper, too soft for her to hear as I watch her intently.

Her eyes open, and, for a moment, I think she's about to bound up and start running, but she locks her eyes on the edge of the pool. Since she was little, Aiko's curious eyes have never faltered, always roaming freely to analyze the world around her, except for this past year.

Spending the Sea-Day weekend at Aki's beach home had been a tradition since he first bought the place, years before Ina and I started having children. My daughters were more than eager to spend their days lazing by the sea, chartering a boat for a day trip to do some fishing, or go diving off the nearby rocks; something Aki neglected to tell me about until recently. However, Aiko's accident isn't, he wasn't even there; it was entirely my doing.

I should have been watching...

That day, we were supposed to go deep-sea fishing, and I wasn't looking when she ran off down the pier. By the time I noticed, she had already gotten too far away, so I called after her. In her giddiness, she looked back for just a moment, long enough to lose track of where she was running. The next few moments are among the most horrifying in my memory; watching her trip over a bundle of rope and tumble against the side of a boat, smacking her head against the side, then falling twenty feet to the cold water below.

Never had I swam so fast...

Whatever luck let me find her barely conscious body sinking under the black waves on that chilly, overcast morning, it's tainted by the knowledge that I could have prevented it from happening. Aiko would still be able to hear out of her left ear then, and wouldn't wake, screaming and crying, from nightmares about drowning. She doesn't blame me, which is small solace, but that doesn't stop me from blaming myself. Maybe this is as much for me as it is her, and perhaps no penance will ever be enough to sate my regret, but I can at least help her regain command over her fears.

She'll need a strong will later in life...

Her darting eyes settle on me, and, after more than a year of turning inward, I can see them finally looking outward. “Is it cold?” she asks, her voice barely above a whisper.

Moving to reply, I stop myself from answering her question directly. Instead, I hold out a hand and smile, suggesting, “Why don't you see for yourself?”

Her lip trembles a little as she snaps a cold look on me, but the determination remains. It's the same look she turned on me when I first coaxed her into the pool years ago, and I have to hold back the laugh as I compare her current frightened expression with that of her younger self. The bright orange wings bunched up against her sides aren't helping me keep my composure.

Just a little bit of history repeating...

Squinting at me, I see the gears turning behind her eyes, and a defiant smirk begins to creep its way across her lips. She collapses forward, kneeling right on the edge of the pool, but remaining reticent. The absence of expression is somewhat telling, though. She has to try to maintain that face, I've learned, so if she's making it, it's because she's hiding her real expression. If I get the chance to know her as a teenager, I'll have to remember that so I'll know when she's lying.

Tentatively, and not without a fair amount of nervous twitching, she slowly leans forward and holds out a hand. Still inches from the water's surface, her hand balls into a fist and it starts to retract, her eyes widening and then quickly narrowing; she seems disappointed with herself. Her jaw clenches and the hand continues, opening slowly as it extends. Hovering close enough to feel the slightly cooler air just above the water's surface, she stops, and I suck in a breath, having to consciously remember to keep treading water.

I almost can't believe what I'm watching...

For a long moment, she doesn't move, remaining perfectly still as the waves from my treading water roll under her fingertips. Her reticence broken, I see the conflict in her expression. The slightest hint of a smile starts to form, but it's accompanied by disdainful eyes; struggling with the decision, trying to push the fear away. Nothing I could do or say will help at this point; all I can do is wait, and watch, and hope.

“Dad?” she prompts, keeping her eyes pinned to her watery reflection.

Releasing the held breath, I reply, “Yes, Blinky?” hoping the nickname still works as a distraction.

The grin flattens, but her eyes light up, and she looks away from the rippling waves to peer at me, momentarily shooting daggers at the unwanted nickname. Once she's satisfied I'm convinced not to use it again, she starts looking between me and the water, the wings strapped to her arms, and then back to me, a pleading look in her eyes.

Her hand retracts, and I feel my heart sink, thinking she's giving up; deciding she can't keep going. A moment, barely a second, passes as the hand turns over and she sucks in a breath. Instead of standing and backing away, she starts beckoning, wriggling her fingers as though they're the only things she's capable of moving. It takes all my willpower not to dive forward, overcome with excitement. Instead, I approach slowly, keeping my eyes locked with hers.

This is her idea, not mine...

When I'm close enough, her hand reaches out and grips my shoulder, its tiny knuckles turning white as she latches onto me; her grip is surprisingly strong. Up close, I can hear her breathing has quickened, and I imagine her heart is racing, but she's keeping her face from showing the distress. Though I'd never think less of her for it, ever since the accident, she always tries to hide her fear from me. Her deadpan stares are a mask she maintains for my benefit, but I've never spoken against her reluctance to show fear; seeing her now, I think that approach has been wrong.

She needs to know fear isn't all bad...

“It's okay, Mermaid, you're allowed to be scared,” I say, as calmly and evenly as I can manage. My admission, along with the more recently retired nickname, strike her as odd for a moment, making her face screw up, but I'm not finished. Nodding, I add, “I'm scared too, sometimes.”

The grip on my shoulder tightens even further and she leans forward, wrapping her other arm around my head. With her blocking my ears, it's difficult to tell, but her sudden outpouring doesn't feel the same as when she wakes from those nightmares. This time her tears aren't fearful and her sobs aren't heart-wrenching. Instead, they seem like honest tears of relief; as though there had been a weight on her shoulders that I somehow lifted with a few simple words.

“I'm always scared, Dad,” she wails, still hugging me tightly.

Maybe it's because I wasn't expecting the admission, or maybe it's because I never wanted to hear my daughter admit something like that, or perhaps I'm just overjoyed that, for once, her tears are for joy rather than sorrow, but I can't choke back my own tears. Still, I hold myself back, even though the water cascading down from my hair does a decent job of hiding the warm streaks I can feel flowing down my cheeks. Even if she saw, I could explain it away, but she doesn't need to see me cry, especially not now.

“Are you ready to do this?” I ask, trying to maintain my composure.

The grip around my head loosens, and she leans back. The streaking tears down her delicate cheeks are accompanied by sparkling eyes and a broad grin, something I've seen so rarely of late that it nearly makes me cheer. Seeing her eyes look past me, I watch her grin falter as the reality sets in, and my question finally reaches the forefront of her thoughts.

“You'll be right there?” she asks, fixing an unwavering stare on me.

Smiling, I nod firmly.


For a moment, I hesitate, but not long enough for her to notice, before I nod again. There's no need for her to ever think otherwise until it becomes obvious. For now, I'm not going anywhere. Whatever she needs me to do, I'll do. Wherever she needs me to be, I'll be. Nothing could keep me away.


“Can we start on the shallow end?”

Her question almost goes right through me. She's already walking around the edge of the pool before I manage to reply, “Of course.” When I'm close enough to the edge, I start walking up the steps, meeting her squinting smirk with raised eyebrows.

“Dad?” she prompts.


“Don't call me Blinky,” she demands, squinting and grimacing.

Smirking wistfully, I nod and reply, “Alright, Mermaid.”

Her light, airy giggle is more than enough payment for anything she asks of me.
Page One

Well, there it is. I'll likely end up doing a few more one-shots, though they might not necessarily follow Aiko. Fun fact: until I wrote this, I had no idea what to call Aiko's mother. Ina is a Latin name that means 'mother'. Given that she's a chef, I may have drawn inspiration from the Food Network star, Ina Garten.
Last edited by Helbereth on Thu May 02, 2013 12:55 am, edited 3 times in total.

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