Direction (post Rin neutral ending)(complete)

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Wyko
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Wyko » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:24 am

Actually; here's a good question. Does anyone have an (obviously subjective) list of the best epilogues people have written? I've only read two I would count worthy, but I've barely read any. I'd love to read more good ones.

Hanako: Sisterhood (http://ks.renai.us/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=6750)
Rin: This one
Emi:
Shizune:
Lilly:

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YourFavAnon
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by YourFavAnon » Thu Jan 17, 2013 7:37 am

Wyko wrote:Actually; here's a good question. Does anyone have an (obviously subjective) list of the best epilogues people have written? I've only read two I would count worthy, but I've barely read any. I'd love to read more good ones.

Hanako: Sisterhood (http://ks.renai.us/viewtopic.php?f=52&t=6750)
Rin: This one
Emi:
Shizune:
Lilly:
For Emi: Start with http://pastebin.com/1JXHm0qB, then go through his pastebin for the next successive parts (three chapters more after that, four parts). I agree with your other two, although the same writer of this Emi epilogue wrote an incredibly good Hanako epilogue that may tie for my favorite Hanako one.
I write things occasionally.

Dumps of my 35+ fics can be found here and here (including some non-KS stuff).

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griffon8
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by griffon8 » Thu Jan 17, 2013 12:00 pm

I agree that Emi suggestion is good, but my enthusiasm for it is diminished by the supernatural elements—which the author argues are not supernatural—it has. Since he plans on writing similar stories for the rest of the girls, I am reserving final judgement on those.

Shizune, no question, Weekend At Hisao's by themocaw.
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

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

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YourFavAnon
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by YourFavAnon » Thu Jan 17, 2013 1:49 pm

griffon8 wrote:I agree that Emi suggestion is good, but my enthusiasm for it is diminished by the supernatural elements—which the author argues are not supernatural—it has. Since he plans on writing similar stories for the rest of the girls, I am reserving final judgement on those.

Shizune, no question, Weekend At Hisao's by themocaw.
Not to derail the thread, but myself and a few others have had in depth conversation with him about the aspects I think you're referring to. In my personal opinion, it's not any bit supernatural after sort of going to the next level on talking about what's going on.
I write things occasionally.

Dumps of my 35+ fics can be found here and here (including some non-KS stuff).

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griffon8
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by griffon8 » Thu Jan 17, 2013 6:53 pm

YourFavAnon wrote:
griffon8 wrote:I agree that Emi suggestion is good, but my enthusiasm for it is diminished by the supernatural elements—which the author argues are not supernatural—it has. Since he plans on writing similar stories for the rest of the girls, I am reserving final judgement on those.
Not to derail the thread, but myself and a few others have had in depth conversation with him about the aspects I think you're referring to. In my personal opinion, it's not any bit supernatural after sort of going to the next level on talking about what's going on.
I understand his position. Perhaps I should have said, "I am reserving final judgement on those aspects of his story."
I found out about Katawa Shoujo through the forums of Misfile. There, I am the editor of Misfiled Dreams.

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

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Sperance
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Sperance » Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:17 pm

Well, I read the whole thing in one sitting. You, sir, just blew my goddamn mind. Good job

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Mon Jan 21, 2013 11:30 pm

I feel a little beat when I finally get back home. It's getting close to noon, so hopefully I can scrounge something up to eat before heading in to class. Actually, I might just skip classes today. It's been an exhausting morning, and I could stand the time to recharge.

I put my key in the lock, but as soon as the mechanism turns, the door behind me flings open. "Hisao?"

It's Sumi. She looks a bit frayed and haggard, but there's a hint of relief in her eyes, too. She must've been worried.

"Hey," I say. "Thanks for tracking down Mutou for me. He really helped me figure some things out."

"I'm just glad you're okay. I've been keeping a lookout for you ever since your teacher called back saying he reached you."

I wince. "I should've called. I just wanted to get some things figured out. I dropped by Rin's school to talk to her. She's wasn't doing so well, but I think I left her better than when I stopped by, so I think that's good. It's hard to tell with her, but I'm hopeful."

"You're really into her, huh?"

"She's special to me, yeah." I crack a smile. "So are you."

She scoffs. "What a charmer you are. Do you always make a point to hit on married women?"

We share a laugh at that, but it's just a momentary respite. I glance past her, into her apartment. There's no sign of Ryou, but I know he must be in there somewhere. "How is he?" I ask quietly.

Her expression sours. "Still sleeping. He sleeps a lot, sometimes, especially when he's not in a good mood." She balls her hand into a fist, trying to contain her frustration. "He's so stubborn, Hisao! He won't admit anything's wrong."

"He did to me," I say.

"Really?"

"He seems like a proud guy. You'd say that, too, right? And I've seen how, if you two do anything affectionate around Mitsuru and me, he gets pretty anxious about it."

Sumi nods. "He likes to hold all that in."

"Especially with you. I may not have been in a long-term relationship like you, but I know when you're in love it can screw with your head. He may not be willing to admit it to you, but you know it, and I know it. You might have to be the one to give him a way out."

"What way out?"

"Let him rejoin SDF."

She glances back, into the room, but there's no reaction from inside. Still, the suggestion doesn't seem to surprise her. She inches the door shut, and we talk in the hallway. I hope no one's around to hear.

"You really think that's the only way?" she asks. "I mean, I really hoped he would find something he'd be happy with around here. More likely than not, they'd transfer him to a unit too far away to live with us. If he were going overseas, that'd be one thing. I think I could handle that better, but when he went into SDF the first time, we promised each other we'd stay together as long as we could. It's not a completely safe line of work. Peacekeepers go overseas all the time, but at least at home, we'd spend as much time as we could together." She meets my gaze, and the look in her eyes is lost, worried, and pleading. "I'm afraid, Hisao. I'm afraid he and I might grow apart being separated. I've never loved anyone else. How did you do it? How did you recover when your friend Tezuka left you?"

"Take it easy for a second," I try to assure her. "Just because you'll be apart doesn't mean you'll love each other less. Ask him, Sumi. Communicate with him. Yeah, it'll be difficult if he wants to be prideful, but there's no substitute for sharing feelings, thoughts, and ideas. If I've learned nothing else, I've learned that much. You already told me you felt guilty about asking him to make a sacrifice. You already know what you have to do to fix this. You just have to do it, and you can. I know you're capable of it."

Sumi purses her lips, nodding. "You're right. I knew it for a while. I was just frustrated. We agreed to do this, that he would leave SDF, and then he never followed through with it. It felt like he was moping around, not even trying, and he wouldn't come out and say it what he wanted."

"Sometimes, the people you love most are the ones it's hardest to say things to," I observe. "Even if he can't put it to words, you can take comfort that you do know what he's saying."

She nods again, and she turns the knob to the door, but when the lock clicks, she hesitates. Without looking at me, she mumbles, "It's a scary thing—looking at the path you thought your life would take and throwing most of it aside."

Yes, yes it is.

With my silence, Sumi goes back into her apartment. Her steps are quick and determined. She leaves the door ajar, and I stand there, listening. I think for a moment there's more I could've said. I could've told her I never did recover from Rin's departure; I healed from it, but it still leaves a scar on me, just as the surgeon's incision near my heart did, too. You won't see it ordinarily, but it's always there. Still, that scar was better than letting my heart fail, and I feel confident that even if the worst thing happened, Sumi would find the strength to go on. She was always determined that way.

I liked her once. I don't mind admitting it. When I met her in Kyoto, I found her to be lively and unabashed in her passion for science, for technology, for puns made from formulas and other geeky pursuits. But she was already engaged to Ryou at the time, and I wondered now and then whether I was drawn to her precisely because she was taken, because then I was justified in keeping some distance, in not acting on what I felt.

I may not have had the right reasons for being interested in her, but the friendship we've fostered is real, and I genuinely hope the advice I've given her now proves helpful. I couldn't bear to see her face twisted again hardship and strife.

There's a distant knocking, and I hear heavy footsteps. A lock clicks, and a door opens.

"Morning," she says. "Put on your old uniform. We're taking you down to a recruiter."

"What?" says Ryou, his speech slurred with fatigue. "You wanna do what?"

"You're going back to SDF. You have a problem with that, Corporal?"

"What? I mean, uh, no, ma'am?"

"You're going to enjoy doing it? You're not going to fuck around and sleep and play video games all day?"

"Absolutely not!"

"Then that's the Ryou I need." She kisses him briefly. "Even if he has to be away from me for a while to be himself again."

There's a moment of silence between them, and I peer in just enough to catch a glimpse of the two of them in the door's opening. Ryou looks stunned, still processing what Sumi's said, but after a minute, an elated grin comes over him, and he embraces Sumi, picking her up off the ground.

The high-school sweethearts are together again, their heartbeats in rhythm. All is right with the world.



My good feeling about Sumi and Ryou is vindicated at breakfast the next morning. The two of them come over to eat with Mitsuru and me, and Ryou is literally a different man. He looks sharp and proud in his uniform, and he jokes around with Mitsuru freely. "Kid, you need to get some of that hair trimmed," he says, tussling the brown strands.

"I like my hair!" cries Mitsuru.

"Then maybe only if you slack off," says Ryou. "If you start dropping off with your grades, Sumi will call me, and I'll get the razor, right, Sumi?"

"I've always said Mitchan could use more discipline in his life," she agrees.

"No way, not a chance. If that happens, Hisao will protect me, right?"

"I don't think you want the guy with a heart condition to be protecting you from a guy trained by SDF. That's not going over well for me, nor for you."

Mitsuru fumes at that, and the rest of us share a good laugh at his expense. For the rest of the morning, the four of us are in good spirits, and I'm grateful for that. This is a breakfast I want to remember for some time, and fondly at that.

"The recruiter called back early this morning," Sumi explains. "They're not sure where Ryou will be placed, but he may be reporting for duty before the end of the week." She touches arm longingly, already feeling the prospective distance between them. "Isn't that great?"

Ryou nods tentatively, still keenly aware of our presence. To break the tension, I meekly raise a glass of milk to start a toast, never mind that milk isn't something I'd ever raise a toast with. "Then this is to a safe journey and good memories and something happy to come home to, or something like all of that stuff. Yeah? Good luck to Ryou. That's what I'm trying to say."

We raise our glasses, and there's a satisfying clunk when they touch. He downs a full cup of juice in one gulp and nods in appreciation to all of us. "Thanks. It means a lot to me. I just want to make sure that things are taken care of while I'm gone. Mitsuru, that means I'm counting on you to look after your sister, yeah?"

"Kid can't even look after pet crabs," said Sumi.

Ryou chuckled. "Well, if that's true, then it's a good thing we have Nakai around, too. He can look after both of you. Seems like he's got a pretty level head on his shoulders, so that should do fine."

"I dunno," I say, "between Sumi always getting herself into homework problems that require at least two people to make sense of and Mitsuru spouting off baseball history at the slightest provocation, it might be difficult."

"They're your homework problems, too!" cries Sumi.

"And don't exaggerate and say it's all the time," says Mitsuru. "Saying things like that is like the punishment handed down for the Pine Tar Game. Totally disproportionate, man."

The rest of breakfast goes smoothly, and it's good that it does, for Sumi and I have to go to class.

"I'll get the dishes," says Mitsuru. "You guys get moving."

Sumi and I are just about out the door when—

"Nakai."

Ryou's voice is sharp and short. It stops me in my tracks. He looks at me with a stern, serious gaze.

"I meant what I said," he explains, offering a hand, "about looking after Sumi and Mitsuru. Someone has to. At the least, someone has to make sure Sumi doesn't try to take on all responsibilities for the three of you. I'm not going to be here, so that largely falls to you."

I take his offered hand and give the firmest squeeze I can—which isn't very firm against his monstrous hands and strong shake. For a moment, I fear whether I'll ever get my hand back, but he grins and releases me, slapping me on the back for good measure.

"You guys get going," he says.

And go we do, toward the future, with Sumi looking pensive and lost in thought as we walk to the elevator.

"You know, Hisao," she says, "I have to admit I didn't have completely innocent motives, inviting you to live with Mitsuru and the rest of us."

"That's okay," I say. "I didn't think you were completely innocent."

She punches me in the arm. "You're too clever. In all seriousness, though, with Ryou being down about things, I was feeling a bit lonely. I'm not the most sociable person in the world. I thought if you were around, at least I'd have someone to talk to if things got worse. And they did get worse for a while, but because you were here, I had the strength to do what needed doing, and it's all turning out all right."

As the elevator doors open, she takes me in her arms, holding the hug for a long second.

"Thanks for being here," she says, "and for being yourself."

"I'm just glad to have been a part of the solution, really."

She pulls away and jabs at my arm again, this time with more of a glancing blow. "Even in matters of the heart, you're a big smartypants. I hardly get to help you with our homework. You're just making me feel useless, you know? It's irritating."

We step inside the elevator—shiny metal box with white, speckled tiling. A computerized chime plays each time we pass a floor. Sumi's irritation isn't real, of course, except to say she feels bad for relying on me without giving anything in return. Actually, there's one way I can fix that.

"Sumi," I ask, "you know about the pump I blew up yesterday?"

"Yeah?"

"Well, that got me thinking maybe I should look for a new line of research."

"Really? Because of one blown pump?"

"It's more than that," I explain. "I don't feel engaged with the work. There's a lot of manual labor involved—and you know I'm not really cut out for that. I don't see the problems I'm supposed to be solving in front of me. They're all far off, you know? But I'm not really sure if it's all the same everywhere or I should look at different opportunities or what."

Sumi smiles knowingly. "You need to talk to some people, Hisao. I know exactly who, as well."

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Muphrid
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Wed Jan 30, 2013 2:40 am

After our first class, Sumi drags me to her office and sits me down at the desk beside hers. There is a proper occupant to this desk, a Chinese guy I've spoken to once or twice, but he doesn't respond when spoken to, so I don't know his name. He keeps his things entirely in the overhead drawer, so I end up using the more of the desk than he does.

"Hey, guys," says Sumi, getting our neighbors' attention. "Hisao here has no idea what the fuck he's doing with his research or if he wants to keep doing what he's doing. I thought you guys might be able to help him get his head on straight."

From his corner desk, Jirou straightens his glasses and grins. "You don't pull any punches, do you, Aoki?"

She shakes her head with a grin. "I don't have time to put up with shit, and neither does Hisao. You said you used to work with computers, right?"

"I did, yes. Oh, it was awful. Since I was a kid I had a passion for working with new technology and software. And I went through undergrad thinking that way. I went into industry thinking that way, and for a while, it was good. I developed some really nifty tools, stuff I'm proud of to this day, but I just couldn't get away from having to explain what I'd done and how my programs worked to some really, really stupid people. I mean, I know that's a terrible thing to say and a bad attitude to have, but just working on support was mind-numbing. I don't think I realized that until one of the customers I worked with had a problem where after running my program and waiting for a minute, the screen would flicker off and he'd be unable to access the computer until he rebooted it."

"What was the problem?" I ask.

"He didn't realize that he'd set the computer to turn off the monitor after a minute and thought that it was 'suspicious' he'd be asked for his password again on unlocking it, so he would just reboot. I kid you not; this is what an actual real-life person did—and he was an accountant, no less! Someone good with numbers! Oh, it was awful.

"It was then I realized I wanted out. I figured that physics, which was my other great passion as a child, offered the chance to still work on software sometimes but also to deal with people who wouldn't be totally clueless if I wrote something for their use, but that didn't mean it would be easy. I hadn't done any physics in years, and I was making good money. My parents were always saying I was crazy for wanting to abandon a good, respectable job for the prospects of becoming a starving academic. But when you feel that you've got to make a change, that's what you have to do. And I'm making a lot less money on our stipends than I did working in industry. I'm happy with it, though. There's only so much you can take before you realize that what you're doing isn't really you."

From his desk behind me, Michel looks up, seeming impressed. "So, Jirou, you basically had to lay out a big roadmap, right? To get from your job to here, you had to go back and take refresher courses, apply to schools, all that stuff?"

"Sure did. It was a pain in the ass."

"Interesting, interesting," says Michel. "I guess to some extent everyone has to do that, but I'm more of a spontaneous kind of guy. It's not like I always had a dream of going to Japan. I didn't. I always thought going around the world would be a fun thing to do, but it wasn't a top priority, either. I just saw that there was this opportunity and applied for it, not thinking that I'd be crushed if it didn't go through. If it happened and I still wanted to by the time they got back to me, great. If not, that was okay, too. Life is this fluid thing, you know? It goes where it wants. I don't get caught up trying to predict which way that river will turn downstream. I just check now and then if I have a fork ahead of me."

"So if your wife had said she didn't want to go to Japan, you would've stayed in France?" asks Sumi.

"For sure, for sure. Didn't turn out that way, though. She's a linguist, so she's relishing the opportunity to study regional dialects of Japanese and so on. Still, that's a professional opportunity, and if she'd wanted to stay closer to family, or to go to a country not quite so foreign to us, that wouldn't have broken my heart. You have to continually weigh what's important to you. It can change from day to day. My philosophy is just to be cool." He holds his palm flat, facing downward, and makes a smooth, level motion toward us. "Like the calm sea," he explains. "Be cool."

Sometimes I wonder if Michel is totally in his faculties when we get to class. It's hard to get him down about anything.

I try to take what Jirou and Michel have to say seriously over the next few hours. Am I at the point where I'm unhappy doing physics? No, I don't think so. I know there's a lot more to the field than the relatively narrow subset I've been working in. I was happy doing data analysis for Professor Mayuzumi in undergrad. If the data didn't fit the curve, I had to learn about other kinds of distributions, tweaking parameters, trying new hypotheses—that's something I can get behind. I happened upon Professor Tanaka and his work, and it wasn't bad, but I kept going with the flow even when I started not liking where I was headed. As Michel would say, that's the time you need to start looking for another branch in the stream ahead.

After lunch, I start going around the building again, looking at posters, trying to see who might need a student, what they do, and the way they do it. Professor Tanaka has a colleague who does theoretical quantum mechanics, and that doesn't sound too bad. I would stay in the same group, more or less, and just shift into another aspect of the work. Still, I feel like I made my decision too quickly last time, so I look at some other possibilities. One thing that catches my eye is a study on the nonlinearities of crabs walking on sand. You wouldn't expect that to be a physics project, now would you?

"You seem fascinated with the crabs, young man," says a hoarse, white-haired professor. "Do you think they're out of place here?"

I shudder. "It crossed my mind," I say, studying one of the posters on the wall more closely.

The professor is older and wrinkled around the eyes. He's pretty thin, too, and pale, but his eyes are a striking blue and quite sharp. It's Professor Chiba, our instructor in applied mathematics for physics. You'd think I'd be more comfortable around someone I know, but Professor Chiba seems to think that anyone who doesn't get his lectures right away is an idiot.

"True," he says, "there are many aspects of crab locomotion that would seem logical to connect to physics, but this study here is about the sand. Of all the damn things to be looking at, we're studying sand? It seems quite preposterous at first, but Shirou has taken quite a liking to the work."

I blink. "Pardon?"

"Oh, forgive me. I'm talking about Professor Nakamura. He is a colleague of mine, but very much more on the experimental side of things. Not that I don't do experiments; I do, on occasion, but I let my students handle the finer details of that. Shirou looks at the interactions of the sand grains with one another. His work is very intimately tied to the material's properties. On the other end of the spectrum, I try to have my experiments be as broadly applicable as possible. Fluids, you see. I study fluids, and there are so many fluids out in this world, you can't afford to pigeonhole yourself into studying just one. Don't you agree, Mr. Nakai?"

"I really don't know, sir."

"Well, you should! But you don't seem to know very much right now, do you?"

"Are you referring to my grades? I thought I was doing fairly well."

"Fairly well? I suppose that's an adequate assessment. Given your grades in Kyoto, I should've thought you'd do better than 'fairly well.' I make a point to know a little something about all the students in the department. You're from Kyoto, right? Did some work in solid state?"

"I've been working with Professor Tanaka, yes."

"But you're not sure it's what you want to be doing, is it. I saw you going in circles around the building. It's the march of the prospective student as he looks in vain for opportunities. I've seen it many times before. Why don't you come into my office, then?"

I follow Professor Chiba around the corner into his office. It looks more like a children's toy shop than a professor's workspace. A Newton's cradle sits on his desk, along with a hollow rectangular tube full of colored fluid, tiling back and forth on a motorized fulcrum. The office is full of similar such devices, all with vividly colored fluids in pastel pink, neon yellow, and more.

"Tanaka's a good man, a fine experimentalist," says Chiba. "If you're looking around, it must be that experiment isn't right for you."

"Perhaps it isn't," I confess. "I'm not sure what it is I want to do, though."

"Well, what we study here, in our group with Shirou and others, is nonlinear dynamics—systems that defy simple solutions. Shirou's sand crabs are a great example, as the properties of the sand don't scale up in proportion to the number of crabs walking over it. I study fluids, which is an age-old problem. If you could solve the Navier-Stokes equations in closed form, Nakai, you would get a hefty prize! Turbulence and vortices and so on—they fascinate me. I first became interested in them as a child, gazing through my father's telescope." He holds up his thumb and index finger only slightly apart. "It was a dinky little thing, with an aperture about this wide. But he swore by the optics; he'd ground them himself. So when I saw the stars in the image wavering, there was only one conclusion to draw: the flow of the atmosphere in the summertime heat was distorting the image. That's when I became interested in fluids, but the field is so much bigger than that.

"If you look at electrodynamics or quantum mechanics, you see so many problems that are linear. Superposition allows you to plop down a solution to one problem based on known solutions to others. Nonlinear problems, on the other hand, require true ingenuity. General relativity is one such field, but unless you want to be studying black holes for the rest of your life, that won't get you far in the real world. Fluids, on the other hand, are everywhere. We do more than just that here, of course. There are many nonlinear systems in nature. Take a pen and hold press down on the end with the tip against my desk. If you press down hard enough, the pen tilts. It can't stay upright. Even if you could start it perfectly vertical, it would tilt. Spontaneous symmetry breaking—that's what that is. It's a fundamental feature of some chaotic systems.

"Or have you ever looked at fireflies? They glow according to brilliantly complicated math, Nakai. Too fast and they slow down. Too slow and they speed up. They all constantly check one another for the right speed, but you can subtly make them wink in and out faster than they want to. You can drive the system ever-so-slightly. You can keep the flies in a constant state of anxiety because the frequency isn't quite right.

"Some of my students build and maintain liquid test chambers for examining fluid flows, but they can't know what to look for without the guidance of theory. We do simulations of the flows to identify unusual features that may develop—oscillations between apparent stability and instability, for example. And outside of that, there's always more data to analyze. Ultimately, I want to be able to categorize a flow by the features it exhibits. I want to say, 'This is a smooth, laminar flow with eddies,' and it'd be nice if a computer did that for me instead of five of us going through all videos at the end of each term to find out what actually happened. Perhaps some of those opportunities interest you; perhaps they don't. But now, I bet you know much more about nonlinear dynamics and fluids than you ever thought you would."

There's no denying that. "I have to admit," I say, "doing theory is probably better for my heart than being around machinery that could blow up if something is done wrong."

"You're talking like an old man, like me," says Professor Chiba, who holds back a grin. "I don't think you have to worry about your heart giving out because some fan exploded."

Has the word about that already gotten around? Do the professors talk about how their students screw up over coffee and laugh? "Most people don't," I explain, "but I have a heart condition—an arrhythmia—so I have to be careful."

"Really?" he says, leaning over the desk to peer at me. "A malfunction of the electrical impulses—your heart has settled into an unstable node on the great phase space of its configurations."

"My heart is not a physics experiment," I snap, a bit more defensively than I would've liked.

"No, of course, of course," he says. "Your heart certainly is not. Forgive my intrusion; it is the scientist in me to be curious, even about things I shouldn't be. I hope my indiscretion hasn't deterred you, however. The world of physics is wide and largely unexplored. There's plenty a bright young man like you can do. Maybe not in fluids—no, I think not. But I hope I've convinced you there's quite a bit out there to look at, possibilities for you to consider."

I am definitely feeling that, and it gives me hope. There are definite opportunities for me, even if I don't know what I want to pursue yet. I don't have to stay somewhere I'm having trouble putting all my energy into. Talking with Professor Chiba has definitely given me a glimpse of the possibilities. I'm not sure I want to be working on fluids or with sand crabs, but there are chances out there, and that's enough to put me at ease.

I start to glimpse branches in the river coming up, but I'm in no hurry to choose a path and forsake the others. I can take my time choosing from them, so that I don't regret where my choice takes me.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Ranger296 » Wed Jan 30, 2013 3:22 am

By any chance was the accountant that was suspicious / good with numbers Kenji.

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nemz
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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by nemz » Wed Jan 30, 2013 5:12 am

Huh, guess I missed an update. Yeah, I'm glad to see Sumi let up on the reigns and realize that the Ryou she wants isn't one that can settle down just yet, and forcing him to live by her schedule is just breeding resentments. And Hisao would probably do very well in a think-tank sort of environment rather than a conventional lab, doing fundamental research rather than anything with a practical goal in mind. It would also likely lead to much more interesting conversations with Rin that way. :mrgreen:
Rin > Shizune > Emi > Hanako > Lilly

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Re: Direction (post Rin bad ending)

Post by Mirage_GSM » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:51 am

Good chapter again, except for the part in the beginning where Jirou and Michel give their advice.
I had to think for a moment about just what felt wrong about the passage, but I think somehow their monologues feel more like rehearsed speeches than natural dialogue...
Emi > Misha > Hanako > Lilly > Rin > Shizune

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griffon8 wrote:Kosher, just because sex is your answer to everything doesn't mean that sex is the answer to everything.
Sore wa himitsu desu.

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Re: Direction (post Rin bad ending)

Post by Muphrid » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:09 pm

Mirage_GSM wrote:Good chapter again, except for the part in the beginning where Jirou and Michel give their advice.
I had to think for a moment about just what felt wrong about the passage, but I think somehow their monologues feel more like rehearsed speeches than natural dialogue...
Yeah, that makes sense. I'll probably break those up a little bit to make it feel a little more spontaneous. Thanks for pointing that out.
Ranger296 wrote:By any chance was the accountant that was suspicious / good with numbers Kenji.
I wish I'd thought of that. That would've been a good time to reference him, albeit probably too coincidental to be believable.
nemz wrote:Huh, guess I missed an update. Yeah, I'm glad to see Sumi let up on the reigns and realize that the Ryou she wants isn't one that can settle down just yet, and forcing him to live by her schedule is just breeding resentments. And Hisao would probably do very well in a think-tank sort of environment rather than a conventional lab, doing fundamental research rather than anything with a practical goal in mind. It would also likely lead to much more interesting conversations with Rin that way. :mrgreen:
Science for the sake of science; that would probably fit Hisao pretty well, I agree, but Professor Chiba has an idea in mind for Hisao, something that his unique situation would allow him to appreciate.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Wyko » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:09 pm

How many parts are left to edit? I'm not sure when to begin reading it :)

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Wed Jan 30, 2013 7:12 pm

Either two or three, depending on how I split them. I'm taking a break from other writing projects to try to deal with my editing backlog, so hopefully it won't be long.

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Re: Direction (post Rin neutral ending)

Post by Muphrid » Sun Feb 03, 2013 9:35 pm

Note: this scene contains explicit content.

The next two days are a bit easier and more relaxed. Only the passage of time helps me realize how much all these issues were weighing on me. Even homework seems positively relaxing compared to what I've been dealing with. I can't keep four different things in my head and work on them all in parallel. It's much easier to work on one thing at a time.

Ryou was readily accepted back into SDF. He'll be based out of Nerima, which is about an hour away by subway, and he should be able to visit on weekends when he doesn't have duties. All in all, it's as close as he could be while rejoining the Force. Sumi is delighted just to be able to see him so often.

For my part, I'm still looking at research opportunities. I'm not sure what I want to do yet. Professor Chiba took me aside on Thursday and apologized for forgetting something, saying I'd better be in class on Tuesday or else. What's that supposed to mean.

"I think I've found a project you'd be interested in," he explained. "Just remind me before class on Tuesday to bring the paper. I forget it in all the mess about complex residues, but you really need to see it on paper to believe it."

It's kind of nice to have a professor working for you to find out what you'd like to do, I guess.

That just leaves Rin, really. I went to visit her on Thursday, but she wouldn't open the door to her studio. "It's not ready," she said. How will I know when it is ready?

It's not just the damn painting, though. I was hopeful that she'd start something new, but already I'm starting to feel shut out from her again. What did she feel with that kiss? Was it longing for human contact? Regret over what we could've been for each other in the past? Was it love for me, the need to give me comfort, even if that meant with her body?

Or are those the kinds of things I felt for her instead, and I'm just trying to understand her using myself as a base? Either way, talking about all those possibilities in words feels like an inadequate description of that moment. You can't really capture it well.

Rin in general seems to defy words, the same words she has so much trouble using. Some things don't need words, though—like the touch of her lips to mine. Is that something anyone can understand?

"Mitchan, get a camera," says Sumi. "Hisao's got that dreamy look on his face again."

We're working by the dinner table in my apartment. Sumi and I slave over textbooks and printed-out homework assignments that are already covered in incomplete equations and arithmetic. Sumi's been spending more time over here. Ryou's not officially back in SDF yet, but he's been moving things to the base and getting checkups and stuff. He's already away a lot, and Sumi doesn't like to be alone. I'm not sure what she'll do with that apartment, but until she decides, that means I can't afford to look goofy around her, or she'll never stop needling me over it.

"I always look dreamy," I respond.

"Not with that tuft of hair sticking up from your head," she teases.

"It's easy to get your hair looking passable when you let it dry during class and adjust it every five minutes."

Her jaw drops in mock anger, and she pulls her notes away from me. "I guess you don't need these formulas that I copied down while you were too busy doodling yesterday."

Mitsuru leans out of his doorway, seeing what the commotion is. "You guys going back and forth is worse than Game Six of the World Series last year."

"And what happened then?" asks Sumi.

"Cardinals came back and tied it in the ninth with two runs. Then the Rangers scored two in the tenth, only for the Cardinals to tie it again and then win in the eleventh. Rangers were one out away from winning it all, and they ended up losing Game Seven instead."

"Which means Hisao arguing with me is pointless," Sumi concludes. "Thanks for that baseball insight, Mitchan."

"I don't see how that makes me the loser here," I protest.

"Because I say so," she says, 'and that's that."

A pair of thuds on the apartment door cuts off any rebuttal I could make, and Sumi knows it, too. She gets up to answer, grinning with triumph, while I try to sneak another peek at her notes. I don't see the door open, but Sumi seems surprised with the visitor.

"Oh! Hello there. You must be Hisao's friend. Tezuka, right?"

Rin? She's here?

I rise from the table abruptly, and I see her. She's still in her painting overalls, like she'd just stepped away from her paintbrush and walked over. She seems just as surprised as I am. Why should she be? This is my apartment; she shouldn't be shocked I'm around, but her eyes are wide, and she's staring.

Not at me, though. She's staring at Sumi.

"I'm Aoki," she introduces herself to Rin. "Or Sumi, if you like. I'm a friend of Hisao's from Kyoto. It's good to finally meet you. I've been bugging Hisao about having you stop by, but he can be so stubborn sometimes. You've probably seen that too, right?"

On one level, I'm relieved Sumi isn't fazed at all by Rin's lack of arms. She's known all along, of course, and it seems like she's prepared herself for it, trying to keep her focus on Rin's eyes, but Rin's stare is unwavering. It's not hard for Rin to be at a loss for words, but I think Sumi was hoping for at least a slight laugh, or even that Rin might come to my defense.

Instead, Rin starts to look back and forth between me and Sumi. Her mouth moves, but she can't form a single word.

"What's happened?" I ask, coming up beside Sumi and trying to catch Rin's eye. "What's wrong?"

Rin shuts her eyes tightly, taking deep breaths. When she opens them again, her gaze is downward, more toward her feet than either of us. "This is your friend?" she asks.

"That's right," I say. "Sumi is a close friend."

Rin's eyes flash at that, again betraying her confusion, and seeing her confused makes me confused. I don't even understand what's wrong!

Sumi winces, cursing under her breath. "Hisao, I need to go across the hall and check on dinner." She turns back, facing down the hall. "Mitsuru!"

"What?"

"Help me with dinner. I need some help."

"Since when?"

"Since now. Hisao has a guest, so I need help. Do you get me?"

Mitsuru peers out his door, and a sly smile comes over him. "Right, sure," he says, and he locks up his bedroom without further protest.

"I'm sorry for running out so quickly," says Sumi, bowing to both Rin and me. "Tezuka, I hope you'll stay for dinner. Since my husband's been away, our dinners haven't been quite the same. He and I live just across the hall, though, so if you stop by and Hisao isn't around, just knock on my door, and I'd be happy to help track him down. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

Something in Rin's eyes changes, and she nods cautiously. "Would you use bloodhounds or aerial surveillance?"

"What's that?"

"To track down Hisao."

"Oh, I'd probably just call him," Sumi explains.

"That makes sense. Cell phones don't all work well with feet. Mine does because it has big buttons. Otherwise my toes would hit several buttons at once. I used a cell phone like that before. I ended up calling somewhere in Romania. Very intruiging."

Sumi laughs. "You're everything Hisao said you were. Sorry again for ducking out; I hope we'll get to talk more soon." With that, she leads Mitsuru out the door and closes it behind her, leaving only Rin and me inside the apartment.

"So," I say, "what brings you here?"

"Is she your friend?"

Yes, I said that. And that can't be why you're here; you hadn't even met Sumi yet. "Yeah, of course," I answer.

"The kind you do things with or the kind you don't do things with? Because I've tried to understand what the difference is. It all seems really arbitrary to me. People will do things with strangers, but then not with friends, but then if they do things with friends they're more than friends, but strangers are less than friends, aren't they? Are strangers more than friends but also less than friends?"

That makes a surprising amount of sense, and I begin to think Rin has happened upon one of the paradoxes of the human condition…until I realize that this all has to do with me and Sumi.

"That's not—we don't do that. Sumi and I aren't like that. She's married."

"That doesn't stop people."

"Well, it stops me. Why would you think Sumi and I were like that?"

She frowns. "Not sure. Seems really weird, right? If I saw you with any girl, it wouldn't be reasonable to assume you were sleeping with her."

But Sumi answered my door. That isn't any random happenstance. Even if Rin doesn't understand it, she's capable of that kind of fear, of possessiveness, of jealousy. She's a person, after all.

"It's the painting," says Rin.

Huh? What painting?

"I wasn't able to finish the painting," she explains.

So she came here to talk about that new painting she was starting? "What happened?" I ask.

"Actually, I wasn't able to start anything, either. I tried talking to Teacher, but she doesn't understand. People liked it better when I held myself back. I only let a little bit of what was in my head on the canvas at a time, and it worked okay. I could paint about ideas I'd read or thought about, and sometimes, people understood. I painted something for Teacher after her husband died, and it made her cry, but it was a good crying. It made her remember something good. She felt it more deeply than I did, and that was okay with me."

"That's a good thing to do," I tell her. "It's a way you can reach out and touch people."

She nods, but she doesn't look entirely happy. "With arms that aren't mine."

With thoughts and ideas that don't really probe at her soul.

"I tried really hard, but people wouldn't always understand. Even something I thought was really simple could be missed. You asked me about the fruit bowl with the orange. What if I told you it was unrealistic for all the fruit in the bowl to stay the same while the orange rotted away? What would that make you think?"

"I guess that'd be true," I concede. "It did give that sense of impossibility. Is that what it means?"

She shakes her head. "Not to me, but someone told me that once, and I thought I could see that, even though it wasn't what it meant to me."

I'm tempted to ask what it did mean to her, but there can be no greater mistake than asking Rin to explain something.

"When you told me how you had a bad time after I left, it changed something inside me," she goes on. "My mind is very soupy. It's not a clear soup, but it made me want someone to see through it like it was clear soup. Like chicken soup instead of tomato soup. I don't want to be tomato soup."

"It would fit your hair, though," I say, trying to lighten the mood.

She cocks her head. "Maybe that's the problem. Maybe if I dyed my hair, I would be more like chicken soup. I should be blonde?"

"I don't think it works like that."

"Probably not." She slumps a little at that and meets my gaze, her eyes wistful and sad. "When you told me you could never understand me, even as hard as you tried, I thought I should just aim for something else. Making art the way I was doing it wasn't working, but the new thing I tried didn't make me happy, either. And then you came back. Why did you come back? And you started saying different things, more hopeful things. If you'd said those things back then, I don't think I would've left. Why didn't you say them back then?"

There's no good answer to that. I want to say I was drained and frustrated. I allowed myself to believe in the coldest version of the truth because it made me feel like the weariness inside me wasn't my fault. It was the way the world was. The world is neither brutal nor kind, though. It simply is. People can be brutal or kind. Nature can be dangerous or awe-inspiring, but it doesn't act with a conscious will.

In the end, I'm responsible for what I felt back then and how I reacted to it. That's what I need to tell her.

"I wish I had," I say. "I've wished that for a long time."

Shd nods again. "You've really changed. You're better now, more hopeful. You could transform yourself. You're a scientist now, but I tried to change, and I don't think it worked. I like being able to touch people in a small way, but who can reach back through my paintings and touch me?"

A lump forms in my throat; I can't get a word out to tell her, to comfort her, but she meets my gaze and gives a sad smile.

"You want to," she says. "I know you want to, and being near you makes me feel like it can happen. I just don't know if that feeling is real. I don't know what to do, and Teacher doesn't know, either. It's all the same to her. She said I should do what I feel like doing, but I don't know what I want to do. The artist way isn't enough by itself. My way isn't enough either. I don't know if the ways I think I touch people with my painting are really the ways I touch them or if I misunderstand. I don't know if I could ever put myself on a canvas, as hard as I try. I don't know if it's good that you came back and I started trying again, but if not for that I wouldn't have realized I was sad, and not knowing what you feel is bad, so I don't know. There are so many things I don't know. Is that how scientists feel? Do they feel small and dwarfed by the mysteries of the universe? I'd really like it if that were the case. Then I wouldn't be alone, even if only thanks to hypothetical people, not real people. Maybe I shouldn't feel comforted by that, then, and I should look for—"

I grab her by the shoulders as gently as I can; her rambling is a little more coherent than it used to be, but I'm not sure she'll ever stop.

"Sorry," she says, somehow slumping even more. "I thought I could change, but I haven't, have I? It's like I'm walking into the ocean and I can't see where I should go on the horizon, or get there against the oncoming tide."

I crouch down, trying to catch her eye. "Then I'm with you; I'll bring you a boat, so you can get around. I'll bring you a spyglass, so you can see."

Contrary to my intentions, she looks enormously sad at that. "You've changed in all the right ways, Hisao. You have friends and hope. You've also not changed in all the right ways. You're still a really kind person. How did you manage it?"

"I told you before, anything I changed about myself, I changed because of you. Anything I kept the same I kept because I thought of what you would like."

That last part is probably an exaggeration, but dammit, if there's a time and place to stretch the truth, keeping Rin from tears has to be one of them!

"Then that's the person I want to be," Rin concludes. "There are lots of people I could be, and I'm not sure about what I would have to change or keep the same to become them, but right now…" She peers up, finally meeting my eyes, and it's a look of resolve and determintaion. "Right now, I want to be a person you can be with."

Maybe it's just the magic of the moment, but hearing her say that—with such certainty, such force—is a relief to me. After all her uncertain and dire thoughts, I'm overwhelmed. Rin's moods could always change so quickly, and even if I doubt the wisdom of putting her hopes into me, that she has hope at all is inspiring, and I'm driven to respond in kind.

"Rin," I say, "you're already that person, regardless of your doubts or what you believe." And to reinforce the point, I kiss her on the forehead. It feels a bit corny, but I'm hoping it's enough to convince her of my affections without making any demands for something more.

Rin relaxes. She takes a deep breath, and it seems to energize her. She stands up straight and tall, coming to life again. She's vibrant and wonderful; she looks like she could take on anything, and the subdued smile on her face is a sight to behold.

"Can you show me your bathroom?" she asks.

I blink about five times, trying to take that sentence in. "You want to what?"

"I haven't changed so much I don't use a toilet," she clarifies. "That would require a change in biology, and I don't think I'm capable of that yet."

Baffled, I voicelessly point the way down the hall, and Rin quickly ducks inside, shutting the door with her foot. As the light comes on, I'm forced to let out a little sigh. This is one of those challenging times with Rin, where what she does no longer makes a lick of sense to me, but I resolved to deal with them, didn't I? Her mind just moves so fast sometimes—it's nothing intentional. That's what I've told myself. It's just how she is.

Some of the misunderstandings in dealing with her is looking for too much meaning in Rin's actions. She is a creature of whim and impulse, and somtimes those whims and impulses aren't elegantly strung together. It's just a test of patience—and confidence, too, that while the moments when we connect may come and go, they are real and not erased by the times we misunderstand each other.

Like Rin, I don't know if that's real or just wishful thinking, but for now, even wishful thinking is enough for me.

"Your bathroom is very clean," Rin observes, her voice halfway drowned out by the overhead fan. "That's all because of you, isn't it."

"What does that mean?" I ask gruffly.

"You liked to clean things. Would you go to a warzone and put knocked over bottles of soap back on a kitchen counter?"

"No! …maybe."

"You don't have any hooks."

This time I have more of my wits about me. It only takes me a couple seconds to respond. "Hooks?"

"The towels here go on bars instead of hooks. I can't use them."

"Use them for what?"

"Undressing."

Oh. That would be a practical problem, wouldn't it.

The bathroom door opens, and Rin wanders back out, staring me down with her impassive gaze. "Aren't you going to?" she asks.

"Help you undress?"

She nods.

Well, that's easy enough. Her overalls are fastened by two buttons in a perfectly innocent position on her chest. I undo them without trouble, and the garment falls around her ankles. The act does expose her a bit, showing off her smooth, pale legs and a pair of blue and white striped panties. These are striped vertically, though, which nags at me for some reason. I'm not sure why.

And if I don't want to stare, I'd better not think about it too hard.

"Is that all?" she asks.

"You don't need me to take off your shirt to use the bathroom," I counter.

She nods at that. "You're right. That's clever."

We stand there.

"Weren't you going to go?" I ask, starting to fidget with my hands.

"Go where?"

"Into the bathroom?"

"No, I don't think so."

All right, now I'm definitely too confused to make sense of this. Rin can be confusing, but it's not like her to directly contradict herself. For that matter, I can see quite clearly—there may only be steel bars for the towels to dry on, but there are hooks for washcloths and other things inside the bathroom, so Rin shouldn't have had any trouble….

Oh.

She wants me to…oh.

Rin narrows her eyes, looking irritated with my reaction. "I would like to have sex with you, Hisao. The erection you had the other day when we kissed made me think you'd be comfortable with that."

The sheer bluntness of her request forces me to laugh, if only in confusion. "Rin, it's not as easy as that. That's a physical reaction. That doesn't mean I'm ready to do anything like that."

"So you don't want to have sex with me?" she asks, cocking her head to the side in curiosity.

"Well, that's not what I said either."

She nods to herself, looking distant. "This is why I don't understand people sometimes. People say no without really saying no, or yes without really saying yes. Very perplexing."

I sigh. Anything else I say to try to explain things would come off exactly like that. There's a simple answer to this question, one I need to arrive at without letting words get in the way.

So I reach out to her, touching my knuckles to her cheek. This is me asking her—why do you want this? It's a question I can't bear to ask with words. The last thing I want to do is ask a question that way and push her to an incomplete answer. But if I watch her, maybe that will be enough.

Her eyes meet mine, and she lets herself settle against my hand. I'm supporting her this way. I'm supporting part of her weight, but it's more than that. It's her heart and soul I'm supporting, and it's this connection between us—confused and garbled as it sometimes is—that I can reaffirm.

"I admit," I begin to say, "I'm not fond of being intimate with strangers. If I'm going to share that with someone, I'd rather it be with someone I care for. A friend, I guess."

"I thought you said friends don't do this sort of thing," says Rin, hardly suppressing a smile.

Yeah, well, I'm not in the mood for semantics right now. I can't keep my eyes off the curves of her legs. Though it makes me feel sketchy for even thinking about it, I open the door to my bedroom and lead Rin inside. I don't think we want any extracurriculars happening in the hallway.

So here we are—I'm fully clothed, and Rin's walking around with her overalls dragging at her ankles. Ah, no, she steps out of them, exposing her feet. The nails are clean, without even a hint of paint. She really must not have been able to paint anything over the last few days. Otherwise, I'd see at least a trace of pigment, but I don't.

I get to work undressing her, as requested. I unbutton her shirt, and I'm treated to the sight of a silky, sky blue bra. Rin closes her eyes as I unhook the bra, and when the straps go slack, I ease the material off her, hanging the bra on the bedpost. I check her expression for even a hint of reaction, but her face betrays little. What I sense from her is subtler than that. When I run my hands down her sides, she relaxes, letting out a breath. It's hard to think of Rin as a tense person, but she puts so much effort into her paintings. Even she needs to wind down sometimes, and it touches me to know she will trust herself in my hands. She's exposed here. Her stubby arms are plain to see. No knotted sleeves hide them now, and I touch them gently. I think before I would've regarded such a thing as disrespectful, but these arms of hers are hers alone. They're part of her, and so I love them for what they are—different and unique, but never incomplete.

Rin, too, feels no anxiety as I stroke her there. Each caress stimulates an easy breath—even a smile.

"You seem really calm right now," I say quietly.

She opens her eyes, and they're full of innocent enthusiasm and joy. "It's like walking in a rainstorm," she says. "When you touch me, I feel like we're connected. It's a really comforting feeling."

Because we are connected, Rin. Ever since I blurted out that I was interested in art to Nomiya, we were bound together, you and I.

Rin's childlike joy is a pleasure to see, but I'm not satisfied with just that. Her skin is colder than mine, but there's an underlying warmth that I find myself drawn to. I hold her back to my chest and begin to kiss her delicately on the back of her neck. Her breathing quickens, and she watches me from the corner of her eye. I see it now, in her eyes—that passion she showed me once before. It hides so deeply there, well beyond the cloudy, impassive expression that usually rests in her eyes, but it's there. It must've been terrifying for her—to realize that her body wanted something she couldn't explain, couldn't understand. She has so much trouble understanding people, understanding herself. I wonder—did she even understand it that night, when I walked in on her in the atelier as she was cold, naked, and delirious?

No matter. She understands it all now. She understands enough to crane her neck around and touch her lips to mine, but I'm not finished yet. I let my hand wander down, to the elastic band that holds her striped panties in place. Touching her thighs in this way starts a fire inside me, and for some harebrained reason, I think to stoke it instead of giving it relief. I guide my hand between her legs and touch her. She spasms, breaking our kiss, but the sensation excites her. She arches her back and starts to grind against my hand, only to start shaking her head in dismay.

"No, Hisao. I want to, but—" She meets my eyes, determined and serious. "I want to see you more."

I can't begrudge her that, can I? I mean, here she is, entirely naked, and I still haven't even taken off my belt.

"Stand by the bed," she says.

I do so, thinking it better to listen to the naked women in my bedroom rather than guess her intentions. Rin eases herself into my desk chair, still breathing heavily, and I can't help but wonder if she'll get some fluids on the leather, but that thought is very, very brief, for Rin's bare foot is caressing my leg, working its way to my crotch.

I see what the desk chair is for now. She needs distance and leverage. This is slightly complicated, for as she pushes against me, the chair begins to tilt, catching on the carpet, but she keeps her balance. I think she must be very good at this—at tilting in chairs, I mean.

As I undressed her, Rin undresses me, undoing the buttons of my shirt with her toes. They're small and frustrate her at times, but when I offer to do it myself, she practically glares at me, and I'm powerless to resist.

That's fine, I guess. With Rin slumped in the chair to work with her feet, I'm getting a nice view anyhow.

With great effort, Rin strips me down. She even takes the belt off my pants by hooking the buckle with her big toe. This is turnabout for how gently I undressed her, for she runs her foot up and down my chest, feeling me—even feeling the scar where the doctors went inside to keep my heart going. It makes me anxious to have so much attention paid to it, but Rin seems genuinely curious, so I don't have the heart to tell her to stop. Perhaps this is a way for us to be connected, too—by past experiences, by events that have shaped us.

By comparison, my penis draws a different kind of interest from her. Rather than play with it the way I played with her, she nudges it back and forth between her feet, like she's playing a game of tennis with herself, and I'm the ball.

"Hey, uh, can we do this?" I ask. "I don't think you have any idea how strange that sensation is right now."

"You're impatient now," she observes, leaving the chair to stand before me. She gives me a full view of herself, as if it natural and ordinary for her. She could just as easily be ordering a cup of coffee—she's so casual about being here. I, on the other hand, can hardly keep from turning away to hide the throbbing that's going on below my waist.

"I'm not impatient," I say.

"You aren't?"

Now that's a trap if I've ever heard of one, and the coy smile on Rin's face is proof of that. It is powerfully alluring to see. Her sultry, teasing gaze is magnetic. She seems so much more alert now than usual. She is here, with me, in this moment, and I want her. I want every bit of her.

She lies down on the bed, and without a hint of shame, she spreads her legs in invitation.

And I'm far too polite to decline a lady's invitation.

This deed we do is steady and deliberate. There is no hurry, and I want to hold myself back as long as I can. No one can know what tomorrow will bring. Is it selfish to want these moments between us to last forever? Rin is on the verge of changing herself again, of deciding what kind of person and artist she'll be. I admit, I'm a little afraid of that choice, but I'm not afraid of her or the person she might choose to be. I've seen her enter that crucible before. She is still Rin through and through.

She doesn't moan my name in ecstasy. She doesn't need to. I see it in her eyes. They bore into me, and in them I see my own reflection. They're like a hall of mirrors, each showing me myself again, and the intensity builds and builds with each reflection.

At last, her gaze breaks away. Her eyes shut reflexively, and she lets a little sound out. Her skin is warm and sweaty against mine, but she isn't finished, not yet. As I pant to catch my breath, she runs her foot up and down my spine, pensive and uncertain.

"You always made me want to change," she says at last, "whether I thought it was good to do or not."

"I could say the same thing," I tell her. "It's natural, isn't it? For a friend, or for someone you love, it's natural to want to be a better person—to be smarter, stronger, or whatever else. But if they truly consider you a friend, you have to remember something: they already love you for who you are."

As I love you for who you are now, and for the possibilities of whatever else you might choose to become.

Rin kisses my cheek at that, a chaste gesture that makes me laugh and makes her giggle, and we lie there, embracing one another, for the rest of the night.

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