Home (Complete)

WORDS WORDS WORDS
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Lap
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Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Mon Aug 20, 2018 8:26 pm

So, I finally finished Home, my long work that An Unexpected Visitor was excerpted from.

It's a story about Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly. Life Happens...

It clocks in at close to 60,000 words, so...fair warning. :D

It's on Ao3: Home. Ao3 has an advantage that you can download the entire story in HTML, PDF, or EBook formats, if you want to read it off-line.

EDIT: And now with a musical accompaniment, by the kind & talented Feurox! Be sure to give it a listen.

EDIT: It was suggested that some folks don't like Ao3 and would prefer to read Home here, so I've put it up here, too.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Last edited by Lap on Tue Sep 17, 2019 9:14 am, edited 6 times in total.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Imperial_Sheep
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Imperial_Sheep » Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:01 am

That was..... an adventure. :D

One small issue, you mentioned Shizune being able to track the two of them from the noise they were making doesn't fully make sense in my mind, since she is deaf. Might just have been my brain failing to understand the sentence.

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Tue Aug 21, 2018 6:06 am

Well...I hope it was at least an enjoyable adventure!

As for Lilly's comment, she was just making a joke at her cousin's expense—saying that they were so loud that a deaf person could have heard them.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Imperial_Sheep
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Imperial_Sheep » Tue Aug 21, 2018 9:16 pm

Lap wrote:
Tue Aug 21, 2018 6:06 am
Well...I hope it was at least an enjoyable adventure!
It was. I loved reading the story.

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NoticeMeOppai
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by NoticeMeOppai » Tue Nov 20, 2018 1:26 pm

I really enjoyed this, one of very few poly fics that actually comes across as being a believable situation. I particularly enjoyed the little asides as you fade to black a few times there.
NmO Does Shorts

I deeply regret my choice of username.

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Nov 21, 2018 11:27 pm

NoticeMeOppai wrote:
Tue Nov 20, 2018 1:26 pm
I really enjoyed this, one of very few poly fics that actually comes across as being a believable situation. I particularly enjoyed the little asides as you fade to black a few times there.
Thanks! :D Some vague semblance of reality in a poly relationship was one of my main objectives, so I'm glad to know it worked for you.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Oddball
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Oddball » Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:00 am

Ehh... I have mixed feeling towards this one. I'm generally against the whole Lilly/Hanako/Hisao in a three way relationship thing so I might be a bad judge of this. I just don't think it ever actually works.

The story itself was for the most part nicely light hearted and fluffy and made for an entertaining read, but the light hearted aspects meant the more serious subject matter of their relationship not seem to fit as well.

I'm also going to say that perhaps everybody was a bit too happy and light hearted. I just tend to think of Hanako and Hisao being a lot more cynical and in Hisao's case even inwardly snarky and none of their worse aspects really seem to come into play here.

Rin's part of the story was interesting. She just came out of nowhere and left just as quickly. I suppose that's suitable for Rin but I'm left wondering why she was there. She also seemed off, even more spacey than she usually comes across as.

Mrs. Matsumoto's apperance was by far the best part of the story, and also the part where Hanako most felt like her old not-entirly-perfect self. It was rather heartwarming to see her reunited with somebody she knew long ago and to get pictures of her family again.

Lilly's idea for the swimsuits and how it was a well thought out but not entirely perfect idea made for some interesting bits. Hanako having lopsided breasts was a nice realistic and somewhat awkward detail even if it doesn't quite seem to match canon. Having Lilly feel her up was rather forced though.

Then we arrive at Ogata... a lot of time was spent on this character considering his story was over right from the very first chapter and nothing more ever came from it. It seemed an odd choice, not unrealistic though and him coming across as a nice guy at first but being pretty scummy did make for a interesting character what little we saw of him.

Still, despite the flaws of the story, it was rather cute and entertaining.
Not Dead Yet

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Feurox
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Feurox » Tue Aug 27, 2019 10:53 am

My thoughts on 'Home' can be summed up in a message I once sent to Lap himself, and a message I placed in the Discord server many of us are a part of. Lap was not a member at the time, so I sent him my thoughts in a private message. I'll quote that message verbatim below:

If I've missed this discussion I'm sorry, but if you haven't yet please check out Lap's 'Home' viewtopic.php?f=52&t=11272

I'll admit I was super put off by the concept, I find that poly-relationships are incredibly hard to write, because most writers tend to avoid the rather obvious problems that occur in them. An uneven distribution of love, both emotional and physical. I Think Lap's done an incredible job though; if you do read this, which I strongly recommend, you'll realise like me that Lap convincingly characterises Lily, Hisao and Hanako into characters who strongly love one another - unbound by the classification.

My main praise however, is in Lap's depiction of Rin. The frustratingly brief section about Rin is perfectly heart-breaking and captivating and does the character incredible justice. At its worst, the section emphasises the message that everything, if reduced, is incomprehensible to anything over than experience. At it's best, Lap's Rin is a heartfelt tribute to the importance of understanding/ being understood in a world that rejects the intimidating different; a character that will never be understood, but despite this upsetting conclusion, is privileged to see from within and without. As an allegory for the situation the characters will soon find themselves, this is non-other than perfect.

I really recommend this work. Check it out.
(Feurox, Musing on Lap's Home, December 2018.)

There is more that I would like to say on this story, as my thoughts have become more nuanced. Most of which, will be in response, or agreement to Oddball's criticism above.
Oddball wrote:
Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:00 am

The story itself was for the most part nicely light hearted and fluffy and made for an entertaining read, but the light hearted aspects meant the more serious subject matter of their relationship not seem to fit as well.
I find myself in general agreement with this criticsm. The story is mostly lighthearted, and in some ways, the fun and happy setting of their relationship harms the otherwise serious and interesting elements of this story. I would link Oddball's point here to his later criticsm:
Oddball wrote:
Sat Feb 09, 2019 12:00 am

Then we arrive at Ogata... a lot of time was spent on this character considering his story was over right from the very first chapter and nothing more ever came from it. It seemed an odd choice, not unrealistic though and him coming across as a nice guy at first but being pretty scummy did make for a interesting character what little we saw of him.
The states of 'Home'; of happiness and a general lighthearted approach to a Polyamorous relationship can be reasoned as appropriate in my opinion, the three main cast are cautiously exploring their relationship together, and it feels like a natural and optimistic foray into the unknown. It does seem however, that this jovial tone presents a missed opportunity for Ogata's character. He is an ass, and whilst I'm sure I would have hated much of his character, I'd still like to have seen more about him. It would have provided an interesting foil to the relationship that the three embark on. (It already does, but more could have been done with it.)


I disagree with the claim that Hisao comes across as overly happy, I actually think his characterisation was spot on. My thoughts are the same for Rin, and i certainly feel that the inclusion of her scenes are pivotal to enjoying 'Home' as a complete story. Rin serves as the crossing point of this story, where it seems that without realising, the cast are faced with a confrontation, what are the bounds of their love? How much of their relationship is goverened by 'normal' behaviour? I think this collection of scenes is executed masterfully. Bravo.

Whilst I have nothing more to add than what Oddball has mentioned, I would also like to congratulate your use of the character Mrs. Matsumoto. The scenes of growth between Hanako and Hisao following this character, are wonderful. Again, bravo.

If I did have one comment, I would really suggest you consider moving this story onto the Renai itself. It was the first (and maybe the last,) external link I clicked from the Renai, and i'd hate to see people missing out on this story for something silly like that.

Usually I would end my criticism by attempting to say something clever about the title of the work, how I think it relates, and how I think it could be changed. But for this comment, I'll be doing something a little different.


'Home' was the story that first brought Lap's writing to my attention. Since then, he has written the wonderful 'Avenues of Communication' and a variety of one shots, all of which are deserving of attention should you like something to read. Furthermore, it is because of 'Home' that Lap and I got in contact, and since then, his feedback, criticsm, and advice with regards to my own writings, has proven invaluable. This makes 'Home' a bit of a personal story to me, despite as mentioned, my general attitude towards stories of this nature. I consider 'Home' and 'Avenues of Communication' to be a privellage to read, and I consider these stories to have had unquantifiable impacts on my own writing, both because of their quality, and because of the quality of the author.

My thanks go out to you.

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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Hanako Fancopter » Tue Aug 27, 2019 11:24 am

I guess this is a good opportunity for me to mention that I adore this story, probably to no one's surprise. What I liked most about it was how effective and consistent it was in teasing the love triangle without actually going through on it (yet), with one amusing situation piled on top of another. I sort of agree about Ogata--considering how much we heard about him, I would have liked to see him appear in the flesh, maybe even as a villainous sort of figure to be confronted at some point. But I didn't feel that it detracted from the story at all, and it contributed to the premise by showing how Lilly's bad experience with a traditional relationship could leave her more open to doing something different.
An Unusual Friendship (Misha x Hanako Route)
Riposte (Rika Mini-Route)
One-Shots Thread (Random Smut/Meme Stories)

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:27 pm

Thank you, all, for the lovely comments.

I must confess, I too agree that Ogata's sub-plot was not well done—it was the weakest part of the story. I think he was a victim of my desire to get to the start of the poly relationship right away. Were I to rework this story, I'd start a few weeks earlier, chronologically, to give the reader some other views of him as well. He's an ass, yes, but he also had to have some redeeming characteristics, or Lilly wouldn't have put up with him as long as she did. And the fact that she put up with his worse qualities as long as she did was supposed to say something more about her own insecurities, which I don't think I conveyed much at all, really.

Thank you again for your thoughts & comments. And, since this thread has now been necro'd by someone other than me, I'll post the story here, too, as requested.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:29 pm

Home

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
________________________

Chapter 1


“My home is not a place, it is people.”
—Lois McMaster Bujold, Barrayar



University was wonderful.

University sucked.

I sighed as I wearily contemplated that dichotomy on the bus ride back to my apartment after classes. It was almost two o’clock on Friday, and I had no more classes that day. Which in theory gave me almost two and a half day long weekends this semester, but all it really meant was I had a little extra time to study and work.

There was no denying that I loved learning, loved taking classes, loved gaining new insights into things I had long wondered about. In other words, as Hanako would have fondly put it, I was a nerd. That part of university was wonderful, and rewarding.

If only they didn’t try to teach me so damn much at once. If I had had one fewer courses per semester, I would have been a happy student. As it was, it felt like I was perpetually studying or working, and slightly under-slept.

The closest thing Hanako and I had had to a date in recent weeks was the evening she visited me at the game store where I worked and we chatted between times when I was helping customers. I was beginning to feel guilty about not having enough time for her. She never complained about it, but I had caught her gazing wistfully after Lilly as she headed out on a date last weekend.

I stared out the bus window, not really seeing the city passing by, as I considered the problem. I knew Hanako was sympathetic about my course and work load, she was studying and working hard herself, but somehow it seemed like it was always me who had just one more article to read, one more shift to work, one more paper to write. Hanako, and Lilly too for that matter, managed to keep up with their classes and jobs without destroying their social lives or sleep patterns.

I could, of course, have gotten more sleep if I didn’t wake up at the crack of dawn six days a week to go running. But given the choice between a little sleepiness now and taking an eternal nap if my heart weakened and gave out, I doggedly opted for the former. You can sleep when you’re dead, as the morbid old saying went. I had no idea how much longer I could force my heart to keep pumping, but I was doing everything in my power to make it last as long as possible. I wanted to have all the time in the world to be with Hanako. That notion kept me devoted to my cardiovascular exercise regimen more strictly than Emi ever managed.

If only I could actually spend more of that extra time with Hanako.

As I got off the bus and trudged toward our apartment building, I resolved to power through my weekend’s homework as quickly as possible. I only had one work shift this weekend, on Saturday evening. I could make time for us to do something together.

Maybe we could do a double-date with Lilly and her boyfriend, Toshiko Ogata—but no, Hanako deserved some time alone with me. As did I with her. Besides which, if I was being totally honest, I didn’t really care that much for Ogata. I wouldn’t have minded going out with just Hanako and Lilly, but unless I got lucky and he was out of town this weekend or something, we would have to invite him along too.

I knew, intellectually, that Ogata had to have some redeeming qualities, or else Lilly wouldn’t have been dating him for the past four months, but he always struck me as a bit plastic. Artificial. A bland smiling visage that didn’t seem to hide any real depths. He had similar manners to Lilly, very proper and buttoned-down, but without her warmth. Though I supposed he was warmer in private. I was just grateful that when they spent the night together they did so at his place.

As I entered our apartment, I called out “Hello?” even though Lilly and Hanako both had classes until five. But sometimes Hanako skipped out on classes early on Fridays, if the week had been too hard on her. I was grateful that my call got no response, which meant she was probably still in class. As I considered it, I realized that it had been several months since she had skipped class for anything other than physical ailments, and I smiled.

It had been a slow process, but Hanako had settled into university life. It had taken a few months for her classmates to get used to her appearance, and then a few more months for Hanako to finally believe that they had, but she was managing well, now. Better than she ever had at Yamaku. Her confidence was slowly increasing, her fears slowly fading, and it was delightful to watch. The first time she’d gone out to a karaoke bar with some classmates after class, I’d been a nervous wreck, waiting at home for her to return, but she’d breezed into the apartment shortly after midnight, humming softly under her breath, the night a success.

I pulled together a quick late lunch of leftovers and then dove into my books, determined to carve out enough time for a date that weekend.

Somewhere around five thirty, I heard a soft ding in the hallway outside our apartment, signifying that the elevator had arrived at our floor. Two sets of footsteps and Lilly’s gentle voice grew louder as they approached our apartment’s door. Lilly and Hanako managed to come home together most Fridays, which worked out well for both of them. Having Lilly with her made the bus ride to our apartment from campus less stressful for Hanako, and likewise it was easier for Lilly to have Hanako to guide her. Two friends, helping each other.

I stood up from the table and stretched a moment, the tension in my lower back reminding me just how long I’d been sitting there working.

“Hello, ladies,” I said, as they entered the apartment, and gave them a big smile. I was relieved to see that Hanako looked more than okay for a Friday, smiling back at me as she pulled her key from the door and shut it behind them.

“Hi, Hisao,” Hanako said quietly as she set her backpack down by the door in its usual spot.

“Hello,” said Lilly, also smiling. She likewise set down her book bag beside Hanako’s, and she left her cane leaning in the corner next to the door. She knew our apartment well enough that she never used it while at home. They took off their coats and shoes, and slipped into house slippers.

I crossed the room and gave Hanako a hug and a kiss. I crassly took advantage of our roommate’s blindness by giving Hanako’s bottom a gentle squeeze as I hugged her. She frowned reprovingly at me a little, but the frown was ruined by the tiny smile she was unable to repress. I buried my nose in her hair for a moment, just enjoying her scent and the way it relaxed me. My appreciative sniff prompted a small giggle from her.

“How were your days?” I asked them both as I let go of Hanako. She and Lilly sat down on the couch, and I stepped over to the kitchen nook to turn on the kettle for tea.

“It was fine, but I’m glad the week is over,” said Lilly. She turned sideways on the couch and let her legs rest across Hanako’s lap as she flopped back gracelessly against the armrest. I grinned as I watched her. She’s usually so very prim and proper, but even Lilly has her limits. Hanako isn’t the only one who gets more tired as the week wears on. The fact that she’s willing to look less than perfectly composed in our presence says volumes about our friendships, and how comfortable she is around us. Without being asked, Hanako removed Lilly’s slippers and began rubbing her feet.

Lilly made a soft whimpering noise of pleasure at Hanako’s attentions, then she said, “You should tell him your news.”

“News?” I repeated, intrigued. Given that Hanako was studying journalism, that term could be more or less literal, depending upon the context. I looked at Hanako, an inquisitive expression on my face. Hanako looked away from Lilly’s feet for a moment to give me a shyly proud smile.

“I g-got a ninety-seven on my ethics in j-journalism paper.”

“Ah! Excellent!” I crowed. I couldn’t help but grin at her. “Was that the one you were calling a ‘steaming pile of incoherent gibberish’ last weekend?”

She rolled her eyes and gave an embarrassed shrug. “Maybe.” I laughed.

“I want you to read the professor’s comments to me,” said Lilly. “Hanako refused to say anything other than ‘he was nice about it.’ ”

I stepped over to the couch and bent down to give Hanako another kiss. “That’s wonderful, sweetie. Good job.”

Blushing, Hanako turned the conversation away from herself. “And you? How was y-your day?”

I shrugged as I returned to preparing the tea. “Not bad. I only had quantum this afternoon, so I’ve been plowing through homework ever since.” I glanced at the table where I’d been working. “My notes and laptop are spread out all over the table, Lilly. I’ll tidy up before dinner.” Although we had a tiny table with four stools in the kitchenette area, we usually ate sitting on the floor around the low table in the living room area, the table that used to be in Lilly’s dorm room.

“Thank you,” she murmured quietly, apparently being lulled into a sleepy state by Hanako’s strong hands on her feet. I paused and watched them for a moment, smiling at the picture they presented. Hanako looked over at me and smiled back, and I blew her a kiss.

“I assume I’d be out of luck if I asked for any help in preparing dinner?” I asked Lilly and Hanako.

Lilly gave a little groan that was almost a growl and said, “If you try to pry my feet away from Hanako right now, you will have a serious fight on your hands.”

Hanako and I laughed. “I’m not feeling that brave tonight,” I said, as I started to poke through the cupboards to pull together a meal. Hanako and I had both learned a bit about cooking from Lilly over the past few years. Although I wasn’t as good as Lilly, I wouldn’t be accused of poisoning anyone with my cooking.

By the time dinner was ready, Lilly had finished returning the favor to Hanako, and my feet were feeling a little envious. As we ate, I said to Hanako, “I’m working tomorrow evening, but…I’m really trying to get my homework done early. Would you like to go out to lunch tomorrow, or maybe go see a movie Sunday?”

Hanako’s face lit up like I’d just offered her a free lifetime supply of chocolate. I felt a little guilty that such a small thing should cheer her so. I really needed to take more time to spend with her. Education may be important, but she was the most important thing in my life, and I needed to make sure she knew that.

“A m-movie would be nice, but…I think I’d like to do lunch, or d-dinner. So we could have some time to talk.” She smiled at me.

“There’s a new Thai place on Senbon that’s nice, and affordable,” Lilly suggested. “Toshiko and I have eaten there a few times. You might like it.”

“As long as they can make stuff not too spicy,” I said dubiously. I’d had my taste buds fried off at a Thai place last year.

“Toshiko’s taste in spice is about as adventurous as yours, Hisao,” Lilly said with a smile. “You’ll be fine.”

“I like Thai,” said Hanako

I smiled. “Thai it is, then.”

I dove into my work with single-minded focus after dinner, determined to be able to give Hanako my full attention on our date. I tottered off to bed just before midnight. Unless I had a pressing deadline, I couldn’t afford to stay up past twelve, since my tyrant of an alarm clock was always going to go off at six a.m. for my morning run. Thankfully, my cardiologist had adjusted my meds over the years so that insomnia was less of a problem for me than it had been when I’d first gotten out of the hospital.

I tried to slip into bed without waking Hanako, but she rolled over and snuggled up to me, mumbling something quiet and affectionate as she did. I kissed the top of her head, breathing in her scent, which warmed and relaxed me. “Good night, sweetheart. I love you,” I said.

“Love you,” she murmured.

________________________

A couple of Sundays later, Hanako and I were in the living room. I was studying, and she was reading one of her romance novels, when Lilly came home from a date. I was a little surprised at her return. Aside from the fact that she often spent Sunday nights at Ogata’s place, it seemed awfully early in the evening to be calling it a night. “Hi, Lilly,” I said.

“Welcome home,” said Hanako.

“Hello,” Lilly replied flatly.

The first thing I noticed was that she was wearing her dark glasses. I had never seen her wear them at home before. She mostly only wore them when she was out in a new and crowded place, and wanted to display a signifier of her blindness in addition to her cane for the strangers around her, to simplify interactions.

The second thing I noticed was her body language. Normally, she was fluid and graceful, moving with a poise and precision that I knew some viewed as affected. But her motions as she set aside her cane and took off her coat and shoes were quick and jerky. Her hands were trembling with more than the winter chill.

“L-lilly? Is…everything all right?” Hanako asked, just beating me to the question.

Lilly turned her head towards us and gave us the most unconvincing smile I’d ever seen, the dark glasses hiding her eyes making the expression even more odd and off-putting. “I’m fine, thank you.” She shoved her feet forcefully into her house slippers and headed towards her bedroom, her steps still over-quick, almost stomping. “If you’ll excuse me, I’m tired and nee—ow!

Apparently her jerky movements had thrown off her internal spatial map of the living room, because she slammed her shin full speed into the edge of the low table in the center of the room. She crumpled to the floor, biting her lip against the pain.

“Lilly!” Hanako exclaimed as she rolled off the couch and knelt by Lilly’s side.

“I’m…fine, f-f-fine,” Lilly stammered through her pain, rubbing her shin. As Hanako put an arm across her shoulders, Lilly repeated, “F-f-fine, fine, I’m fiii…” Her words disappeared in a sob, and she turned towards Hanako and buried her face in her hair, her arms coming up to clutch at Hanako. I could see her arms trembling, her grip on Hanako was so tight, and she continued weeping, the likes of which I’d never seen from her.

Hanako returned Lilly’s embrace, holding her tight. She rubbed one hand up and down Lilly’s back, and she stared at me over Lilly’s shoulder, her eyes wide and uncertain. She silently mouthed the word help! at me. I unfroze from where I’d been watching this meltdown and scooted over to Lilly’s other side, so we could both hug her. Lilly startled a little as I put my arms around her, which surprised me. I hadn’t been quiet, she would normally have known I was there. But after that first little flinch, she relaxed into our embrace, and Hanako and I hugged her tight, trying to console and reassure her, whatever the problem was.

“It’s all right, Lilly, we’re here, we’ve got you,” Hanako murmured softly, squeezing Lilly tight as she continued to whisper soft words of comfort and assurance to her best friend.

“We’re here for you,” I echoed.

Eventually, Lilly’s sobs trailed off, and she slumped against us, sniffling. Somewhere in the middle of the emotional firestorm, Lilly’s glasses had come off, and I could see her half-opened eyes. They were red and swollen—not a little bit, like they would be from a mere five minutes of crying, but more like she had already been crying for quite some time before she got home. No wonder she had been wearing them.

“Can you tell us…what’s wrong?” Hanako asked quietly.

“I…” Lilly paused, her breathing still ragged, then she said, “I need a tissue.”

I snorted at that and disengaged myself from the other two. I got a box of tissues from the shelf, and brought them back. Hanako slid over a little, so that she and Lilly could lean more comfortably against the couch. I sat down on Lilly’s other side and placed the box in her lap.

“Thank you,” she said quietly, then daintily wiped her eyes and nose, some of her normal poise returning. Hanako also took a tissue and wiped at her eyes. I hadn’t realized she’d been crying a bit, too.

“What’s wrong?” Hanako repeated. “You d-don’t have to tell us if you don’t want to, but…”

Lilly shook her head. “I want to. I…it’s just…” She abandoned propriety and blew her nose, then wiped at her eyes again. She balled up the tissues in a tight fist, her hand trembling a little. “Toshiko. He and I…we…”

“Fought?” I offered.

Lilly shook her head again. “Broke up.”

“Oh, no, Lilly, I’m so sorry,” said Hanako. “H-how—why?”

Lilly’s glowered, her expression bitter. She was silent for so long I wasn’t sure she was going to respond. Eventually, she spat out, “Apparently, I’m not Japanese enough. And I’m broken. And I’m fat.” I winced at the words, and the venom with they were delivered. She paused, taking a deep, hiccuping breath, obviously fighting back her tears again.

“He told me he was going to have dinner with his family next weekend, and I asked, when was I going to get to meet them? We’ve been dating for four months, after all. He danced around it for a few minutes before admitting, never. He had no intention of ever introducing me to his family. He had no long-term plans for us to stay together. I was just some exotic foreigner for him to dally with. A—a cripple to play with, to give him new experiences to write about.”

“Ohh, Lilly,” said Hanako softly, pulling Lilly close and stroking her hair. A few more tears leaked out of Lilly’s tightly closed eyes, and she held her breath for a few moments, fighting to maintain her self-control.

I fought down the urge to get up and seek out Ogata, just to punch him repeatedly in the face. I took a mental step back, and tried to focus on Lilly. This isn’t about my anger at him, I reminded myself. This is about Lilly. Besides which, if I ever got into a fist fight with someone, they would probably accidentally kill me. Which put an additional damper on my anger, even as I resented the fact. Some stupidly primitive part of my brain insisted I should be able to physically defend “my women.”

I pushed aside my own anger, and said, “What a jerk. But I’m glad you found that out about him before you wasted any more time on him.”

“What an asshole,” Hanako corrected, and I could tell from her flinch that Lilly was as startled as I to hear such language from Hanako. “He doesn’t d-deserve someone as wonderful as you, Lilly. I hope he lives a long and lonely life, n-never finding anyone to care for or love.”

Given that that had once been one of Hanako’s greatest fears for herself, it was a deep and meaningful curse. And heartfelt, judging by her scowl. I didn’t often see my girlfriend angry, and seeing her now, I was grateful that her rage wasn’t directed at me. Honestly, she looked a little scary.

Hanako also seemed to realize that she wasn’t being very comforting, and she visibly relaxed, also putting aside her anger. She pulled Lilly a little closer to her and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry you’re hurting,” she said, more quietly. “Let me know what I can do to make it better.”

“Us. Let us know,” I amended.

Lilly gave a tremulous smile. “You’re already helping. Thank you.”

“At the risk of sounding cliché…would you like a cup of tea?” I offered.

Lilly and Hanako giggled at that, and Lilly, said, “Actually, yes, that would be nice. If nothing else, I need to rehydrate a little.”

I got up and prepared the tea. Living with Lilly for a couple of years, I had picked up the proper technique for brewing tea to her standards. As I worked in the kitchen, Lilly and Hanako talked quietly, mostly Hanako consoling Lilly, from the sound of it.

I brought the tea set into the living room and poured the tea, even though Lilly usually performed that task for us. Lilly held the cup of tea below her face for a moment, just inhaling the scent before sipping. “Perfect,” she complimented me, though her smile seemed a little sad as she said it. We drank in silence for a few minutes before Lilly broke the quiet with a question.

“Hisao? Do you think…am I fat?” Lilly asked. I’d rarely heard her sounding so timid and uncertain, and the way her shoulders slumped as she asked the question made my heart hurt.

I may be emotionally dense and oblivious at time, but even I knew that there was only one possible answer to that question. “No, of course not, Lilly. You…” I glanced at Hanako, then continued, “You’re beautiful.”

Lilly made a scoffing sound. “You hesitated. Do you really mean that?”

I sighed. “I hesitated because I was momentarily uncertain about complimenting another woman in front of my girlfriend. But then I came to my senses, knowing how Hanako feels about you. You are truly beautiful, Lilly, and don’t ever let any jerk try to convince you otherwise.”

“Hisao is right, Lilly. I know your standards for b-beauty are not…visually based, but trust us when we say, any random p-person on the street who saw you would think you beautiful. I’ve always th-thought you were beautiful, even before I got to know you.”

Hanako had given me a minute to gather my thoughts. “I think what that jerk”—I wasn’t willing to say Ogata’s name out loud at the moment—“meant was that you’re not a tiny porcelain doll. It sounds like he’s one of those shallow twits who’s looking for a perfect little model wife who will stand meekly in his shadow.”

Lilly sighed. “I know I’m of above average height for a woman, but…that’s not the same thing as fat.”

I shot Hanako a questioning look, and she smiled and nodded at me. I took hold of Hanako’s hand and squeezed it tight for a moment. “Lilly, you’re not fat, you’re…it’s not just your height that’s above average. You have a, a, lush, and beautiful body, with gorgeous large…well rounded…er, uh…”

Hanako giggled at my blushing babble, and after a moment Lilly joined her.

“You’re quite beautiful,” I finished lamely.

“Listen to the b-blushing idiot,” said Hanako fondly. “You’re s-stunning, Lilly. With beautiful large b-breasts and nicely rounded buttocks, as Hisao was unable to say.”

“Hanako!” I protested, blushing even more. I took some small solace in the fact that Lilly was blushing at Hanako’s words as well. Hanako giggled again at us.

I tried to recover a little. “Truly, Lilly, you’re beautiful. Almost as beautiful as Hanako, and that’s saying something.” Now it was Hanako’s turn to blush.

Lilly smiled. “If I’m only half as beautiful as Hanako, then I would be content. Thank you for…reassuring my foolish vanity.”

Hanako squeezed Lilly tighter for a moment. “It’s not foolish to want reassurance after that j-jerk tried to hurt you.”

I growled, “What kind of…cad insults a woman’s appearance as he’s breaking up with her?”

Lilly snorted. “Cad. I suppose that’s a politer term than…asshole.” The vulgarity sounded just as wrong coming from Lilly’s mouth as it did Hanako’s.

“Both apply,” said Hanako.

“I should have told him how bad in bed he really is,” Lilly muttered, then ducked her head, looking abashed.

I was momentarily struck speechless at such an intimate revelation, but Hanako said, “Yes, you should’ve. It’s n-not too late to tell him, you know.”

Lilly waved that away, “Sorry, no, I should not have said that. It wasn’t…polite.”

“Good riddance to him. Life is too short to p-put up with bad sex,” Hanako said.

Lilly chuckled. “And I know you’re an expert on good sex,” she said, sounding faintly envious.

“I w-wouldn’t say expert…” Hanako smiled, glancing at me out of the corner of her eye. “But…definitely an enthusiastic learner.”

I stood up hastily and said, “Well, it sounds like this is turning into one of those ‘girl talks,’ so I think I’ll head off to bed.” They both laughed at that.

“Good night, Hisao. And thank you…for everything,” said Lilly.

“Of course.”

“Good night, sweetie,” said Hanako. “I’ll be in shortly.”

“Try not to embarrass me too much,” I couldn’t help but ask, which just won me another round of feminine laughter.

“Oh, I’m sure you have nothing to be embarrassed about,” said Lilly with a smile.

After living with Lilly for over two years, I had grown resigned to the fact that Hanako and I couldn’t completely hide our love life from her superior sense of hearing, but I usually tried to repress that knowledge. I just mumbled another “Good night,” and beat a hasty retreat.

________________________

I changed into my pajamas and spent the next hour sitting in bed reading a textbook, trying to ignore the occasional laughter that drifted in through the door from the living room. Eventually, Hanako came to bed, smiling. I smiled at her.

“Did you have a good talk?”

She nodded “Yes. We haven’t had one of th-those ‘girl talks,’ as you put it, for quite some t-time. It was good to reconnect with her like that. I think it ch-cheered her up quite a bit, too, which is nice.” She began undressing for bed as she talked, and I smiled as I watched. If I ever failed to appreciate the sight of my beloved getting naked in front of me, it would be time to punch me in the chest and put me in a casket.

“Did you eviscerate jerk-face in absentia?”

Hanako shook her head. “We talked very little about that…cad, actually. We focused on more p-pleasant things.”

“Good.” I felt my breath catch as she unhooked her bra and slid it off her shoulders. Her breasts jiggled in a most delightful fashion. “Ahh, speaking of pleasant things…”

Hanako shot me an amused glance. “You are so silly.”

“Not about that I’m not,” I countered. “You are so sexy, my love.”

“I’m glad you think so,” she said, as she slipped into her night gown. I gave a sad little sigh to see her naked body disappear.

“I know so.”

Hanako smiled and gave me a kiss, before heading to the bathroom to brush her teeth.

I finished the page I had been reading then put my textbook aside. When Hanako returned from the bathroom, I took my turn at my nightly ablutions.

I turned off the overhead lights in our bedroom when I returned, and slipped into bed next to Hanako. I was about to reach over and turn off the bedside lamp when I heard Lilly tapping gently on our bedroom door. I glanced at Hanako, who shrugged, then nodded. “Come in,” I called.

Lilly opened the door, and took half a step forward, not quite entering our room. I swallowed hard, then looked away from her, blushing. I didn’t think she knew just how translucent her peach pajamas were; her lovely nipples were rather obvious through the thin fabric, and I didn’t dare look further down. Out of the corner of my eye I could see Hanako put a hand over her mouth, trying to hide a grin at my reaction. I kept my face determinedly turned away from Lilly.

“I…wanted to say, thank you again. For your support,” said Lilly.

“Of course,” I said, staring at the ceiling.

“No th-thanks needed,” said Hanako. “You’re our friend, Lilly.”

Lilly nodded, her unfocused gaze directed towards the floor. She took a deep breath. “I was wondering…if I could impose upon you…for one more favor.”

I frowned and gave Hanako a puzzled glance, uncertain as to what Lilly was asking for. But Hanako replied, “Of course, Lilly. You’ve done the same for me often enough.”

“Thank you,” Lilly whispered, and she stepped into the room, moving slowly towards the bed. Although she had the rest of the apartment thoroughly memorized, our bedroom was the room she was least familiar with.

As Hanako slid over in the bed, I realized what they meant. In the early days of attending university, Hanako had had some rough days, days where she was ready to call it quits and abandon everything. Several times, the three of us had ended up sleeping together, Hanako sandwiched in the middle, taking comfort and reassurance from our presence. We hadn’t had to do that in over a year, now, Hanako having come to realize her strengths and grown more assured as time went on.

And now Lilly, for the first time, was asking for that same comfort. It was hardly surprising that Hanako would want to return the favor, would want to support Lilly much as Lilly had supported her in the past. I was a little surprised that Hanako had simply agreed to Lilly’s request without asking me first—it’s my bed, too, after all—but it’s not as if I would have said no. She knew me well enough to know I would never turn Lilly away from us.

I stood up and placed a guiding hand on Lilly’s forearm (determinedly not glancing down at her chest), and lead her to our bed. She slipped into bed next to Hanako and wrapped her arms around her. As they embraced, I sat down on the bed next to them and realized that there could be certain…issues…that might come up with this arrangement.

It’s not about sex, it’s about comfort and friendship and love, the same as it’s always been, I scolded myself. But in the past, we’d always been holding Hanako between us. My lover, who was used to waking up in the morning being prodded by my…anatomy.

Now, I hesitated, blushing furiously, as I looked at Lilly’s lovely backside. It’s not about sex, it’s not about sex, but oh gods does she have a lovely ass. So soft and smooth and lush… The fact that her peach colored pajamas were almost flesh color, creating an illusion of nudity in the dim light of the bedside lamp, didn’t help matters any.

I shook myself and stood up again. “Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” I said. I hoped my voice wasn’t as squeaky as it sounded to me. I snagged a pair of underwear out of the dresser on my way to the bathroom. Maybe wearing underwear beneath my pajamas would provide another layer of insulation, help keep things a bit more restrained. I briefly considered masturbating just to cut down on the internal pressure, but, honestly, I wasn’t that horny just then, I was mostly worried about my morning wood.

I flushed the toilet to provided a cover story for my absence, washed my hands, and returned to the bedroom. Hanako and Lilly were giggling together as I entered the room. I paranoiacally wondered if they were giggling about me, and my blush returned. “What’s so funny?” I asked, in what I hoped was a casual tone of voice.

Their giggles ceased, but they were both smiling at me as I sat back down on the bed. Thankfully, Lilly was now under the covers, so she wasn’t providing me with any more distractions. Visual ones, anyway.

“We were just talking about what a gentleman you are, Hisao,” Lilly said.

I wasn’t sure why that should make me blush even more, but it did. “Um. Thank you? I guess?” I slipped under the covers next to Lilly and turned on my side, propping my head up on my elbow so I could see them both.

“It’s a g-good thing, Hisao,” said Hanako reassuringly.

I sighed, and decided to be direct. “I can be a gentleman. I’m more worried about…involuntary actions in my sleep.”

Lilly chuckled, and she reached out and found my shoulder, then my cheek, and patted it. Her hand drifted across my face as she “looked” at me for a moment. “I know that, Hisao. You’re always a gentleman. And don’t worry, I know men don’t have any control over their…responses while they sleep. I wouldn’t hold anything like that against you.”

Yeah, but what about when I’m holding it against you, I didn’t dare say out loud. Instead, I sighed, and nodded. “All right. I apologize in advance for any offense or embarrassment I might cause.”

“Would you rather Hanako sleep between us?” Lilly asked.

I shook my head, and for once, because of the position of her hand, she could read that reply. “No. This is for you. I’m sorry we’re getting distracted from that fact by my…biology.” Hanako and Lilly chuckled at that, and Lilly turned over again, wrapping an arm around Hanako. I hesitantly snuggled in a little bit behind her, and draped my arm across them both, my hand resting on Hanako’s shoulder. I gave her a squeeze, and she lifted her head to smile at me over the top of Lilly’s head. I smiled back and blew her a silent kiss.

Lilly gave a deep sigh, and I felt her relax into our embrace. I felt abashed that I had distracted us from comforting her with my own petty biological concerns.

“Good night, Lilly,” murmured Hanako. “We love you.”

“Good night. I love you too,” said Lilly.

“Sweet dreams,” I said. I did my best to ignore the scent of Lilly’s hair, and the soft, lush buttocks that my groin was mere centimeters away from. Some mental review of my physics homework was definitely in order.

Let’s see, quantum entanglement occurs when a pair of particles are generated or interact so that the quantum state of each particle cannot be described independently of the state of the other particle, even when they’re separated in space…

________________________

Far too soon, my alarm went off at its usual time for my morning run. I stretched an arm over my head to slap at the snooze button without opening my eyes. I groaned and wrapped my arm back around Hanako, my hand cupping her breast automatically as I pulled her close and rubbed my groin against her ass.

Hanako’s breasts…aren’t this large. Nor is her ass this soft, I fuzzily realized, then I opened my eyes to a mass of blonde hair filling my field of view. I was instantly awake as I recalled last night. I let go of Lilly’s breast and sat up, pulling away from her. I managed to refrain from cursing out loud at myself, hoping against hope that neither woman was awake. Lilly was not a morning person, so perhaps she had slept through the alarm?…

No such luck. As I sat up, I realized that I was now in the middle of the bed, between two sleepy but unfortunately awake women. I vaguely recalled Hanako getting up in the night to go to the bathroom; she must have just slipped back into bed next to me instead of trying to squeeze back in between Lilly and the wall. I silently cursed my luck—why couldn’t I have been facing Hanako when the alarm went off?

“Good morning, Hisao,” said Lilly, sounding sleepy and amused.

“Good morning, love,” said Hanako.

“Uh, g-good morning, uh, ladies” I replied automatically, my brain scrambling for something coherent to say. Fortunately, Lilly seemed to sense my embarrassment, and she took pity on me.

“Hisao, I told you I wouldn’t hold anything your sleeping body did against you,” she said, then yawned.

“Oh? And what d-did his sleeping body do?” asked Hanako, an impish smile playing across her lips. Lilly merely chuckled in response.

I groaned, and floundered out from under the covers, trying to leave as much of the other two covered as I could in the process. “I gotta run. Go on my run. Go back to sleep, I’ll see you in an hour or so. After my run,” I babbled at them as I pulled my winter running clothes out of the dresser. I had never been so glad that Lilly was blind, so I didn’t have to worry about hiding my morning erection from her. Hanako noticed, however, and smirked at me. I gave her an embarrassed shrug, then bolted for the bathroom, closing the door behind me on a pair of sleepy giggles.

Well. That could have gone better. But I guess it could have gone worse. Hanako’s reaction certainly could have been worse. I was relieved that she could find the whole thing amusing—even a year ago, she probably would have been too insecure about me waking up next to Lilly like that to find any humor in the situation. I was grateful that she was finally as fully certain of my love as I was of hers.

________________________

A little over an hour, and about seven kilometers later, I returned to the apartment, quietly closing the door so as to not wake anyone. As I sat down to take off my running shoes, I realized I needn’t have worried, as I could hear both women talking in the bathroom. I headed to the kitchen nook to make my morning coffee, and heat some water for Lilly’s and Hanako’s tea.

A few minutes later, they emerged, dressed for the day. I glanced at the combined schedule we’d posted on the refrigerator door—we all had morning classes today. I headed for the now empty bathroom, giving Hanako a quick kiss in passing.

What with the rush to get to class in the morning, we didn’t really have much time to talk, although I was relieved that there didn’t seem to be any lingering awkwardness among us. It wasn’t as if the three of us hadn’t slept together before, after all. Though it was the first time I’d gotten, shall we say, handsy with Lilly. But she seemed to be staying true to her word not to hold anything I did in my sleeping (or half-awake) state against me.

Well, she may not have held anything against me, but I still felt a little guilty about it. I’d have to address that with her—them—soon.

Hanako’s classes ended before mine that day, so she was already back at the apartment when I returned in the middle of the afternoon.

She was curled up at the end of the couch, looking relaxed and reading. “Hi, Hisao,” she said, looking up from her book. It looked to be recreational reading, not a text book.

“Hello, beautiful,” I replied. She still blushed a little when I called her that, but at least she smiled while she did so. I bent down to give her a kiss on my way to the kitchen, where I scrounged up a late lunch of leftovers.

I sat down on the couch next to her, bowl and chopsticks in hand, and downed some cold noodles with chicken and broccoli. Hanako leaned against my shoulder as she continued to read. I watched her out of the corner of my eye as I ate. She caught my eye at one point, and smiled briefly at me before returning to her book.

So much of Hanako’s and my relationship is non-verbal, that an outside observer watching our apartment might think that only Lilly and I, or Lilly and Hanako, ever communicated. But they’d be missing on all the little touches, the shy smiles, the quick glances that mean so much to us. We’ve certainly done our share of talking—hashing out boundaries, figuring out how to live together without driving each other crazy, simply saying “I love you” in a dozen different ways—but at the end of the day, we’re both pretty introverted people. We’re happy with sharing a friendly silence, and we know and appreciate that about each other.

But still, some things need to be addressed verbally. I didn’t want anything to fester between us, and I was feeling guilty about how I’d woken up that morning. After I finished my lunch, I set the bowl down on the table in front of the couch and put an arm around Hanako. I gave her a squeeze, and she lowered her book, giving me an inquisitive look.

“Ah…about this morning,” I began hesitantly.

She arched an eyebrow at me and I saw a little gleam of a smile in her eyes that didn’t quite reach her lips. “Yes? What about it?”

I sighed. She wasn’t going to make this easy for me. “I…was only half-awake after the alarm went off, and I…um…” I petered out, unsure as to just how much she had witnessed, or intuited, or how much Lilly had said to her.

Her lips twitched in a barely repressed grin. “You g-got a handful of…Lilly boob?”

“Gah!” I buried my reddening face in my hands. “Yeah. That. I’m sorry, it was an accident, I’m sorry, I thought it was you next to me, I didn’t realize, I mean, I’d never—“

Hanako pulled my hands away from my face and placed a finger over my lips to shut off my babbling. I looked down at her. Her grin had melted into a fond smile. “Hisao,” she said chidingly. “I know how you wake up in the morning. I also know you w-wouldn’t have done anything like th-that if you’d been fully awake. Like Lilly said, you’re always a gentleman.”

I smiled nervously back at her. Gentleman. Right. “Yeah, but…I also…I, um…I kinda rubbed myself against her butt,” I blurted out as quickly as I could, before losing my nerve.

At that she actually giggled. “Didn’t I j-just say I know how you wake up in the morning? You d-do that to me almost every morning before stumbling out of bed.”

I blinked, surprised by both her reaction and her revelation. “Uh. I do?” I said blankly.

She kept giggling. I felt a profound sense of relief that she was taking this so much better than I’d feared. “Yes. You do,” she confirmed.

“Oh.”

Her smile turned slyly playful. “Was it at least a nice boob and butt to wake up to?”

Hanako!” I had thought I couldn’t get any hotter under the collar. I had been wrong.

She giggled. “You’re too much fun t-to tease.”

I glowered at her, torn between relief that she wasn’t upset by anything I’d said or done, and exasperation at being teased. Eventually, relief won out, and I began to chuckle along with her. I gave her a kiss. “I love you. Even if you are a mean, mean woman who teases me mercilessly.”

That provoked another giggle. “And I love you, too. B-but you still haven’t answered my question.”

I stared at her blankly. “Question?”

“Was it a nice b-boob and butt?”

I groaned. “Seriously? This is Lilly we’re talking about. I don’t want to think about her that way.”

“Hmm.” She looked thoughtful. “Don’t want to think about her that way isn’t the s-same thing as not thinking about her that way.”

I gave her a puzzled look. “Are you…trying to start a fight? What is this line of questioning about?”

Hanako shook her head and gave me a kiss. “N-not a fight. No. I’m just…curious.”

I stared at her for a few moments, bemused by this response. Eventually, I realized what I could say. “She has beautiful large breasts and, and, nicely rounded buttocks. As you put it.” She laughed at my quoting her back at herself. I bent down to kiss the left side of her neck, where she’s most sensitive. “But she’s not as lovely as you.”

She gasped a little at the kiss, then brought a hand up to run through my hair. “Flatterer.”

I shook my head and kissed her again, this time lingering a little bit. “No. The honest truth.” I pulled back to gaze into her lovely violet eyes, so she could see the truth. Lilly was lovely, true, but Hanako was the most beautiful woman in the world to me.

The teasing smile on her face faded into an affectionate one, and she shook her head a little. “What did I ever d-do to deserve you?” she said wonderingly.

I chuckled. “Well, you were patient with a depressive ass at a time when he needed you most, for starters.” I brushed her hair back behind her ears, so I could see her full face. The face of the woman that I loved so much.

“It was only fair, given how p-patient you were with me.”

“So, are you saying that we deserve each other?”

Her smile grew broader. “Yes. I believe we do.” She raised her face for another kiss, and I happily obliged. At length.

A couple of minutes later, we came up for air, and Hanako observed, “You know, Lilly has class until six o’clock tonight.”

I thought about the paper I had due Thursday. Then I shoved that thought ruthlessly aside and smiled. One must have priorities, after all. “Really?”

“Really.”

“Hmm. So, if we have the apartment to ourselves for the next three and a half hours…” I put a thoughtful expression on my face, then snapped my fingers. “I know! We can alphabetize the bookshelves.”

Hanako leaned in close to me, and, despite the fact that there was no one around to overhear her, she whispered into my ear, “Or, you can take me to bed and try to make me scream.”

Her words and hot breath on my ear produced an immediate rush of heat throughout my body, and my pants suddenly felt tighter. I melodramatically clapped a hand to my chest and said, “Are you trying to kill me, dear?”

She chuckled. “No. I’m trying to make sure your heart gets a proper workout, so I can keep you around longer.”

“Ah. Well, in that case…” I stood up and pulled her to her feet with me. “I’m all in favor of a proper workout regimen. Lead on.” I followed her to the bedroom, admiring the way her hips swayed as she walked.

And, for the record, I did succeed in making her scream.
Last edited by Lap on Wed Aug 28, 2019 9:56 pm, edited 4 times in total.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:30 pm

Chapter 2

One Friday, as I exited the elevator, I spied an armless redhead sitting in the doorway of our apartment, a large messenger bag on the floor by her side. “Rin?” I called out, puzzled.

No response.

I walked over to the door and saw that she was asleep, leaning against the doorframe. I crouched down next to her and gently shook her shoulder. I was struck by how thin it was, but of course she wouldn’t have much in the way of shoulder muscles. She opened her eyes and blinked at me a few times. “Oh. Hello Hisao. It is nice to see you again.”

“Rin? What are you doing here?”

She frowned and shook her head, “No, that’s not what you’re supposed to say. You’re supposed to say it’s nice to see me too. I’ve been taking a class in social interaction.”

“Ah…that’s nice.” Heaven knows if there was ever a person who needed lessons in social interaction, it was Rin. “But what are you doing here?”

She shook her head again. “That’s still not what you’re supposed to say.”

I sighed. “It’s nice to see you too, Rin. What are you doing here?”

“Sleeping. Until you woke me. Now we’re talking.”

I closed my eyes and pinched the bridge of my nose. I had forgotten what conversations with Rin could be like. I looked at her and, knowing I would probably regret asking, asked, “Why are you here?”

Rin looked thoughtful. “That’s an awfully deep question to be addressing while sitting in a doorway.”

“Then maybe we could address it inside my apartment?”

Rin looked up at the door. “This is your apartment?”

“Er. Yes. You mean you just happened to end up sleeping on my doorstep by accident?”

“I was looking for Hanako. I guess it was just luck I found you instead.”

“Hanako lives here.”

“I thought you said it was your apartment?”

I took a deep breath. “It is. It’s my apartment, and Hanako’s and Lilly’s. We all live together.”

“Oh. Are they your girlfriends?”

“What? No! I mean, yes, Hanako is, but Lilly is just a friend. A roommate.”

“Oh. Well, if this is your apartment, can we go in now? I need to pee.”

“Uh. Sure.” I stood up and unlocked the door. Rin rose to her feet by unfolding her legs underneath her. I pushed the door open, and she entered before me. I grabbed her bag and brought it in.

She stood in the entry way for a moment, looking around, and then she nodded firmly. “Good.”

“Good?”

“Your apartment. It’s good.”

“Er. Thank you?”

“It needs more art on the walls. I’ll fix that.”

I had a sudden vision of Rin painting our apartment wall with a huge mural, like the one she had done at Yamaku. I glanced down at her bag—it hadn’t felt that heavy, I didn’t think it had a set of paints in it, but what did I know about art supplies?

“Does your toilet have a washlet?”

“What? Oh, yeah.”

“Good. It would be awkward to ask you help me, especially since we haven’t seen each other in years. Though I would ask, if I had to.”

I had never been so grateful for our toilet’s sanitary amenities.

“Right. Well, the toilet is straight ahead, between the two bedrooms.”

Rin kicked off her shoes and headed towards the bathroom. “Don’t you want to take off your jacket first?” I asked.

She shook her head. “I really need to pee.” She stopped in the doorway to the bathroom, and stared at the toilet for a moment. “Hisao?”

“Yes?” I replied, dreading what would come next.

“I can’t operate this model with my feet. I’ll need you to push the buttons for me.”

“Uh…”

“It’s still less intimate than wiping my vulva for me.”

“Um. Right.” I walked slowly towards the bathroom, hoping against hope that Hanako or Lilly would miraculously decide to cut out on classes early and show up to rescue me.

No such luck.

She turned around so she was facing the right way, then said, “As long as you’re here, could you pull down my pants for me? I can do it, but it’s easier to do with hands.”

I wanted to demur, but there was no denying her logic. I took a deep breath, then reached for the front of her pants. I unbuttoned and unzipped them, then turned my head to the side so I wasn’t looking at her as I pulled her pants and panties down her legs. Her hips were slim, and the pants loose, so they came down easily enough.

“I’ll just, uh, wait outside here for you until you need me,” I said, as I hastily stepped out and closed the door.

I tried to ignore the sounds coming from inside the bathroom, but she hadn’t been kidding about really needing to pee. The sound of her urinating lasted for almost a minute.

“I’m done.”

I stepped back inside, keeping my gaze to the side, not looking at her. I operated the bidet controls by touch and memory, and then the dryer.

“Your face is all red,” Rin observed.

My eyes flicked over to her, keeping my gaze above the neck. She was looking curiously at me. “Well, yes. I don’t assist young ladies in the toilet every day.”

She frowned. “Am I a lady?” She stood up, and I hastily turned my gaze back to the far wall.

“Could you pull up my pants?”

I fought down my blush, and reversed the earlier process.

“Thank you,” she said, for all the world as if this were a normal, every day occurrence.

Then I realized that, for her, it possibly was. All traces of body modesty must have been long ago been burned out of her, just on the basis of sheer necessity. I would ask, if I had to, she’d said. I grimaced, as I realized I had been making a big deal out of what was, for her, probably a very common problem.

“You’re welcome. And…I’m sorry.”

She cocked her head and gave me an inquisitive look, looking like a curious bird. “For what?”

“For being so awkward about all this.”

She shrugged. “You were fine. Better than most guys. At least you didn’t stare at my genitals.” Her mouth twitched in a momentary little grin. “Just be happy I’m not having my period.”

I barked out a short laugh. “Yeah, I’m grateful for that.”

We went back out into the living room, and I helped her take off her jacket. She was wearing a soft black long-sleeved shirt with the arms tied off, with a bright green t-shirt over top. It felt odd to see her in something other than a Yamaku school uniform, even though it had been years since I had worn it myself. Her t-shirt had an elaborate logo in English on it, which I sounded out as reading “Pouncing Platypuses.” Whatever that meant.

“Do you feel like a cup of tea?” I asked.

“I don’t think so. I’m not liquid.”

I closed my eyes for a moment.

“Well, I guess technically I’m about ninety percent water, but I don’t feel liquid.”

“Fifty-five, actually.”

“Pardon?”

“You’re only about fifty-five percent water, not ninety.”

“Oh. Well, that would explain why I don’t feel like tea, then.”

“But do you feel like—do you wish to drink a cup of tea?” I asked, trying to be as literal and precise as I could.

Rin stared at the blank wall above our small book case. “I wish for a lot of things,” she said softly, sounding a little sad. “But wishing doesn’t make them so.”

I stared at her, moved by her tone. What on earth was she doing here? Looking for Hanako, apparently, but why? I wondered if I would ever find out. Or if I would find out before she drove me mad.

I headed into the kitchen area. “I am going to make a pot of tea for myself. Please tell me if you wish—if you want me to pour you a cup, too.”

“That would be nice. Do you have any straws?”

“Um, no. Sorry.”

“There are some in the outside pocket of my bag.”

I went and got her bag, and found the straws.

Rin was silent as I prepared the tea, walking slowly around the living room, examining the books, games, and movies we had on the shelves. She stared for a long time at a poster we had on the wall by the door to Lilly’s room before shaking her head and turning away. It was one of my posters, one of Hokusai’s prints of Mount Fuji. Not the famous wave image, but one of the simple black and white ones that had no people in it, Fuji Under Clear Skies. I liked the stark simplicity of it. I wondered why Rin seemed to disapprove of it, but was afraid to ask.

I brought the tea to the low table in the middle of the living room, and poured for both of us, putting Rin’s straw in her cup. She sat down across from me, and bent forward to blow on her tea for a moment, cooling it.

“So. Rin. It’s nice to see you again and all—“

“We’ve already done that part of the conversation.” She frowned. “Are you developing memory loss?”

“No, I—” I decided that explaining was pointless. I chose to tackle my questions piecemeal, instead of asking broad open questions that could lead her to wander.

“Why were you looking for Hanako?”

“In order to find her.”

“Why did you want to find her?”

“I want to ask her for a place to sleep tonight.”

“Why?”

“Because I need to sleep.”

“Why do you need a place to sleep tonight in this city? Aren’t you studying in Tokyo?”

“Yes, I’m studying in Tokyo, but I’m not there now. So I need a place to sleep here.”

I should have known better than to try and ask two questions at once.

“What brings you to our fair city?” Then I held up a hand to cut her off. “No, wait, let me guess, a train?”

She looked puzzled. “Why did you ask me if you already knew?”

I sighed. “What I should have said was, why are you visiting here?”

“Mana Kikuchi.”

“Mana Kikuchi?”

“Yes.”

“Who or what is Mana Kikuchi?”

For the first time, some animation lit her eyes. “She’s an artist. She’s having a show that’s opening tonight. I need to see it.”

“Why?”

Rin actually paused to put some thought into her answer. “Her art…feels like my art. I need to see it in person. Need to see her.”

“She paints abstract human figures?” That being most of what I recalled of Rin’s work.

Rin frowned. “No, she mostly paints landscapes. I didn’t say she painted what I paint. I said her work feels like mine. I just want to know…” She stared at her tea cup, looking wistful. “I just want to know if she really understands.”

I sipped my tea, feeling out of my depth. “Understands what?”

Rin looked up and met my eyes. “Me.”

I shook my head. “Has she ever met you?”

“No. Or at least, not that I know of. I might have ridden next to her on a bus and not known it.”

“Then…how would she understand you? I know you and I don’t understand you, half the time.”

“Only half?”

I stared at her, startled, then I burst into laughter. A ghost of a smile graced her face as she watched me laugh, then she bent to drink her cooling tea.

“Did Hanako know you were coming to visit?”

“I don’t think so. Unless she’s developed precognitive abilities. But I hope she hasn’t.”

Against my better judgement, I indulged my curiosity. “Why not?”

Rin looked at me like I was crazy. “Precognition of future events would wreak havoc with the concepts of causality and free will.”

I blinked at that, startled by her remarkably cogent argument. “Um. True. So, why didn’t you call ahead to ask if you could sleep here?”

Rin shrugged. “I forgot.”

“For that matter, how did you know Hanako lives here?”

“Ooe told me.”

“Natsume Ooe?”

“Yes. She’s kept in touch with Hanako, so she had her address.”

“Yes, I know, she visited us last year.”

“Oh. So she knew you lived here too.”

“Yup.”

“Huh. I wonder why she didn’t mention that?”

Knowing Rin, it seemed to me quite likely that she had, but Rin had forgotten. I wondered how Rin knew Natsume well enough to ask her for Hanako’s address, but decided I didn’t need to dive down that particular rabbit hole just now.

“Well, I don’t like to speak for Hanako or Lilly, but I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t mind you spending the night here. We don’t have a guest room, but the couch is pretty comfy.”

Rin shrugged. “The couch is fine. I sleep on my studio floor half the time anyway. But I promised my advisor that I wouldn’t sleep in the subway or a park. She worries about me getting mugged or raped.” She frowned at me. “You won’t mug or rape me, will you?”

Rin! What kind of question is that?”

She nodded. “A fairly pointless one, you’re right. A mugger or rapist is already morally bankrupt, and would probably just lie to me.”

“That’s not what I meant! Just asking me that question implies that you think I could be a mugger or a—a rapist.” I glowered at her. “That is—that is not cool.”

She looked mildly surprised by my outrage. “I don’t think you’re a criminal, Hisao, but I haven’t seen you in over two years. I could be wrong. People change.”

I rubbed at my temples. “Not you, apparently,” I muttered.

“I don’t?” She looked pleased by my assessment. “Good. I don’t like change.” She suddenly stood up from the floor and sat back down on the couch. “You interrupted my nap earlier. I couldn’t sleep on the train, there were too many clouds to watch. I’m going to sleep now.” And with that she lay down and closed her eyes.

I stared at her, dumbfounded, my annoyance at her implied accusation slowly fading away. I shook my head and smiled. “Nope. You haven’t changed one bit,” I said softly.

She opened one eye and peered up at me for a moment, before closing it and burrowing into the cushions. I got up and pulled a blanket off a shelf and draped it over her. “Thank you,” she murmured, then her whole body relaxed as she apparently fell asleep almost instantly. I stared at her for a moment, envious of that ability, then quietly gathered the tea things and took them to the kitchen.

After tidying up, I grabbed my books and sat back down at the table to do some studying. I suspected that Rin’s presence might mean I was going to lose some of my usual study time this weekend, although she had implied she was only staying for the one night. But assumptions were rarely safe around Rin, so I cracked the books and dove in.

Around five thirty, the door to the apartment opened and Lilly and Hanako came in. I looked up to see Rin’s eyes open at the noise, then she yawned and sat up, the blanket puddling around her waist.

“Hi, Hanako, Lilly. Rin Tezuka is here,” I said, to let Lilly know we had company.

“Rin?” Hanako froze for just a split second in the act of pulling the door shut behind her, looking startled. Then she relaxed and closed the door. “Hello, R-rin.”

“Rin? Well, that is a surprise,” said Lilly. Before I spoke she had already been relaxing, slipping out of her public face as she entered our apartment. Now I saw her posture tighten up again. “What brings you here?”

“A train,” said Hanako and Rin simultaneously. Hanako giggled. I snorted, and Rin shot me a puzzled look.

“Are you sure she hasn’t developed psychic abilities?”

“Or maybe you’re just that predictable?”

Rin looked thoughtful for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. A train is the logical choice for medium-distance transportation.”

That was not quite what I had meant, but I let it slide.

Rin turned to Hanako and Lilly. “It is nice to see you again,” she said, with almost the exact same inflections she had used for greeting me.

“It’s n-nice to see you, too,” replied Hanako, smiling.

Either one response was sufficient for Rin’s sense of propriety, or else she felt that the formulaic greeting was inappropriate for a blind person. I decided to save Hanako and Lilly from a game of Twenty Questions with Rin. “She’s in town to see a gallery opening tonight, and wanted to know if she could sleep here tonight.”

“Although I’ve already slept here,” put in Rin. “But more sleep, later, would be nice, too.”

“Um, sure,” said Hanako.

Lilly nodded in agreement, “But of course,” she said as she hung up her coat.

“Rin’s bag is on the floor at the right end of the couch,” I told Lilly, letting her know about changes to our normally static living room.

Lilly nodded. “Thank you.” I saw her hand reach toward her cane, as if contemplating using it in the apartment, then she dropped her hand and walked toward her room. “If you’ll excuse me a moment, I need to get out of these slacks and into something more comfortable.”

“Hisao can help you with that,” offered Rin. “He was very helpful in taking off my pants.”

I closed my eyes and winced. “Rin…” I groaned.

Lilly said, in a tone dry enough to desiccate a watermelon, “I’m sure he was. But I believe I can manage on my own.”

I cracked an eye open and peeked hesitantly over at Hanako. She had a hand clamped over her mouth, and her eyes were dancing with merriment. Thank god she seemed to remember what being around Rin was like. Lowering her hand, she tried to keep a straight face as she said, “W-was it at l-least a n-nice—”

Don’t finish that sentence, please,” I begged. At that Hanako finally lost control, and burst into giggles. I could also hear Lilly laughing through her closed bedroom door. Rin just looked blankly at me, then shrugged. Her universal response to other peoples’ incomprehensible actions.

“I was just helping her in the bathroom,” I said, trying to salvage some shred of my dignity in the face of my laughing girlfriend.

“I’m sure you w-were a complete g-gentleman,” Hanako sputtered through her laughter.

“He was,” confirmed Rin. “He didn’t stare at my genitals at all.”

At that, Hanako had to sit down on the couch, she was laughing so hard.

I sighed, got up, and went to the kitchen to start working on dinner. I just hoped that I could survive a full evening of Rin.

________________________

We somehow made it through dinner without Rin making any more terminally embarrassing pronouncements, just her usual oblique and opaque ones. I did gradually piece together the impression that school was going well for her. It seemed like she had gone from being a big fish in a little pond to being a little fish in a big pond, and that suited her. She was no longer the star pupil, the unwanted center of attention, but rather she was just one of many talented young artists.

The bright spot to my Rin-provided embarrassment was that Hanako’s prolonged belly laugh seemed to have put her into a good mood, and she dealt with Rin’s obscurities in good humor. Lilly, as usual, had a harder time keeping up with Rin, but she gamely soldiered on, determined to be a good hostess for our odd if uninvited guest.

“What time is the opening?” Lilly asked Rin after dinner, as Hanako and I were clearing the table.

“It starts at six.”

Hanako looked startled. “It’s almost s-seven already. You should go, if you w-want to see her.”

“Oh. Yes, I guess I should.” She remained seated, staring at the table.

Lilly asked, “Do you need help getting to the gallery?”

Rin shook her head, still staring at the table.

“She shook her head,” I murmured to Lilly.

Rin looked up at that, frowning slightly, then she seemed to realize what I was doing. “No. I know the address. I’ll take a taxi.” But still she stayed seated.

Hanako and I exchanged a glance, then she asked gently, “Would you like s-someone to go w-with you? You look like you could use someone t-to—to provide support.”

Rin stared at Hanako for several long moments, long enough for Hanako to begin to fidget under her gaze. Finally, Rin gave a short, sharp nod. “Yes.”

Hanako bit her lip, glanced at Lilly and me, then offered, “Should we all go?”

Rin looked at Lilly, then me, and shook her head. “I don’t think there will be much of interest to Lilly. And she’s not very comfortable with me, so she wouldn’t be good support.”

“And she’s sitting right beside you, so referring to her in the third person is a touch impolite,” said Lilly, with just a hint of asperity in her voice. “Nonetheless…you are correct, there would not be much for me to do there.”

“And you’re uncomfortable around me.”

Lilly hesitated a moment, then said, “I would never be so rude as to say that.”

Rin cocked her head to the side. “Does that mean it’s rude for me to say that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Oh. I still have problems figuring out what other people find rude.” She looked at Lilly, and her voice took on a formal cadence that made her sound rehearsed. “I am sorry if I gave offense, none was intended.”

Lilly actually smiled at that, and relaxed a bit. “I accept, and appreciate, your apology. Now, you three should get ready to go, so you doesn’t miss your chance to meet your idol.”

“I don’t actually worship her,” said Rin as she rose from the table. “I just…need to meet her.”

“I’ll call the taxi,” I said.

“If you could finish clearing the table before you go, Hanako, I’ll finish clean-up,” said Lilly, also rising.

“Of c-course.”

The ride to the gallery was quiet, with Rin staring out the window the whole way. She seemed to be getting more and more tense as we rode, her right foot tapping on the floor in an irregular pattern. As we drove by a small park, she twisted around to watch it recede behind us.

“That looks like a good worry tree,” Rin murmured.

Hanako gave me a puzzled glance, and I just shrugged. Rin’s favorite gesture was rubbing off on me.

The gallery was in an old building, but the interior was bright and modern looking, light spilling out onto the sidewalk through huge glass windows. As the taxi pulled away, we stood outside for a moment, Rin just staring through the windows, seeming frozen in place.

There was a small crowd in the gallery, maybe two or three dozen people. It wasn’t a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd, there was space enough to view the art work. I glanced at Hanako, and she gave me a tight smile and a brief nod. She was doing better with crowds, but she still did not enjoy them. I took her hand in mine and squeezed, and she smiled more warmly at me.

Hanako took a deep breath. “Shall we g-go in, Rin?”

Rin didn’t respond, but after a moment, she walked into the gallery. She didn’t stop at the guestbook or the table with wine and canapés, but went straight to the closest painting and planted herself in front of it. Hanako and I followed along, stood arm-in-arm behind her, and also studied the painting.

Rin had said that Kikuchi mostly painted landscapes, but that was like saying Rin mostly painted portraits. The painting looked almost like an abstract built of random organic shapes, but the longer I stared at it, the more I saw non-abstract details—trees, buildings, birds, fish, a river. But no one item was in the same scale as the other items, or even had correct internal proportions. Rather, things were distorted and twisted almost to the point of unrecognizability, so that I questioned whether some of the shapes I saw were actually meant to be what I was interpreting them as. Or maybe that shape was meant to be both a bird and a fish?

“That…is oddly disturbing,” Hanako murmured to me. I had to agree.

Rin seemed content to stare at the painting indefinitely, so Hanako and I moved on to examine the next one. There looked to be twenty or so paintings in the show, ranging in size from just under a meter square on up to one massive one that was two by three meters.

By the time Hanako and I had looked at all the pieces in the show, Rin was still less than half-way through. I wondered if it was just that artists could see more in a painting than the average layperson, but none of the other gallery guests seemed to be spending as much time examining the art as Rin was. Having seen all the work present, I agreed with Rin’s statement about how Kikuchi’s work felt like hers. They shared no common subject, but their execution and emotional content felt oddly congruent.

Hanako and I each got a glass of wine and a couple of canapés, and wandered over to a quieter corner of the gallery, away from most of the crowd, to nibble and drink. I watched the crowd as we stood there. Eventually I deduced which person was Kikuchi by the way the crowd centered on her and flowed around her. She was a sylph-like woman in her mid to late thirties, shorter than Rin, with short cropped straight black hair and a brilliant smile. She was dressed in a flowing hand-painted top in shades of green and blue, echoing the dominant colors of her paintings. I wondered if she had painted the top herself.

Rin was walking around with the ends of her jacket sleeves tucked into the jacket’s pockets. If you didn’t look closely and notice how flat the sleeves were, it looked like she was just walking around with her hands in her pockets. I cocked my head and looked at her for a moment, trying to imagine that that was in fact what I was seeing. That she had arms like everyone else. It was an oddly disturbing thought. The mental image of her with arms was just wrong somehow. It wasn’t Rin. Not that she is her handicap, solely defined by it, but at the same time, it’s such an integral part of her that it seemed off-putting to imagine her otherwise. I was startled to realize, imagining Rin with arms provoked the same kind of unease in me that seeing someone without arms or legs used to provoke, before I attended Yamaku.

Rin seemed to sense me looking at her, because she tore her gaze away from the painting in front of her and looked at me. Her expression was blank, and she stared at me in much the same way she had been staring at the paintings, studying me. After a half minute of this unsettlingly intense scrutiny, I asked uncomfortably, “What?”

She gave her head a brief shake, said, “No,” and moved on to the next painting.

“What was th-that about?” Hanako whispered to me.

“I have no idea.”

As Rin headed toward the huge canvas that Kikuchi was standing in front of, I felt myself growing tense. I had no idea how Rin and Kikuchi would interact. I knew that Rin had been surviving on her own for a few years at art school. She obviously could function in the world better than she did in high school. Nonetheless, the urge to intervene, to “translate” Rin-speak, was there. I glanced at Hanako, and she gave me a nervous smile

“I hope K-kikuchi will be…” she paused, as if trying to figure out what she hoped for Rin. “Understanding,” she finished.

I gave a short laugh. “Of Rin?”

Hanako’s smile turned a touch sad, and she bit her lip as we watched from across the room.

Rin paid no attention to Kikuchi, but just focused on the large painting. Eventually Kikuchi seemed to notice the young woman beside her, staring fixedly at her painting. She turned to address Rin, a bright smile on her face.

“Here it goes,” I murmured to Hanako. It had the feeling of watching a powerless ship slowly drift towards an iceberg. An accident in slow motion, where you hope that somehow the ship might turn aside at the last second, but you just know in your gut that it won’t.

“Should we go over there?” I asked Hanako. I knew what her answer would be, but I really wanted to go over and help in some way.

She shook her head. “N-no. This is her world. She’ll…handle it.”

I nodded, although I wasn’t as confident as she. It was odd. I didn’t know Rin all that well, and she’d embarrassed and inconvenienced me today, but nonetheless I wanted to help her. There was something about her slightly off-kilter approach to life that made her seem almost like an other-worldly spirit, drifting delicately through our world, needing protection.

Rin didn’t seem to respond to Kikuchi’s initial greeting, and Kikuchi’s smile faltered. She said something else, and at that, Rin turned to look at her. When she saw Kikuchi, she lifted her chin in a quick, nervous gesture, as if startled. She said something back, and Kikuchi replied in kind. I felt myself relax as they seemed to settle into something that, from a distance at least, resembled normal conversation. They both glanced at the painting they were standing in front of, and Kikuchi nodded at something Rin said.

“Looks like they’re t-talking just fine,” Hanako said. Unspoken was the thought that my intervention hadn’t been needed.

“Shall we wander over and join them?” I asked. “Now that Rin has made first contact?”

Hanako snorted at my phrasing, but after a glance at the size of the crowd around Kikuchi, she shook her head. “You can go, if you w-wish. I’ll wait here.”

I looked at Hanako, realizing that I’d been so focused on Rin that I hadn’t really been paying her any attention. She looked a bit on edge from the crowd, but not unduly so. No worse than she would on a trip to the mall—an experience that was mildly unpleasant for her, but manageable. I squeezed her hand. “Are you sure?”

She smiled at me. “I’m not m-made of glass. This is a…quiet crowd.”

“All right.” With a final squeeze of her hand, I turned towards Rin and Kikuchi—

Rin was nowhere in sight. And Kikuchi was staring out the doorway of the gallery with a baffled look on her face.

“Shit,” I muttered. Hanako and I turned and looked out the front windows. Rin was standing on the sidewalk outside, just staring across the street. Without talking about it, we headed back out, leaving our wine glasses on a table.

We walked up to Rin, who still hadn’t moved. We stood beside her, but she didn't acknowledge our presence in any way.

“Rin?” Hanako asked. Rin didn’t react. Hanako looked at me, and I shrugged. “How d-do you feel?” Hanako asked tentatively.

After a long pause, Rin said, “The same way everyone else does, I suppose.” She looked down at the sidewalk. “Except not with my hands, of course.”

“I meant…” Hanako paused, as if trying to rephrase her question in a Rin-proof manner.

“I know what you meant,” Rin said quietly.

“Oh.”

I cleared my throat. “So…how are you feeling?”

Rin stared across the street at some brightly lit neon bar signs. I studied her face as we waited on her response. Although she looked as flat and unexpressive as she normally did, there were subtle, barely detectable muscular twitches at the corner of her eyes and mouth. I wondered if this were normally the case with her, and I had just never been close enough to her to notice it before. Or perhaps these twitches were only visible because she was feeling something so strongly.

It seemed like she was upset, or at least feeling something strongly. Both the subtle facial tics and the rigidity of her posture seemed to indicate that. But not having been privy to the conversation she had with Kikuchi, I was clueless as to precisely why or how the show and conversation had affected her so. I thought back to what she had said earlier that afternoon.

“So, I take it…Kikuchi doesn’t understand you the way you’d hoped?” I offered.

Rin’s shoulders slumped a little, and she turned to look back into the gallery for a moment. With the light from the gallery full on her face, I could see a trace of sadness in her eyes. She tilted her head back and looked up, between the buildings. “I can’t see the stars in the city,” she said quietly. She turned to put her back to the gallery, and stared back out across the street. “Can you call a cab? I’d like to go to sleep now.”

I glanced at Hanako, and she nodded. As I got my phone out of my pocket, a cab pulled up, apparently to drop off another gallery guest.

“That was fast,” Rin said, and she slipped into the back seat of the cab before the previous passenger could close the door. The woman looked startled, and I gave her an apologetic smile.

“Thank you,” I said, with a quick bow. She hesitated a moment, then nodded and headed into the gallery.

The ride back was as silent as the ride out had been, but the atmosphere was different. Rin didn’t stare out the window, but instead just stared at the back of the seat in front of her. Halfway home, I felt her head drop onto my shoulder, and realized she had fallen asleep.

I half-carried Rin upstairs to our apartment when we got back; she was doing a good imitation of Suzu, just barely able to keep her eyes open as she staggered into the living room. She collapsed immediately onto the couch, and went utterly limp. Hanako gently pulled off her shoes, which she had left on as she entered the apartment. I covered just her legs with the blanket, figuring her jacket would keep her torso warm enough.

Lilly emerged from her room. “How was the opening?” she asked.

Hanako made a shushing sound, but I said, “I don’t think we can wake her with our talking. She’s really out.” Nonetheless, I lowered my voice, and the others followed suit.

“Rin is asleep?” Lilly looked puzzled.

“She passed out on the cab ride home, and was barely able to wake up enough to make it into the apartment.”

“I th-think…it’s her way of coping with…disappointment,” suggested Hanako.

Since Rin was asleep in the living room, we went to Hanako’s and my bedroom to talk. Having no chairs in our room, we all sat on the bed.

“So, things went that poorly for Rin?” asked Lilly.

Hanako and I gave Lilly a run-down on the events of the gallery opening. What we knew of them, not having heard any of Rin’s conversation with Kikuchi.

When we finished, Lilly looked thoughtful for several moments.

“It sounds like she had a lot of hopes and expectations riding on this opening,” she said.

“This afternoon, she said something about how Kikuchi’s art ‘felt’ like her art,” I said. “And she’d hoped Kikuchi might understand her.”

“Understand her? Oh, dear.”

“That…s-seems to be a…universal reaction.”

I frowned. “I still wish I could have helped her in some way.”

“Th-that’s kind, but the art world is her world. She needs to t-tackle it on her own terms. Not be rescued by you.” Hanako softened the criticism by giving me a hug.

“I know, I know.” It was a recurring problem in our relationships. Sometimes it was a fine line, a balancing act, between caring for your loved ones and taking care of them.

Everyone needs someone to take care of them sometimes, and that’s normal in a relationship. The tricky part for us had been finding the line between taking care of and smothering one another.

Lilly and I both had strong urges to take care of others, to “fix” things for them. I had come to realize over time that part of that desire was not so much because I wanted to help—or rather, not solely because I wanted to help—but because I was uncomfortable being around the other person’s pain, and I wanted to decrease my own discomfort.

Learning how to support Hanako through her problems and pains without trying to “fix” things for her was an on-going process. We all three of us struggled with it to one degree or another, and we all slipped up occasionally. But just being aware of it, and knowing that the other person was acting from a place of love, kept it from becoming toxic. Having Lilly in our life certainly helped—she could often tell when the two of us were falling into an unhealthy pattern, and gently intervene. And likewise, we tried to do the same for her.

As I said. A balancing act.

I sighed. “It’s just—she seemed so hopeful. I feel sorry for her.”

“I doubt she wants p-pity, Hisao.” Pity was one topic that almost every Yamaku graduate agreed on.

I shook my head. “Not pity, just—empathy. I feel sad on her behalf. I had hoped she could find what she was looking for.” Indeed, I was kind of surprised at the depth of my feeling for her plight. I hadn’t seen her in over two years, but something about her invited that kind of caring. Maybe it was the couple of hours of we spent in conversation over dinner, trying to understand her and her world view, that lead to my increased sense of empathy for her.

“I just wish I could have helped,” I repeated.

“Sp-speaking of helping her,” Hanako said.

“Yes?”

“Why were you helping Rin t-take off her pants?”

Lilly chuckled, and I winced. “I told you, I was just assisting her in the bathroom. I didn’t peek at her or anything,” I added, a little defensively.

Lilly and Hanako both looked puzzled. “Hisao, she’s our age. She’s got to be twenty-one years old or so,” Lilly pointed out.

“Yeah? So?”

“So, don’t you think that in twenty-one years she’s learned to use the toilet without assistance?”

“Uh…” I felt a little stupid. “I guess. But…then why did she ask for help?”

Lilly shrugged. “I’m sure certain things would be easier with a pair of helping hands, but I don’t doubt she’s fully capable of managing on her own without if needs be.”

“Erm…”

“M-maybe…because you’re a Yamaku g-graduate…she just assumed you might be used to assisting others in…awkward situations?”

“Maybe. I suppose I could ask her.” Even as I said that I pictured the range of possible answers I might get, and shook my head. Hanako smiled wryly at me and also shook her head. “Ah, no, never mind that.”

Rin as a topic of conversation petered out, and we chatted quietly for a while about our respective days, discussing things we hadn’t gotten to over dinner while talking with Rin. We all eventually slumped into a comfortable pile together on the bed as we talked, Hanako leaning against my side, Lilly reclining with her head in Hanako’s lap. Hanako gently stroked Lilly’s hair.

“W-would you like to sleep here, tonight, Lilly?” asked Hanako, as our yawns increased to the point where we couldn’t ignore them any longer.

“I…do not need comforting. Nor do you, unless there is something you’re not telling me.”

Hanako shook her head. “No. N-not comforting, but—this feels nice. Why sh-should we require a c-crisis to feel nice?”

“But what about Rin?” Lilly protested weakly.

“What about her?” I asked. “She’s asleep. It’s none of her business where you sleep. And even if she did realize we were all together, she’s practically the poster-child for odd behavior. I don’t think she’d judge us.”

“It does feel nice…” Lilly admitted. She arched her head against Hanako’s hand on her hair, looking remarkably feline.

“Good,” I said, pretending that she had just agreed to spend the night. “Let’s brush our teeth and get changed and go to sleep. It’s been a long week.”

Lilly acquiesced to my fait accompli, and that’s what we did, this time with Hanako in the middle. I turned off my alarm, deciding to make tomorrow a rest day from running. Hanako was right, it did feel nice to have Lilly with us without a crisis.

In the morning, when we awoke, Rin was gone.

The blanket was draped over the end of the sofa, surprisingly neatly folded given that she had to have done it with her feet. Of course, she’d had a lifetime of practice. There was a note on top, written in broad kanji, that said simply Thank you, with no signature.

“Well, it’s n-not as if it c-could be from anyone else,” Hanako said dubiously, as she examined the minimalistic note.

“Still, she could have at least said good bye and thank-you in person,” said Lilly, sounding slightly miffed.

I placed a soothing hand on her shoulder. “This is Rin we’re talking about,” I reminded her. “Saying goodbye in person would probably have entailed an additional hour of conversation about how the bandersnatch and jubjub birds were doing this morning.”

Lilly snorted and shook her head, smiling slightly.

Hanako frowned at me. “She’s odd, Hisao, b-but she’s not…delusional,” she chided.

I shrugged, a little embarrassed by my remark. “Well, no, I suppose not, but sometimes her remarks are so difficult to understand that they feel delusional. Even if they make sense to her.” I headed into the kitchen to start breakfast. “So, do either of you have any interesting plans for this weekend?”
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:30 pm

Chapter 3

I was almost out the door on my way to class one Wednesday morning when my phone rang with Hanako’s ringtone.

“Hi, Hanako, what’s up?” I answered. Phone in one hand, I tried to slip my backpack on. I had what felt like a hundred kilos of notes and books for today’s classes, and it was awkward to maneuver one-handed.

“Are you s-still at home?”

“Yeah.”

“I left my m-media history notebook at home. Could you g-grab it and give it to me at lunch time?”

“Sure, no problem.” I dropped the balky backpack and kicked my shoes back off. “Where is it?”

“Bedroom, I think.”

As I headed toward our bedroom, Lilly came out of her room. I assumed she had heard my phone ring and knew I was on the phone with Hanako, so I just nodded to her in passing. Then I gave myself a mental kick. Even after living with her for two years, old habits die hard. But at least she hadn’t been able to see me being so stupid. Then I kicked myself again for being insensitive.

“It’s the g-green one, I think I left it on the b-beside table.”

“Ah…” I glanced at the table, but nothing green was in sight. “No luck. Anywhere else?”

Hanako paused a moment, thinking, and I bent down to check if it had fallen off of the table and under the bed. It wasn’t as if our room was so large that there could be a lot of places for it to hide.“M-maybe the bookcase?”

“Hmmm…nope. There are a couple of green notebooks, but neither is marked media history. Just multimedia and storytelling two.”

“How about—”

I missed the rest of what Hanako said as I heard a crash and a thud in the living room, followed by the extremely rare sound of Lilly cursing out loud. I felt myself go pale as I remembered dropping my backpack on the floor, right in front of the door.

“Oh, shit.”

“I c-can do without it if—”

“It’s not you, I left my backpack on the floor, Lilly just tripped, I’ll call you back,” I said quickly as I rushed back to the living room. “Bye.” I hung up without waiting for a response.

Lilly was, as I expected, sitting on the floor by my heavy backpack. The cursing had cut off, but I could see the muscles in her jaw rippling as she clenched her teeth. She was rubbing one knee.

“Lilly, I’m so sorry, I was just grabbing something for Hanako, I didn’t think—”

Obviously,” she growled. I flinched at the tone of voice and her expression, both of which were very un-Lilly-like.

I drop to my knees beside her and put a hand on her shoulder, then jerked it back when she flinched. “Is there anything—what can I do to help?” I stared helplessly at her, trying to see if there was any other damage besides a bruised knee.

“Not leave stacks of bloody bricks in the doorway,” she snapped. Then she bit her lips and took a deep, shuddering breath, obviously trying to get her emotions under control.

“I’m sorry,” I reiterated. “It’s my backpack…it is rather heavy.”

“Backpack?” She shook her head. “You’re going to give yourself scoliosis if you carry around that many books.”

“I don’t think scoliosis works that way,” I offered hesitantly, relieved that she could be making a joke about it.

Lilly smiled a little, but then I was shocked to see the smile fall away and she squeezed her eyes shut, tears forming at the corners of her eyes. She took another deep breath and held it.

“Lilly? I’m so, so—”

“You’re sorry, yes, I know, you said that,” she said in clipped tones. She swiped at the corners of her eyes, brushing away the errant tears.

I felt at a loss for words or what to do. I had messed up before and caused her discomfort or annoyance, but she seemed to be taking this much worse than usual for some reason. Though it had been over a year since the last time Hanako or I had messed up in such a major way.

She bent her head, breathing normalizing, and she stopped rubbing at her knee. I was relieved to see no blood when she dropped her hand, although I suspected there would be a good sized bruise for a couple of weeks. I anticipated feeling guilty watching her limp around for the next few days. Limping was harder on her than it would be for me or Hanako, since it threw off her proprioception a bit, and made it harder for her to navigate a known space by memory.

Like our apartment.

I bent down low, my nose almost touching the carpet, so Lilly could hear my apologetic bow. “I was inconsiderate and stupid, and I caused you pain. I promise I shall work harder in the future to—”

I stopped as I heard her give a shuddering gasp, and I glanced up to see her clamping a hand across her mouth, tears forming in her eyes again. I sat up and reached out a hand, then paused before touching her, remembering her flinch before. “Lilly? What—do you have some injury I can’t see?” Terrified visions of a broken wrist, or a blow to the head that I couldn’t see through her hair, flooded my imagination.

Hand still clamped over her mouth, she shook her head, then she reached out toward me with her other hand. Reassured, I scooted closer and put an arm across her shoulders. “Lilly?” I said hesitantly. I couldn't help but feel that something other than my mis-placed backpack was at play here, but I was clueless as to what it was. “Is something—”

She cut me off by pulling me close and burying her face in my shoulder. She didn't cry, but her torso shook for a few moments, as if she was suppressing sobs. I ran my hands up and down her back, softly murmuring, “Shh, it’s all right, I’m sorry, I’m here…”

Her shudders stopped, and she inhaled deep, relaxing in my arms as she blew out a slow breath. I continued to hold and stroke her back, guilt-wracked and puzzled, wondering what was going on.

“I’m sorry, Hisao,” she said quietly.

I gave an involuntary snort of disbelieving laughter. “You’re sorry? I’m the one who messed up. You should be able to walk around your own living room without worrying about tripping over bags full of bricks.”

She shook her head, and pulled away from me, sitting up straight. “It’s not…it’s not just that. It’s not you, nothing you’ve done.” She smiled toward me. “I’m fine.”

I frowned at her, watched as her polite social mask slowly reassembled itself, blocking off her emotions from public display. “Lilly…” I hesitated a moment, then said, “This is Hisao you’re talking to. Please don’t lie to me.”

She flinched and turned her head away from me, then sighed and nodded. As she turned back to face me, her mask cracked, and I could see some sorrow in her expression. Her shoulders slumped, and she resumed rubbing absently at her reddened knee.

“It wasn’t you…I mean, yes, it was your backpack, and thank you for the apology, but my overreaction…” She shook her head and leaned against me again, and I automatically brought up my arms to hug her. “It was Tosh—Ogata.”

“Ah.” I had no idea exactly what she was talking about, but I once again had a knee-jerk desire to seek out Ogata and punch him. Potentially fatal consequences notwithstanding.

“His apartment…” She sighed. “He kept it neat, and after a while I didn’t need my cane in order to move around in there, but sometimes…” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Sometimes, I think he moved his furniture around by just a few centimeters. Just enough so that I might brush into the couch, or a table, while walking around.”

“What—why on earth would he do that?” I asked, utterly baffled and appalled.

“I asked him about it, but he said that of course he never moved anything around. He asked me the same thing, why would I think he’d do such a thing? And he always sounded so reasonable, I assumed my memory was just a little off, until one time…one time…”

I could feel my heart pounding its irregular rhythm in my chest as my pulse increased, my face heating up as my anger grew. This isn’t about me, it’s about Lilly, I reminded myself, but by god did I ever want to deliver a world of hurt to Ogata.

If I could just figure out how to do it without committing suicide.

I struggled to dampen my anger, before it could adversely affect my heart. Having a heart attack in the middle of the living room would not help Lilly deal with…whatever this was about.

“One time, I fell down next to the couch, and I could feel in the carpet…indentations from where the couch feet had been pressed into the carpet for a long time. Until the couch was moved over a few centimeters.”

“That…asshole,” I growled. Hanako’s assessment seemed like the only really applicable term. Lilly ignored me.

“When I confronted him with that evidence, he laughed and apologized, said that he must have shoved the couch over a bit while he was vacuuming or something.” She shook her head against my shoulder. “I accepted that explanation. Despite the fact that it was a heavy couch, and the indentations in the carpet must have taken months to form.” She slumped even more against me, her entire postured dejected. “I was such a fool,” she whispered.

No,” I said firmly, and hugged her tight. “No, you were not a fool. When someone deceives you, it’s his fault that he’s a jerk, not yours. You did nothing wrong. Nothing!”

“Thank you. I know that. Intellectually, I know that. But in my heart…I still feel like a fool.”

“I’m…so sorry, Lilly. That you had to deal with that. But I’m glad you’re free of him now.” She just nodded.

I held her and rocked her for a couple of minutes, calming down, hoping she was taking some comfort from my hug as well. Once again I wanted to ask her what it was she’d ever found desirable or good about Ogata, but now was not the time for that conversation. Eventually, she pulled away from me and sat up.

“Well. We’re both going to be late to class this morning. I’m sorry.”

“Would you please stop apologizing to me for something that’s my fault?” I asked. “I shouldn’t have left my backpack in the middle of the floor.”

“Are you sure there aren’t any bricks in there?” she asked, poking the backpack. Her hand glided across the pack, until she found the shoulder strap and lifted the pack with a little grunt. “Heavens, Hisao, I may have been joking about the scoliosis, but this is ridiculous.”

I grimaced. “I know. Fortunately, it’s only on Wednesdays that I have all three classes. And I still need to find Hanako’s notebook and add it to the rest.” I glanced toward the table in front of the couch, and my position on the floor allowed me to see a green binder on the floor, under the table. “Ah. There it is.” I retrieved the notebook and added it to my load—really, it was nothing, compared to the weight of three textbooks already in there.

I got up and helped Lilly to her feet. She grimaced only a little as she put weight on her right leg, but I felt as guilty as if I’d knee-capped her with a baseball bat. She took a moment to tidy her hair and pull on her coat and shoes. While she did, I sent Hanako a quick text.

Hisao: Found your notebook will c u @ lunch

Hanako: How’s Lilly???

Hisao: A little bruised. Will tell you about it lunchtime <3

Hanako: <3<3<3

________________________

I met Hanako for lunch at the little tea shop just off campus where we shared lunch most Tuesdays and Wednesdays between classes. As we ate, I gave her a summary of what Lilly had told me.

“Why d-didn't she tell us a-b-bout this before?” Hanako asked plaintively.

“I think because she was too embarrassed.”

She didn’t do anything wrong!” Hanako exclaimed, with a strength of conviction that she rarely displayed except in defense of others.

“I know that. You know that. Even she knows that, I think, but still…I think it shames her to think about how long she stayed with that cad.”

Hanako’s eyes flicked left and right, as if making sure no one was near enough to hear, then muttered venomously, “That asshole.” Then she blushed.

I laughed. When Hanako glared at me, I held up my hands in protest. “I’m not used to hearing you swear.”

She looked down and shrugged. “He’s…earned it.”

“True.”

“What can we d-do to help her?” Hanako asked.

“I…don’t know. Just…continue to love her, I guess. Be there for her.” Hanako shot me an odd look. “What?”

She gave a tiny smile, and shook her head. “Nothing. I agree. And if I ever see O-g-gata again, I’ll punch his lights out.”

I laughed again, at the notion of Hanako being violent—but, if she was ever going to be violent, it would be in defense of her friends. “I’ll hold your purse for you while you do,” I gallantly offered.

“Thank you, dear,” she said sweetly.

________________________

About a month after Rin visited, the apartment building supervisor stopped me as I entered the building one afternoon.

“You have a large package that was delivered today,” said Mr. Hirano. I was surprised; none of us had ordered anything recently that I knew of. When he brought out the package, I was even more puzzled, as it was large and flat. A little over a meter square, but only twenty centimeters or so thick. When I saw “Tezuka” in the return address field, I remembered Rin’s comment about “fixing” the lack of artwork in our apartment. I thanked Mr. Hirano, then lugged the awkwardly large box up to the apartment. It was a lot heavier than I thought it would be, assuming it was just a canvas. And the center of gravity was odd, too, very low.

The box was addressed to all three of us, so I decided to wait for Lilly and Hanako to come home before opening it. The box itself was almost a work of art—the shipping label was a standard machine printed label stuck on the corner of the box, but our names were also written in broad brush strokes across the whole front of the box. The kanji were loose and flowing, but surprisingly legible, and I was reasonably sure Rin had painted them herself.

I put the box in the bedroom, so it wouldn’t be in the way to trip Lilly, should she come home while I wasn’t around to warn her of its presence. And then I dove into my ever-present pile of waiting homework.

________________________

Once we were all home, I pulled the box back out to the living room. I got a sharp knife from the kitchen and sliced the tape sealing the top of the package. Lifting the top flap, I found a sheet of folded paper, with a computer-printed note. I read it out loud to Lilly and Hanako:

Thank you for your hospitality. Your apartment needs more art. I don’t normally paint impasto, but I did this time so Lilly could appreciate it too. It’s acrylic on canvas with a masonite backing, so it’s sturdy enough to withstand being handled.

There was a dark red chop stamped below the text. The calligraphy was ornate, but I could just decipher Rin’s last name in the mark.

“Impasto?” said Hanako, sounding puzzled.

I was clueless myself. “She painted with…noodles?”

Lilly choked back a laugh. “It’s an artistic style where the paint is applied very thickly to the canvas, creating a textured surface,” she said. “I think you’ll see what she means when you take the painting out of the box.”

Thus prompted, I flipped up the next flap on the top of the box. There was just a corner of canvas sticking up, not an edge, surrounded by wadded up newsprint. As I pulled out the paper and fished the canvas out of the box, I realized that the canvas was not a traditional rectangle, but an equilateral triangle.

I saw immediately what Lilly had meant about a textured surface. The paint was applied so thickly in places that it almost qualified as sculpture. Which accounted for the box’s unusual weight.

“Oh, my,” said Hanako, looking startled. I moved around to the front of the painting so I could get a better look at the painting too, and was similarly startled.

“What is it?” asked Lilly.

“It’s…us,” I said, slowly. “She’s done a portrait of the three of us.”

Lilly waited a moment for us to describe it further, then she asked, “May I feel it?”

I shook myself a little, to pull myself away from staring at the portrait. “Sure,” I said. I moved the canvas closer to her and reached out to place her fingers on the top of the piece.

She knelt on the floor beside it to let her hands pass lightly over the whole piece quickly, then she went back to explore it slowly, in more depth. As she felt it, I provided her with additional description.

It was triangular, and each point of the triangle contained a profile portrait of one of us, with the top of our heads pointing towards the point. I was pleased she had portrayed our left sides, so that Hanako’s scars weren’t visible. The images weren’t photo-realistic, but they were more realistic than was Rin’s usual style; there was no mistaking that they were meant to be us. Our shoulders met in the middle of the picture, where our arms blended together into a heart. A muscular, realistic heart, not the valentine kind. It had a bandage across the left ventricle. Hanako’s and Lilly’s hair were drawn as intertwining among the three of us, more like vines than hair, and the hair wrapped around the heart as well. Hanako’s dark hair contrasted sharply with Lilly’s golden blonde.

The impasto effect was especially prominent with the hair, which made it look even more like vines. I ran my fingers over the painting of my face, and could easily determine the outline of my face and features.

There was no “correct” way to hang the painting, so far as I could tell—Rin had placed her signature chop three times, once in each point of the triangle, so the canvas could conceivably be rotated to place any one of us at the top or bottom. I looked at the back of the canvas, and found six attachment points arranged in a hexagon for hanging, further emphasizing that fact. There was also a small bag with some sort of hardware taped to the back.

“That is amazing,” I finally concluded. “Not what I was expecting when Rin told me we needed more art in here, but neat.” I looked over at Hanako, and was pleased to see a gentle smile on her face. “You like it, Hanako?”

She nodded slowly. “It’s very…sweet. Not at all what I w-would expect from Rin, either.”

“What about you, Lilly? Can you read the impasto enough to get an idea of it?”

“Oh, yes, I can feel the faces, although I can mostly tell who is who from the hair, not the facial features. It was surprisingly considerate of Rin to make that effort for me.” She also looked pleased. She let her fingers trace over the outlines of our faces one more time. “This is the first painting I’ve ever been able to appreciate.”

“Where should w-we hang it?” Hanako asked.

“Is there some available wall space where I could easily reach it, should I wish to examine it again?” Lilly asked.

Hanako and I look around the living room, and I offered, “If we move the Hokusai poster somewhere else, I think it could fit on the wall by your bedroom door.”

Hanako nodded. “That could work.”

“It’s so heavy, we’ll need something sturdy to hang it—oh, wait,” I interrupted myself, recalling the plastic bag taped to the back of the painting. I tugged the bag off and peered inside it. “Rin included hanging hardware, too.”

It was the work of a few minutes to take down the poster and hang up the painting, and Lilly stepped up to it to run her hand over it again. She nodded. “I think it looks wonderful there,” she said. She smiled towards us. “But why did you choose to hang it with my face at the top?”

“Honestly, that was just the way it was oriented when I grabbed it,” I admitted. “No deeper meaning.”

“We can…rotate it periodically,” said Hanako.

“That might be nice,” said Lilly.

“We should s-send her a thank-you,” Hanako said.

“Yeah…though I doubt a regular thank-you note would mean much to Rin,” I mused.

“Hmm. Perhaps we can give some thought to a more creative thank-you,” Lilly suggested.

Hanako giggled. “M-maybe send her some spaghetti? P-pasta for the impasto?”

I groaned, and Lilly looked like she was trying to suppress a similar reaction. “Perhaps something a little less…punny,” Lilly suggested drily.

I recalled one of the first things Rin had told me when she showed up on our doorstep. “Actually, I take that back. She said she’s taking a class in social interaction. Perhaps a ‘proper’ thank you note would be just the right thing.”

“Ah. Yes. An opportunity to reinforce social norms for Rin should not be missed,” said Lilly with a wry smile. She rose and headed toward her bedroom. “If I provide the stationery, could you write the note, Hanako?” Lilly’s handwriting, although tight and precisely legible, was not terribly “pretty,” and the less said about my own handwriting the better.

“Of course,” said Hanako.

So we ended up sending Rin the most commonplace thank-you note I had ever written, meticulously proper and correct in its phrasing and praise of the artwork. I hoped that her social interactions teacher would be pleased.

Image
Last edited by Lap on Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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Lap
Posts: 106
Joined: Sun May 27, 2018 4:35 pm
Location: North Carolina
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:31 pm

Chapter 4


I was just coming out of class when I spotted a familiar blonde head sitting on a bench across the quad, despite the cold weather. I had a half hour until my appointment, so I crossed over to where Lilly was sitting. “Hi, Lilly,” I called as I approached, but I got no response. As I drew closer, I realized she had headphones on. I sat on the bench beside her and gently touched her shoulder. She paused the recording she was listening to, and lowered her headphones.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Lilly.”

“Oh, Hisao. Hello.”

“It’s awfully chilly to be doing homework outside, isn’t it?”

Lilly smiled. “Yes, but at least it’s sunny. It’s been so long since I’ve spent any time outdoors, I just wanted to feel the sun on my face for a while.” Her rosy cheeks told me she’d been sitting out here for some time already. She flexed her gloved fingers a few times. “Although I probably should head inside soon.”

“Where is your next class?”

“Kofukan hall,” she replied, gesturing to the building to our left.

“Ah, I was going to be heading there myself in a little while. Meeting with an advisor.”

Lilly looked pleased. “So, do you really think you’ll be transferring to education after all?”

“I think so. That’s what we’ll be talking about. See if I can finish all the requirements without having to add any extra semesters to my schooling.”

“I’m glad. You’re a good teacher. I never would have gotten the scores in science I did without your assistance.”

I shrugged, embarrassed but also pleased by the compliment. “Thanks. It’s not that I don’t love science, but I’ve really enjoyed tutoring my classmates, helping them to understand things. It feels like maybe I should be focusing on that.”

“Well, the world could use more good science teachers.”

“I may have to come to you for help with the theories of education classes. I’ve looked over some of the class materials, and they seem a bit…opaque.”

Lilly chuckled. “Obfuscatory, in some cases. I’ll let you in on one of the dirty little secrets of education about education. It’s full of the flavor of the month and fads. Getting an education degree is a hoop you jump through in order to be able to teach, but don’t expect the theory classes to teach you too much about how to actually do it well. Fortunately, you already have a knack for it, and the pragmatic courses are good, so just jump through those hoops, then go forth and teach.”

“Oh. That’s…a bit depressing.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be discouraging. I may be being overly cynical about it.” She sighed. “Probably because I was just listening to notes for Professor Hayashi’s class. He’s one of the worst offenders in that regard.”

“Avoid Professor Hayashi, check.”

“I don’t think you’ll be able to, but good luck.” She pulled her headphones off from where they’d been resting around her neck, and wrapped the cord around them before stowing them in her bag. “Shall we head inside, before my fingers fall off?”

“Sure.” As we stood up, I offered Lilly my arm, and she rested her hand lightly on it. “How’re your classes going? Did anyone ever track down a braille copy of that text book you were looking for?”

“No, unfortunately, so I’ve been making do with an audio copy.” She grimaced. “It’s a lot harder to skim and skip around an audio text, even with proper indexing and bookmarking.”

“I’ll bet. My only experience with audio books is fiction; I can’t imagine text books would work very well that way.”

Lilly shrugged. “One adapts. At least with modern audio players I can listen at six times speed and not have it sound like a chipmunk.” I laughed.

As we entered Kofukan hall, we passed through a large lobby-slash-study area, with numerous tables and comfy chairs scattered about. I was focused on the path in front of us, aware of my obligation to help Lilly navigate the slightly cluttered space safely, so I didn’t really pay attention to who was present until I felt Lilly’s hand spasm tighter around my arm for a moment. At that I looked up, and saw Ogata sitting at a table with several other students across the room. He was laughing at something, which was probably what Lilly had heard. I noticed a smiling young woman—short, slim, with long black hair—was hanging on his arm.

I clamped down on my immediate desire to confront him, aware that that wouldn’t help Lilly any, and we walked through the lobby to where the elevators were. I don’t think Ogata saw us as we passed through the space, though I was sure Lilly had felt me tense up.

“Where is your next class?” I asked Lilly, in what I hoped was a casual voice. I don’t think I was very successful, because Lilly sighed before responding.

“Room four-twelve.”

I pressed the elevator call button, and we boarded the elevator with several other students. As we exited the elevator onto the fourth floor, I finally asked, “So, is that why you were studying outside, instead of in the study lounge?”

Lilly grimaced. “I really did want to get some fresh air,” she evaded.

“Uh-huh.”

She sighed. “It's impossible to avoid him entirely. The creative writing program is in this building too. And he's very social, always hanging around holding court.”

I snorted at that description. “Holding court? Is he royalty?”

Lilly shrugged uncomfortably. “I first met him in that lounge.”

I wanted to ask her what she’d ever seen in him, but we arrived at her classroom. I glanced in and saw a few other students had already arrived and were settling in. “Here you go, room four–twelve.”

Lilly smiled and patted my arm before unfolding her cane. “Thank you, Hisao. I hope your meeting goes well. Are you heading home after that?”

“I need to swing by the library to dig up an article first, but yeah, after that. It's my turn to cook tonight, right?”

“I believe so, yes. I'll be home after five.”

I smiled. “See you then.” I turned to leave as she entered the classroom.

When the elevator arrived, Ogata and the young woman I'd seen on his arm stepped out. He noticed me, and his eye twitched momentarily before he nodded and said, “Nakai.”

I gave him a curt nod. “Ogata.” I hoped my tone of voice was as cold as I felt. I curbed my impulse to shove past him, and waited for them to finish exiting before I entered the elevator. The young woman looked puzzled, obviously picking up on our enmity, but not understanding it. I had a momentary desire to warn her about the cad, but nothing caustic and pithy enough occurred to me before the doors closed.

I sighed, and pressed the button for two, where I was meeting the education advisor. Let it go, I told myself. You can't “avenge” Lilly, and she wouldn't thank you for it if you tried. I did feel sorry for the woman with Ogata, but she was also outside of my purview.

As I sat outside the advisor’s office, waiting for my meeting with her, I brooded about Ogata. I should have said “Oh, is this your new toy for this month?” Or “Watch out, he’ll ditch you if you gain any weight.” Or…heh…”I’m sorry, Toshi, but my VD test came back positive. You’d better get tested too.”

I smiled sourly at myself. I’d never dare say anything like that to someone in real life, but the fantasies were pleasant, anyway. Besides, if I was going to transfer to the education program, I’d be spending more time in this building myself. Which meant I’d be bumping into him occasionally, like it or not. That in and of itself was almost an incentive to not switch majors. Not that I was going to let him dictate my life choices.

I sighed. Hanako had said something about grudges once…what was it? Holding a grudge against someone is like giving them a space to live in your head, rent-free. I wasn’t sure if that was a quote from a book she’d read, or from her therapist, but it applied. I shouldn’t give him any more thought. He was out of our lives, and we were the better for it.

“Mister Nakai?” The advisor poked her head out of her door. I popped to my feet, and gave her a quick bow before entering her office. Move forward, don’t keep looking back, I admonished myself.

“So, I hear you’re interested in transferring to education…”

________________________

Papers and exams, classes and work, our life proceeded apace for the next few weeks. One Saturday evening, after dinner and clean-up was done, the three of us curled up on the couch to listen to a book together. Lilly and Hanako tried to do this together every week or two, classwork permitting, and I joined them when I had the time. Occasionally one of us would read to the other two, but in general it was more relaxing to borrow an audio book from the library, so we could all relax and listen together.

We took turns choosing what to listen to, although since I was often absent from these social literary sessions, Lilly and Hanako picked most of the books. Besides which, my preference for recreational reading ran to science books or science fiction, which was not really to their tastes.

Hanako and Lilly shared an affection for modern literature, which I had come to develop a small bit of appreciation for. It’s not something I would choose of my own accord to read for fun, but at least I no longer cringed when they picked out something by Murakami to listen to.

Lilly occasionally tossed some classic English literature into the mix, thankfully in translation—the one time we tried to listen to Little Women in the original, we were pausing every few minutes so Lilly could translate some word, idiom, or cultural referent for Hanako or me.

For herself, Hanako eventually confessed to a love for potboiler romances, and we’d listened to a few of those, too. I would have a hard time admitting it to anyone outside of the three of us, but I actually found them to be almost disturbingly compelling. I got surprisingly wrapped up in the soap-opera love-lives of those fictional characters. To the point where I once sought out the book we were listening to so I could read ahead, just to find out who ended up with whom. Even Lilly conceded that there was something relaxing about the simplistic formulaic love stories.

Tonight, we were listening to Moonrise over Lake Biwa, one of Hanako’s romances. It was a new author, from a series that we’d not listened to before. We were only a quarter of the way through it, but it was already set up with a classic love triangle, where Chiyoko has been put into a situation where she was feeling torn between two friends of whom she is equally fond, Takumi and Jiro. I found myself unreasonably on edge as the story moved along, because it was plainly obvious that Chiyoko truly felt attracted to both, and they were both good men, who were friends of each other; there was no obvious “bad guy” in this triangle whom I could predict was going to lose out in the end.

Hanako and Lilly were laying head-to toe on the couch, cuddled up against each other, sharing a blanket. Lilly had her head propped up on a pillow at one end of the couch, and Hanako’s head was in my lap at the other. We listened for about an hour and a half before my repeated yawns prompted Hanako to say, “Shall we c-call it a night?”

I didn’t want to be a killjoy, but I was exhausted. “As soon as this chapter ends,” I suggested, which kept us going for another five minutes. I slipped out from under Hanako as she and Lilly started to disentangle themselves from each other and the blanket. “Who is she going to end up with?” I asked Hanako. She had read the book before recommending it as a listen. “Jiro?”

“Why would you think that? I think she’s obviously more attracted to Takumi,” said Lilly. “Just listen to the way she describes his hands.”

“Maybe, but Jiro’s good-looking too. And he has a better job.”

“Does that really matter in affairs of the heart?”

Hanako just smiled and said nothing. I gave her a puppy-dog look. “Come on, Hanako, give us a break. I’m not sure I’m going to be able to listen to the whole book, what with finals coming up.”

“Then we’ll all w-wait together to finish it,” she said placidly. I groaned. Lilly was sometimes willing to reveal plot details of books we hadn’t read before, but Hanako was adamant that the joy of the story was in the journey, and we’d just have to wait until we got there.

As Hanako stood up from the couch, Lilly remained seated, looking pensive for a few moments. I tidied up last few cups in the kitchen as Hanako folded the blanket she and Lilly had been sharing. As I started to head towards the bedroom, Lilly lifted her head and said quietly, “Hanako? Hisao? Would you mind…if I joined you tonight?”

I glanced at Hanako and nodded. If Lilly was feeling bad, I wanted to help.

“Of course,” said Hanako. “Is…everything all right?” Lilly hadn’t seemed distressed or upset that evening, but if I had missed something, it seemed like Hanako had missed it also.

“Just…” Lilly shook her head, looking embarrassed. “It’s silly.”

“If you’re feeling b-bad, it’s not silly,” Hanako said.

Lilly grimaced. “This sounds stupid, but…listening to a romance novel is…depressing, in a way.”

“Ah. Yes.” I could understand that. Though it had been over two months since her breakup with Ogata, the particularly nasty way he’d gone about it seemed to have left some wounds that were still healing.

“You’re always welcome in our bed,” Hanako said, and I blushed as I considered different ways that phrase could be interpreted.

Lilly seemed taken aback by the phrasing too, but she just nodded. “Thank you,” she said, then she gave a glimmer of a smile. “And I won’t wear my peach pajamas this time, Hisao.”

“Er…”

Lilly and Hanako laughed. “I t-told her that those pajamas were…a t-touch revealing.”

“Yes. Well, thank you for that,” I said stiffly.

“At least that explains why they were Toshiko’sd favorites,” said Lilly, then her face fell a little at the thought. She shook her head as if banishing the cad from her thoughts, then she stood up and headed to her bedroom to change.

Hanako and I changed into our sleep wear while Lilly was in the bathroom. Hanako refrained from verbal comment when I slipped into a clean pair of underwear before donning my pajamas, although her mouth twitched a little.

“Sometimes I wish I could just punch Ogata,” I grumbled. “I want to make him pay for hurting Lilly.”

“P-please don’t get into any f-fist fights,” Hanako said mildly. “Although sending Ogata to prison for m-manslaughter might have its g-gratifying aspects, losing you would not b-be worth it.”

“I know, I know. Though the thought of him in prison is an attractive one.”

Hanako shook her head. “Let’s focus instead on…helping Lilly feel b-better.”

I smiled at Hanako. “Wise woman.” I gave her a kiss, grabbing the opportunity for a moment of privacy before Lilly joined us.

The kiss went on for a couple of minutes, and I was sufficiently distracted that I didn’t hear the bathroom door open. Eventually I looked up, to see Lilly standing in the bedroom doorway, smiling toward us. “That sounded like a nice one.”

Hanako chuckled in response. “Yes.”

I coughed and blushed. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be,” said Lilly, as she came into the room. She found the edge of the bed, then sat down. “I love you both. It makes me happy, to know you two are happy.”

“We love you too,” said Hanako, as she sat down next to Lilly. I sat down on Lilly’s other side. Hanako and I wrapped our arms around Lilly’s back, hugging her between us. Hanako leaned in to give Lilly a kiss on the cheek, and without thinking about it, I mirrored the motion.

Lilly drew in a sharp breath, looking startled, and her hand flew up to touch her cheek where I’d kissed her. Hanako and Lilly had shared friendly little pecks many times, but it was the first time I’d ever kissed Lilly.

“Sorry!” I blurted. “I—that was forward of me, I’m sorry, I—”

Lilly cut me off by turning her head and kissing my cheek in turn. My words stumbled to a halt, my face flushing. I looked nervously over at Hanako, to find her beaming at the two of us.

“Don’t apologize,” said Lilly. “Thank you. Thank you both. For reminding me that I’m lovable.”

“Always,” said Hanako. “We want you to be happy, too.”

I nodded in agreement. “Yes.”

Lilly smiled and shook her head slightly. “You both…” she trailed off.

“We what?” I asked, after a few moments of silence.

Lilly turned her smile to me. “You both are wonderful,” she said.

“Er. Thank you,” I said. I couldn’t help but feel like she had started to say something else, but I couldn’t think of how to ask her about it.

“Who g-gets the middle this time?” asked Hanako.

“If you wouldn’t mind…” Lilly said.

“Not at all,” I assured her. Some more mental review of my physics homework could only help my grades. We crawled into bed and cuddled up together. If we're going to keep doing this, we should probably invest in a larger bed, I thought wryly.

“Good night,” said Lilly. “I love you.”

“We love you too,” I said.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
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Lap
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Re: Home (Complete)

Post by Lap » Wed Aug 28, 2019 8:31 pm

Chapter 5


The flurry of final exams that came at the end of the school year were tough, but not as tough as previous semesters’ had been. I don’t know if that was because I just had easier classes this term (hah), or if I was getting used to the pace of university life.

Lilly finished with exams first, on Wednesday, and was on a plane to Scotland later that evening. Hanako and I had our last exams on Friday, so we bade her a brief farewell in the apartment before returning to cramming.

When I got back to the apartment after my last exam was over, I found Hanako passed out asleep on the couch, her jacket still on. I smiled and gave her a gentle kiss on the cheek. She vaguely pawed at me and whined piteously, “Nooo, jus’ five more minutes…”

“Come on, sleepy head. You’ll sleep more comfortably in bed.”

Hanako slowly peeled her eyes open and blinked up at me, a confused expression on her sleepy face. “Hisao? Why are you in Scotland?”

I laughed. “What were you dreaming about?”

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, then looked back up at me. “Oh. I…th-thought I was in Scotland. With Lilly.”

“Nope, afraid not.” I gave her another kiss. “Do you want to go to bed, or nap here?”

“Mmmm.” Her eyes fluttered shut for a moment, then she forced them open again and pushed herself up. “Bed. With you.”

“Well, how can I refuse a sleeping beauty?” I draped an arm across her shoulders and supported her as we lurched off to the bedroom. I managed to get most of the outer layers of her clothing off before verticality was no longer an option for her. I pulled the covers up over her, stripped myself, and crawled into bed with her for a short nap.

________________________

We were awoken by my alarm going off for my morning run. My first thought was that the alarm clock had malfunctioned, and we had only slept for a couple of hours, but the pressure in my bladder was enough to convince me that, yes, we had indeed slept for over thirteen hours. My mouth tasted like it, too, so when I staggered to the bathroom to relieve myself, I also brushed my teeth. I scowled at myself in the mirror as I realized I had missed my evening medications last night, then I downed my morning doses. I decided it might be prudent to make today my break day from running this week. I didn’t work until the afternoon tomorrow, so I could run tomorrow morning.

My hair, never tidy at the best of times, was truly epic in its messiness. I only gave a token effort at flattening it out before giving up and going back to the bedroom to see if Hanako had managed to fall back to sleep.

She was sitting up on the edge of the bed, eyes only half-opened. She had taken off her shirt, and her bra was unhooked and dangling from her shoulders. She rubbed at the indentations the bra had left in her skin. “Gah. Why d-did you let me s-sleep in my bra?” she grumbled.

“I couldn’t keep you upright long enough to get it off. It was a major achievement just getting your pants and jacket off.”

“Hrmph.” She looked like she wanted to grouse about it more, but couldn’t contradict my statement. She stood up slowly and stretched, bra dropping to the floor.

I was awake enough to appreciate the view, indentations and all. Then I frowned at the marks on her right ribcage, where her scars looked especially irritated. “We should put some lotion on you. We skipped it last night.”

Hanako gently poked at the marks on her scars and nodded, wincing. “Shower first, though,” she said. She ran her tongue over her front teeth and grimaced. “And tooth b-brushing.”

I was once again sorry that our apartment’s tiny shower was too small for two people to shower at once. “You go first, I’ll start on tea and coffee.”

She managed a smile at that. “Bless you.” She stumbled off to the bathroom as I headed to the kitchen to get breakfast started.

An hour later, we were cleaned, lotioned, dressed, and fed, lingering over our cooling beverages as we talked. We hadn’t had much time for conversation in the past week, our every waking moment having been consumed by studying.

“Sugiyama and Masuda are taking time off over spring break, so I’ve picked up a few extra shifts,” I told Hanako. “I’m sorry I won’t get to spend more time with you, but the extra money will be nice. And I did manage to arrange for a four-day weekend at the end of break. We should do something fun.”

Hanako nodded. “I…think I have some extra sh-shifts at the library over break.”

“You think?”

She gave an embarrassed shrug. “I g-got an email about it, but was too focused on studying to p-pay it much mind.”

I felt a moment’s alarm. “I hope you didn’t have a shift this morning.”

She gave me an amused smile. “We woke up in t-time for your morning run. The library opens l-later over break, so it won’t open f-for another two hours.” She stood up and walked over to her backpack to pull out her laptop. “B-but you’re right, I should check.”

We sat and compared our respective work schedules. It seemed like far too often, we had complementary shifts: when she worked mornings, I was working evenings, or vice versa.

“We’ve got…t-two and a half days off t-together in the middle of next week,” observed Hanako.

“Maybe…” I began hesitantly.

“Maybe what?”

“Maybe we could go visit my parents for a day or two?”

“Ah…” Hanako looked uncertain. Although she had met my parents several times over the last couple of years, we had never spent the night at their house together.

“I know it’s not a terribly romantic trip, but Mom has been bugging me for us to visit them.”

“Us? Or y-you?”

“Us,” I said firmly. “She saw just me last month when I went home for her birthday.” Hanako had had a major paper due, and hadn’t been able to accompany me on that trip. “She wants to get to know you better, I think.”

Hanako looked daunted at that. “No p-pressure or anything,” she muttered.

I put an arm across her shoulder and gave her a hug. “They already like you, sweetie. She just wants to spend more time with us, is all.” She still looked dubious, so I added, “They know I love you. They love you just for that, if nothing else.”

She sighed and leaned her head on my shoulder. “Is it…important to you?”

“That my parents know and like the woman I love? Yes. We don’t have to if it’s really uncomfortable, but—”

Hanako waved a hand to cut me off. “Let’s d-do it. M-my nerves aren’t…m-my social an-anxiety, it’s just ‘spending time w-with the p-parents of my b-boyfriend’ nerves.”

“Well, everyone has to deal with those nerves eventually, I suppose.”

Hanako looked down. “Not you,” she said softly.

I mentally kicked myself for the way I’d phrased that.

“S-sorry,” said Hanako. “Th-that was an unfair comparison.”

I shook my head and hugged her tighter. “No, it wasn’t. I…won’t ever be lucky enough to meet your parents, but…I am always grateful to them for giving me such a wonderful daughter. I get to know them through you.”

Hanako smiled. “Thank you,” she whispered.

A sudden inspiration struck me. “If you’d like…we could spend just one night at my parents’, then the next day go to your old home town to visit your parents’ graves.”

Hanako’s head shot up at that, and she stared at me. “If…if you w-wouldn’t mind…”

“I just suggested it. I would be honored to go with you, if you don’t mind.”

“I…haven’t been there since b-before I met you.”

“Then I’d say we’re overdue.” The smile she gave me told me that it had been the right decision.

________________________

When we got to my parents’ house, I was surprised to find my mother home, despite it being only five o’clock. Normally, she and my father both worked until late in the evening.

When I expressed my surprise while getting a hug, she said, “Well, if you’re only going to be here one night, of course I’m going to be home in time for dinner. Your father should be home soon, too.”

She turned to Hanako and smiled, “And it’s wonderful to see you again, too, dear.” Hanako looked uncertain as my mother wrapped her in a warm hug, but she was smiling shyly when my mother released her.

I gave Hanako a brief tour of the house after we dropped our bag in my old bedroom. She giggled at some of the posters on my bedroom walls. “I never knew you l-liked Digimon so much.”

I rolled my eyes. “Those are pretty old. I just never got around to taking them down.”

It was strange to realize that it was the first time Hanako had visited my parents’ home, the place where I grew up, despite us having lived together for a couple of years. Perhaps what was stranger was the realization that it now was my parents’ home, not mine. Despite it only having been just over three years since I’d moved out, it felt a touch alien to me. Constrained, like a hermit crab’s old shell, left behind when I moved on to a larger one.

We ended up in the kitchen, where we helped my mother with preparing dinner. My father arrived just before we were ready to sit down to eat, and he gave me his usual hearty handshake, clapping his other hand on my shoulder. “It’s good to see you, son.”

I smiled. “Good to see you too, Dad.”

He smiled at Hanako, and reached out a hand just as she was tentatively opening her arms for a hug, so he converted his handshake into an awkward hug. They both blushed and pulled apart quickly.

“And it’s, ah, good to see you too, Hanako. It’s been too long.”

“Yes, since l-last summer,” she agreed. “It’s nice to s-see you too, Mr. Nakai.”

I had assured Hanako several times that Dad’s awkwardness around her had nothing to do with her, and everything to do with how socially awkward he was in general. My father worked with computers, not people, and it showed.

Over dinner, my father asked how university was going.

I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure how this one was going to go. “It’s going well, although I’ve changed majors recently.”

My father looked up from his plate, his gaze on me sharpening. “Oh? To what?”

“Education. I want to be a science teacher.”

Both of my parents were silent for a moment, digesting that. Hanako was watching them both, her expression wary. She knew I’d been nervous about this conversation.

“Teaching…is an honorable profession,” my mother said hesitantly. She was also watching my father.

My father frowned. “But not as remunerative as science.”

I shrugged. “That’s debatable, actually. If I had a physics degree, odds are fairly good I’d end up as a university instructor anyway.”

“So why not pursue a physics degree?” my father asked. “It would leave your options open to do both.”

“Because I want to teach younger students. High school level.”

My father glanced at my mother, then sighed. “It can be good to…follow your dreams. But it’s also good to have a viable career lined up when you graduate.”

“Science teacher is actually a very viable career. There’s an overabundance of general ed and humanities teachers, but there’s a shortage of math and sciences teachers.”

“And Hisao is v-very good at it,” Hanako put in. “His tutoring g-greatly improved both my and L-lilly’s science scores in the university entrance exams. As well as a f-few other of our classmates’.”

My mother smiled. “I’m glad you have a talent for it.”

“A talent for it, and…” I hesitated a moment. “Maybe saying I have a ‘passion’ for it is overstating it, but—I truly do enjoy it. It is rewarding, to help someone else understand how the world works. And Lilly has offered to help me with any of the education classes I have problems with, so I’m pretty sure I can finish the degree without needing any additional semesters.”

My father blew out a breath. “That’s good, because your education fund isn’t going to last beyond the usual four years.” My parents had saved for years to make sure I had an education, but a not insignificant chunk of that savings had gone to paying for my time at Yamaku before I even started university.

I nodded. “Then I’ll make certain to finish it before then.”

My father shook his head. “Well, I think you’re making a mistake, but it sounds like you’ve thought about it. And it is your life.” His mouth twitched in smile. “But there goes my dream of one day introducing you to people as my son, the Nobel-prize winning physicist.”

The rest of us laughed. I was glad he hadn’t taken a harder stance against my choice. Fortunately, due to years of my essentially raising myself, my parents were used to letting me set my own course.

After dinner, we retired to the living room to talk some more. We filled them in on what we’d been doing—just studying and working in my case, I felt fairly boring—and also what Lilly had been up to. Hanako noticed the chess set on a shelf, and challenged me to a game.

As we played out our game—meaning, I was trying to lose with as much dignity as possible—my mother raised the issue of baths. “Hanako, since you’re our guest, you can have the first turn at the bath.”

Hanako looked up from the chess board and smiled. “Th-thank you, Mrs. Nakai. I’ll b-be done beating Hisao in j-just three moves.”

“What!” I exclaimed, scanning the board as my parents laughed. “No, I can—uh—that is…” I trailed off as I examined the board, realizing I’d allowed myself to get pinned by her knight and bishop. I sighed and tipped over my king, conceding defeat rather than draw out my ignominy in front of my parents. I glanced sideways at my parents, and shook my head subtly at Hanako. I didn’t want to engage in our usual post-match kiss in front of them. She just nodded and stood up to head to the bathroom.

“Thank you for the g-game,” she said, smiling sweetly.

“Any time,” I replied with a wry smile.

After she left, I said to my parents, “Whichever one of you takes a bath next, you’ll need to warm up the water.”

“She doesn’t like a nice hot bath?” asked my father.

I shook my head. “She can’t tolerate high temperatures because of her scars. Scar tissue doesn’t sweat, and her body’s internal thermostat is a little wonky. She overheats easily.”

My mother glanced down the hall, as if making sure the bathroom door was closed, then quietly asked, “The scarring covers that much of her body?”

Really, my parents had been remarkably restrained about asking personal questions about Hanako’s injuries since they’d met her. All they’d seen of her scars over the years were her hand, neck, and face. But I’d opened the door to questions with my remarks, so I felt obliged to answer.

“The scars run all down the whole right side of her body, face to ankles.”

My mother gasped. “That poor girl. I had hoped that her clothes had protected the rest of her body when she was injured.”

“No. The only thing that protected her was her mother’s body. But she couldn’t completely cover Hanako, and her right side was burned.” We had told my parents that Hanako’s parents had died in the fire that scarred her, but not that particular detail. My mother’s eyes went wide, and my father looked very somber.

“The scars will never disappear entirely, but they are fading. And she does stretching exercises and applies lotions to keep the skin supple. Her range of motion is better now than it was when I first met her.” Part of that being due to me reminding her to do those exercises, which she had only done sporadically in the past, but I didn’t need to tell them that.

“I see,” said my mother. She shook her head slowly. “You are very kind to put up—”

I cut her off sharply before she could finish that sentence. “No. I am not ‘kind,’ Mom. I don’t ‘put up’ with anything. I love her for herself. All of her. Charity or pity has nothing to do with it.” I glared at her, probably the sternest look I’d ever given her. “I love her. It’s as simple as that. She’s not defined by her scars, any more than I’m defined by my bad heart.”

My mother at least had the grace to look embarrassed. “No, of course not. I’m sorry.” She bobbed her head in a small bow of apology.

I took a deep breath to calm down, then nodded back. “Thank you.”

“Well, the fire obviously didn’t affect her brain,” said my father, trying to cut the tension. “Not if she can beat you so handily at chess.”

I chuckled, and shook my head. “It’s been almost four months since I’ve beaten her. But I’ll do it again, someday.”

“You hope.”

I gave my father a mock scowl. “Whose side are you on? What about your own flesh-and-blood?”

“I’m siding with the smart and pretty young woman who my flesh-and-blood is so smitten with, in this case,” said my father with a smile.

We all shared a laugh at that. Smitten. Yeah, that was a good word for me.

________________________

When I returned to the living room after my own bath, my mother gestured toward a pile of linens on the coffee table.

“Hisao, I’ve got sheets and a blanket for you, you can make up a bed for yourself on the couch,” said my mother.

“On the couch?” I stared at her blankly.

“Well, you certainly weren’t planning on making Hanako sleep on the couch, were you? She’s a guest. She can have your old bed.”

“Mom…you do know that we usually, ah, sleep together?”

“Hmpf. What you do at your place is your concern,” she said, echoing my own comment to Lilly of a while back. “But there will be no hanky-panky while you’re under my roof.” I heard Hanako choke back a giggle at that.

I felt my face going red, but I managed to squeak out, “Trust me, we hadn’t planned on any ‘hanky-panky’ while we were here. Not with you in the next room.”

Mom managed to work up a blush at that herself, but she determinedly said, “Nonetheless. You can sleep together here once you’re married. Not before.”

Mother!” I briefly contemplated clutching dramatically at my heart, but I didn’t want to panic her. Hanako would recognize it as a joke, but I wasn’t sure my parents would.

“What, you can talk with your mother about hanky-panky, but talk about marriage is off-limits? I want grandchildren someday, Hisao. I’m not getting any younger, and she’s a fine young woman.” She gave Hanako an approving smile.

I could come up with absolutely nothing to say in response to that, so I just stared at her, face red, my mouth hanging open. Hanako sounded like she was going to choke, she was biting back her laughter so hard. My father looked like he was struggling to look serious, but he too was making suspicious noises.

I snatched up the linens and started to shake out a sheet. “Fine,” I muttered, just wanting this conversation to be over.

As my parents brushed their teeth and got ready for bed, Hanako helped me make up my sofa. When we were done, we cuddled together for a while, waiting for the bathroom to become available. I was partially reclining, and Hanako was lying beside me, head on my chest. Her favorite position for listening to my heart. I stroked her lovely long hair and relaxed into the comfort of her presence. Tried to relax, anyway. My mother had brought up a perturbing subject.

I hesitantly cleared my throat. “You know…” Then I got stuck for words again.

After a few moments, Hanako looked up at me. “What?”

“I’m…sorry about how…direct my mother was.”

Hanako chuckled. “I wasn’t p-planning on any hanky-panky t-tonight either.”

I shook my head. “No. Not just that. I mean…my reaction. I don’t want you to get the idea that I’m against the notion of our ever…of us…getting married.”

I felt Hanako stiffen, and her hand, which had been idly stroking my arm, stilled.

When she didn’t say anything in response, I went on, a little desperately, “I mean, I’m in favor of it. Someday. If you still haven’t come to your senses and married Lilly instead. And I’m still alive. When we’ve graduated. Or whenever. But only if you want to, of course. I mean—”

She cut me off by kissing me. A remarkably effective tactic. It wasn’t a simple kiss, either; it went on for a nice long time. When she pulled away from me, my heart wasn’t galloping from nervousness any more, but it wasn’t beating any slower.

“Yes,” she whispered. A soft voice, but not shy, full of quiet promise and desire. Hinting at possible futures together.

That single word made me so happy, I found myself laughing out loud as I squeezed her tight.

“I love you, Hana.”

“And I love you, Hisao.”

I kissed her, and was happy to see that her smile was just as broad as mine, her eyes bright and loving.

My father cleared his throat from the doorway. “Ah, the bathroom is available. For the next person.”

We broke apart guiltily and glanced toward the hallway door, but all I saw was my father’s swiftly retreating back. Hanako giggled nervously. “I th-think I’m glad that was your f-father, and not your mother.”

“Oh, yes,” I agreed.

We brushed our teeth, and I tucked her into my old bed. She gave me a sidelong look as I sat on the edge of the bed beside her, and said, “So what was th-that you said about m-me marrying Lilly?”

“Oh.” I blushed. “I don’t know. That just…popped out of nowhere. I was nervous. Babbling.”

“Hm. Well, if she p-proposes to me before you g-get around to it—”

I cut her off with a kiss, and she chuckled.

“Good night, my love.”

“Good night.”

I retired to my couch bed. I couldn’t really complain that it was uncomfortable—I had spent many hours asleep on it in my youth—the only problem with it was that it was lonely. I was glad we were only staying the one night.
Avenues of Communication: Shizune suffers an accident.
Akira's Surprise: Akira pays a surprise visit to Lilly, Hanako and Hisao on Christmas eve. S9 Entry.
Arrival: Hanako's first days at Yamaku. (On Hiatus)
Home: Hanako & Hisao at University, sharing an apartment with their friend Lilly (on Ao3).
One-shots

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