25 Years Later...
A Very Student Council Christmas
Sharks and Minnows (You Are Here)
Katawa Shoujo: The Musical!
So She Dances
Hokkaido: a Turning Point
Where Are They Now?
Freaks and Friends Super Happy Funtime Christmas Special
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow
Two Halves Make a Hole
The Death and Return of Niji
War Diary 31-10-2007
Three Bits of Silliness
Onsen a Lifetime (Separate Thread)
A Christmas Sketch (Separate Thread)
A Convenient Distraction
Dreams By Firelight
Threw something together for a Secret Santa thing. Everyone made requests, the requests were shuffled around, standard stuff.
The request I was given: Something sappy and romantic around Christmas time. But with sharks.
Merry Christmas, and enjoy!
Sharks and Minnows
[Maybe we should shake things up a bit. What do you think of the idea of playing strip chess?]
Without showing any reaction to my question, Shizune takes her turn, capturing my remaining knight.
[There wouldn't be much point. You might as well save time and meet me at the door naked.]
If this game is any indication, she's got me there. I move my bishop out of harm's way.
[You don't know that for sure. Maybe I just haven't been trying because the wager isn't interesting enough.]
Yeah. For the past four years or so. She peers over her glasses at me skeptically.
[Worst. Hustle. Ever.]
There goes my rook. Things are looking grim for our hero. She'll probably win next turn.
[Well, how about reverse strip chess?]
I'm not really trying anymore. She didn't need that pawn, but it makes the loss sting less if I capture enough pieces.
Smiling, Shizune shoves the board aside.
[If you want to get me out of my clothes, all you need to do is ask.]
Lunging forward, she wraps her arms around my back and pulls me in for a kiss.
Losing isn't always a bad thing.
[What time is it?]
I glance at my watch on the bedside table.
[Time for us to get dressed. Unless you want to give her a shock and answer her call like this.]
I can guess the answer easily enough without her shoving a pillow in my face, but I can't say I didn't deserve it.
It's a good thing we checked when we did, because the incoming call message pops up mere seconds after I manage to throw on a shirt and some pants. Shizune's just dealing with the last couple fasteners on her outfit, so I push the button to answer the call.
"Hi, Hicchan~! Hi, Shicchan~!"
"Seriously, Misha, the only people who have ever called me that are you and my mom."
She's changed a lot since Yamaku, but she's still unmistakably Misha. Her pink hair isn't anything more than a memory these days, having grown out and been trimmed away for some time now. She's since traded it out for hair curlers, but not drills anymore. Her style of choice is now a headful of shoulder-length brown ringlets. The years have been good to the rest of her, shedding off that last bit of baby fat to reveal the mature young woman beneath. She still has that playful softness, but it's somehow less childish these days.
"That's the whole point of special names, Hicchan. It wouldn't be a special name if everyone called you that."
I'd rather no one call me that, but I think convincing Misha to stop would be even harder than convincing my mom. We have an exchange like this whenever we talk, though. I think I'd probably miss it if she stopped. Not that I'd ever admit to it.
"So, what's up? Things have been so busy, we haven't talked in a while. Still on track to become the Best Interpreter Ever? And you were seeing sometime last we talked, right? Adolph or something?"
She makes that glowing blush of someone in love when they're kind of embarrassed, but also want everyone to know about it.
"It's Nathan, Hicchan. In fact~, we're still together, and you'll never guess what happened the other day~. Hi, Shicchan~!"
Misha's second greeting is accompanied by one of her trademark smiles and an enthusiastic wave. Sure enough, Shizune's finished making herself presentable and joined me in front of the screen.
[Hello, Misha. Now stop stalling and tell us what happened.]
It still startles me how excited and, well, girlish Shizune can be when it comes to gossip and "girl talk." I really shouldn't be surprised by it, but it is kind of cute, and such a dramatic contrast to the businesslike attitude she usually has.
"Well~, last week was Thanksgiving, which is a really big holiday around here. It's crazy~! Everyone gets together with their ENTIRE family and they spend all day making all kinds of delicious foods~!"
"Sounds like your kind of holiday."
The picture inset feature is very useful for sign language. It's not perfect, but it lets Shizune and me understand each other without looking away from the person on the other end. Speaking of which, Shizune elbows me for that comment. Misha isn't bothered the least bit by it, which makes me wonder if Shizune even knows about Misha's hobby.
"Yup~! So anyway, Nathan invited me to spend Thanksgiving with his family this year. They live several states away, so we had a long~ car trip to get there. I still can't get over how BIG it it's over here, and everyone drives everywhere! They almost never use trains at all~! And they were even taking about maybe FLYING there! Flying! To get to another part of the country!"
She's right, that is pretty hard to wrap my head around. I mean, I know how big it is on a map, but it's hard to really get a sense of what that means. To me, a long trip is going from Sendai to Hiroshima. She may as well be taking about going to Mars.
"Anyway, it was such a long trip that we were going to stay there a few days. Nathan slept in his old room, and they let me use a guest room. People around here have huge houses, all to themselves, even when they're not rich!"
I have to admit, I'm a little irritated that she doesn't just get to the point already.
"So you were visiting his family for an American holiday. What happened that was so exciting?"
"Well~," she begins, looking fit to burst, but also enjoying the suspense, "one of the other days we were there, he decided to show me around, because that's where he grew up. We went all over, and then he took me somewhere - I don't remember what it was called, but it was REALLY pretty."
She gets a far-off look in her eyes, as if she were reliving the moment.
"So it was really romantic. He started taking about some stuff, and I was getting a little confused, because he want making much sense, but then he gave me THIS~!"
She shoves her hand forward with a bit too much enthusiasm, and there's a loud clatter as we get the view from a falling camera until it comes to rest staring at the ceiling. An apologetic-looking Misha pokes in from the left frame, looking down at us.
"Sorry! I just got a little excited~!"
It's a little weird, watching from a perspective of being picked up and placed once again into a sitting position.
"As I was saying," she resumes, a little flustered, but still bubbling over with enthusiasm, "he gave me this."
Moving her hand a great deal more slowly and carefully, my suspicion from the get-go is confirmed. An engagement ring is pretty unmistakable, after all.
[It's so pretty! I'm so happy for you! When's the date? Wait, don't respond! I want to look at it a little more first.]
Shizune's flurry of questions isn't the least bit surprising, but the intensity with which she pushes me aside does catch me mildly off-guard. I really can't tell much difference from one ring to the next, but I know that girls care a lot, and this one seems to meet their approval.
Infuriatingly, Shizune and Misha begin talking intensely between each other with their secret signs, effectively cutting me out of the conversation. It's in my best interest to let them have their private girl talk - a lesson I learned the first, last, and only time I objected.
"You know the best part? He flew all the way to Japan to ask my daddy's permission~! In person!"
"'Ask permission?' Isn't that a little old-fashioned? I thought girls wanted to be able to make decisions on their own."
That comment earns me one of Misha's patented "I'm cute when I'm angry" scowls. "'Old-fashioned' isn't always a bad thing, Hicchan. A lot of girls like 'old-fashioned.'"
[I agree,] Shizune cuts in, confirming the sinking feeling I got when the subject came up, [it's not about permission, it's about respect. If a boy doesn't ask the girl's father, the answer should be no. End of story.]
It's worse than I thought.
"Since you and Misha got a private chat, is it okay if I have a talk with her in private, too?"
Shizune rolls her eyes, but turns around without any comment, pointedly looking away from the screen and from me.
I'm dreading the answer, and I already know what it is, but I still need to ask.
"There's no way I'm getting out of this, is there?"
Misha's smile is sympathetic. "It won't be as bad as you think, Hicchan~."
It's a lot easier to say that when you aren't the perennial object of his scorn, Misha.
I sigh. "That's what I was afraid of. Thanks again for helping me pick out a ring. You know I'm hopeless with those kind of things."
"You worry too much, Hicchan~. It's not the ring that matters, it's the person holding the ring~."
"I wish I could be as sure about it as you are."
"She loves you, Hicchan. She has for years. There's nothing to worry about. I promise~."
"I know. It's good to be reminded by someone else, though. Thanks, Misha."
"No problem, Hicchan. After all," she continues, a mischievous gleam in her eye, "you were there when I needed someone to tell me I was being stupid and unreasonable ~!"
She didn't have to be so blunt about it.
"That's what friends are for! Wahahahaha~!"
Well, this is it. I was able to pump Hideaki for the information I needed - Jigoro is definitely going to be home today. I push the button for the buzzer.
The gruff voice from the speaker is one I recognise all too well.
"Hakamichi residence. State your name and business."
Steeling myself, I prepare to speak. If I can't even face him on a speakerphone, there's no hope of me coming out of this alive.
"Nakai, sir. Hisao Nakai. I'm here to speak with Mr. Hakamichi."
A long silence follows. At first, I wonder if the speaker is broken and he never heard me. I'm about to repeat myself when a reply finally comes through.
Upon entering, I can see him waiting for me in the room I now know to be the parlor. As always when I'm around, he radiates a menacing aura. Nevertheless, his voice sounds jolly, and almost pleasant. As pleasant as a katana-wielding werewolf in a Hawaiian shirt can be, I guess.
"Well, this comes as quite a surprise! It's been some time since we last spoke! I usually don't meet with people on such short notice! Unexpected. Normally, people have to set up an appointment in advance."
His eyes narrow with that last sentence. As expected, he's decided that I did something wrong before I even have a chance to open my mouth.
"But there are exceptions to every rule. When someone arrives on such short notice, it tends to be something important. Please, take a seat. I'm certain that anything that can't wait for the normal procedure will be well worth my time."
So that's his approach. I didn't go through the normal protocols, so he's on the offensive. He smells blood in the water, so his eyes are locked on me in that analytical Hakamichi stare, waiting for me to mess up and admit that I'm wasting his time so he can tear me apart.
"Well, sir, it's about your daughter..."
He slaps his knee and barks out a short, harsh laugh.
"Hah! You don't say? Here I was thinking you wanted to sell insurance or discuss my stock portfolio!"
Balancing his sword on his knees, he folds his hands in front of his mouth. His polite and cheerful demeanor is gone. It's all business now.
"I'll make this easy on you. We both know exactly what's going on here. But you won't get my answer unless you can ask the question."
That seems surprisingly generous. I guess he's in a good mood because he's completely in control.
I take a breath. It's now or never.
"Mr. Hakamichi, I'd like permission to marry your daughter."
"So you would. Tell me, do you know what I see when I ask myself what you have to offer?"
I have a pretty good idea, but I know the answer he wants.
He snorts derisively. "That's a lie. But it's what you're expected to say, so I won't fault you there."
His eyes meet mine, boring through the back of my head. I hold my gaze steady, refusing to back down. There's too much at stake.
"You come in unannounced, but, by all indications this is your first attempt, which means you are either lucky or you planned ahead. You aren't wearing the slacker clothes you're so fond of, which indicates that you care about giving a good impression. Your suit is two years old; the style is five. You wear it roughly twice a year."
He pauses there, daring me to tell him he's wrong. I can't. He's right on every count. Except for maybe that bit about the style - I have no idea there. Who even keeps track of that kind of thing?
Satisfied that he has me pegged, he continues.
"You lack the knowledge, ability, connections, and ambition to succeed in business. You'd never amount to more than a salaryman. Fortunately for you, you have no intention of going into business. I believe you had said that you wanted to become a science teacher. A noble profession, but not lucrative. At best, you're likely to end up a tired old man in a shabby coat with a scraggly beard. But you'll be doing something you love, and, with any luck, inspiring the next generation to commit to being less of a failure."
I guess it was too much to hope that he could go five minutes without insulting me.
Closing his eyes, he leans back in his chair before resuming.
"So, when I ask myself if you have anything to offer my daughter, if there is any possible benefit she could derive from spending five minutes with you, much less her entire life, the answer is obvious. I cannot see any good that could come from such a proposal."
With a deep breath, he gives his answer.
"You have my permission."
I should be relieved. I should be overjoyed. But instead, I'm dumbfounded by his response.
He opens an eye and looks at me quizzically.
"You're quiet. Are you disappointed? I can change my answer if you want."
"No!" I reply quickly. "I'm just... surprised."
His chuckle is dry and humorless.
"You overestimate my power. It's no secret that I don't like you, and you've made it equally clear that you don't like me. If Shizune cared about my opinion of you, you would be a distant memory, not in the middle of my parlor asking me if you can marry my daughter. And a slacker like you clearly has no regard for tradition, propriety, our respect for one's elders. So it's clear that you're only here because it's important to her."
Bringing his arms down, he rests his palms on the sword in his lap.
"We're at an impasse. Much as we detest each other, Shizune isn't willing to give either of us up for the sake of the other. Surely even you realise that. In coming to ask me for permission, you've made it clear that you'd rather suffer my presence than live without Shizune. If I were to act otherwise myself, I would be the lesser man."
Hefting his sword, Jigoro Hakamichi rises to his feet.
"Make no mistake, boy. If I truly had any power, I would forbid such a union. But this is ceremonial - a formality. So I take it as an opportunity to make a peace offering. If, as I have no doubt, Shizune feels the same way for you as you do for her, we're stuck with each other."
He walks over to an ornate cabinet.
"These sort of things are often sealed over a drink. What's your beverage of choice? Appletini? Cosmopolitan?"
To be honest, I don't know enough about drinks to have a preference.
"I'll just have whatever you're having."
On hearing this, he lets out another harsh laugh.
"Still can't make your own decisions, can you, boy? I may as well pour it down the drain, since there's no way you can appreciate it."
Despite that comment, he pours a deep amber-colored liquid into two glasses and hands one of them to me. Accepting the glass, I bring it up to my lips for a taste.
Even though every fiber of my being wants to prove him wrong, I can't help but make a face as that single sip burns its way down my throat. I didn't think he'd be crazy enough to drink turpentine.
"I thought as much," he concludes, with grim satisfaction. "A single shot of that costs more than you'd make in a whole day. Probably a whole week. What you've got in your hand there is a double."
So it's turpentine laced with gold. I honestly cannot imagine how someone justifies spending that much money on a drink. Not that I'm dumb enough to bring it up and get chewed out because the answers to slacker questions like that are all laid out in his autobiography.
Glancing down at his own drink, he shakes with silent laughter at some private joke.
"On the other hand, my daughter's one of the most precious things in my life and you're snatching her up with my permission! What's another sixty thousand yen?"
Sixty thousand? For a mouthful? Not that you'd drink it all in one go, unless you were trying to kill yourself...
With a shock, both from the impact and the gesture itself, I feel Mr. Hakamichi clap a hand on my back.
"A toast!" he announces, "To Shizune: the only reason we'd ever associate with each other!"
I'll drink to that.
Christmas Eve. Tonight's the night. I have the ring, I have her father's permission, and we're on a date, so I have an excuse.
I'll have to thank Takumi for suggesting the aquarium. It's not too crowded, and the faint blue lighting is rather romantic.
She probably thinks nothing of it, but its quite appropriate that she choose to wear that hairpin today. Its the same one she wore on Tanabata so many years ago, when we first started dating. Of course, she's wearing it differently this time. Her hair is longer now, reaching a couple inches past her shoulders, so the pin sits in back, holding a half ponytail.
Obviously, she's not wearing a yukata, either, trading it out for an extremely flattering red dress. Not what I'd consider a reasonable first choice in the middle of winter, but if she's willing to wear it, I'm certainly happy with letting her do just that.
[What is your favorite fish, Hisao?]
[What kind of a question is that?]
She frowns, annoyed that I didn't give an answer.
[The kind of question that's perfectly reasonable to ask someone who thinks of an aquarium when trying to decide on a location for a date.]
Touche, Shizune. Touche. [Do you not like it? The aquarium, I mean.]
[It's nice. And I'm impressed that you were able to think of something so original. Especially since you don't know anything about fish.]
[What makes you think I don't know anything about fish?]
[It's pretty obvious when you can't answer such a simple question as your favorite fish.]
[I can answer the question,] I insist. [I just wasn't expecting it.]
[Then answer it.]
I'm teasing her and she knows it. And it infuriates her. One of the few times I'm able to win - which is probably why I do it so often.
[Penguins don't count, do they?]
[Penguins are birds, not fish.]
[Even if they're in the aquarium?]
I never really understood WHY penguins are in aquariums. Probably because its cheaper to keep all the climate-controlled areas together.
[Penguins don't become fish by being in an aquarium.]
Okay, that's enough teasing for now.
[I think I'd say my favorite fish is the manta.]
[BORING.] I've come to love the dramatic way she "pronounces" that word. [That's such a childish choice. You probably chose it because you think it looks cool.]
She's right, but I'd never admit to it.
[Then what's YOUR favorite fish? I bet it's something childish like the magical princess unicorn fish.]
[There's no such fish.]
[You're starting to sound like Hideaki.]
[Nonsense. I haven't mentioned photography, puns, or how painfully uninteresting you are.]
She's got Hideaki pegged, that's for sure... wait a minute.
[Hideaki says I'm uninteresting? The incarnation of blandness himself?]
[Maybe he does and maybe he doesn't.]
She's really enjoying this.
[You never answered my question.]
[Turnabout is fair play.]
I almost always lose, but its still fun to play the game.
[Would a kiss make this easier?]
Shizune's eyes light up at this suggestion.
[You're going to barter for the information now? I'm going to have to sample your wares before I can agree to anything.]
That's how she wants to play it? I can't say I object - the best games are the ones where everyone wins. I hook my arm around her waist and pull her close, catching her lips with my own. A little practice can go a long way, and we've had plenty of opportunities to practice that maneuver.
Much as I enjoy the kiss, I need to leave her wanting more if I want to come out on top, so I break it off abruptly.
[That's the end of the demo. If you want the full version, tell me your favorite fish.]
The way she's looking at me makes me uncomfortable, and her smile just makes it worse.
[I think I'm going to pirate it.]
I realise what she means a moment too late - around the same time she has her hands behind my head and her lips against mine. And this time, she's in control, letting me go when she's ready, and not a moment sooner.
Catching our breath after the extended kiss, I notice that Shizune is practically glowing.
[I think that's worth the price. Very well, I'll tell you my favorite fish.]
Contrary to her statement, she doesn't continue her thought.
[Were you planning on telling me any time soon?]
[If you insist. My favorite fish is... the shark.]
[Sharks? That's a childish favorite fish. You may as well talk about how much you like dinosaurs or chocolate cereal.]
[So what if I like those things? They aren't childish. Besides, sharks are the best fish. They take what they want, do what they want, and no one can tell them they're wrong. You can even go and see for yourself.]
To punctuate her last comment, she indicates the sign for the shark tanks.
Without waiting for a response, she heads off that way with her characteristically determined pace. She knows I'll follow, so she makes no effort to look behind to make sure.
She's right - the sharks are an impressive sight, clearly displaying everything that Shizune said, and so much more, too. But by her definition, the most impressive shark in the room isn't in a tank at all. She's standing right there in the middle of it all. And that's exactly why I love her.
There's no question - this is the moment. It's now or never. I step forward to get closer, but somehow manage to trip on my own feet, falling to the floor. And, as luck would have it, Shizune notices me making a fool of myself.
[Are you okay?]
Great. Now she thinks I hurt myself.
[I'm fine,] I reply, pulling myself up to one knee. I'm about to stand when I realise that this is the perfect set-up.
[Stop. You're going to embarrass yourself. And since it's in sign language, I'm the only one who will see it.]
Her smile is radiant.
[I'll make this easy on you. We both know exactly what's going on here. But you won't get my answer unless you can ask the question.]
I'm not sure why, but I have the strangest sense of deja vu. Setting that aside, I reach into my pocket to pull out the ring. Once it's in my hand, though, I realise that it keeps me from signing. Taking the initiative, she pulls the box out of my hand.
[Shizune Hakamichi, will you marry me?]
Her cheeks are glistening. I think this is the first time I've ever seen anything close to her crying.
[You know the answer. Nothing would make me happier.]
It's true, I did know the answer. But seeing her say it makes all the difference. Still, something's not quite right.
[Don't you want to see the ring?]
She shakes her head, the tears still flowing freely.
[There's plenty of time for that. I know it's perfect.]
Reaching down, she pulls me to my feet and into a tight embrace, holding me closer than ever before.
As we hold each other, the clock strikes midnight, and Christmas day finds a room full of sharks, and the single minnow that fell prey to their queen. And the minnow wouldn't have it any other way.