The Aftermath after that dark night.
-Holy Heck! I didn't expect to see this story to get this much response! At the moment, in terms of the number of hits, and the number of reviews, this story has the most (other stories have more, but they also have more chapters to go along with it)!
-Since the response has been this well, great, I um, guess I should update this fic I guess. Sorry, REALLY sorry for the long wait. But this story is one of my more emotional, and in turn, more intensive stories I came up with. ^_^
-Without further ado, on with the story!
"The one you should be striking is me."
These words, these words rang through Motoko's head over and over again. Her whole body was quivering as she tried to understand what has just transpired. Why her sister would seemingly defend her rapist. Unless... 'No! It is not true! No! It is all Keitaro's fault! Keitaro was the one that violated my Aneue! Keitaro... Keitaro...' Her mind sees the truth. It was the cold, dark truth of the situation staring directly in front of her. Yet her emotions refuse to accept it.
Tears streaked down Tsuruko's face. She reached out to Motoko, wanting to comfort her younger sister. But every time she opened her mouth, she found no words that would be adequate for what just happened. No words that would help Motoko understand what just happened. And even if she got through... if she got through, then what? The mere thought brought terrified Tsuruko. 'How... why...' Her quivering hand nearly reaches Motoko. "Mo...Motoko? I..."
Like a branch bent too far, Motoko's mind snapped in two. "GET AWAY FROM ME!!!" Motoko slapped Tsuruko's hand away. She shot up from her position, and ran out of the room. Shoving Kitsune out of the way in the process. Her vision blurred by the tears as she navigated the hallways of the Hinata Sou.
The shove Kitsune received got her out of her own paralysis. What was staring in front of her was more than Kitsune had expected at the Hinata Sou. Kitsune placed a hand at where Motoko had pushed her. 'What... what just happened?' Despite all the craziness that had occurred at the Hinata Sou, none of it prepared her for this moment. She slowly creaked her head to the side, and sees the tall, slender, and quite naked Tsuruko a few feet in front of her.
Tsuruko's eyes widened a bit at Motoko's sudden outburst. But moments later, the shock turned into remorse as she knew exactly why Motoko reacted the way she did. She blinked the tears away as she caught sight of one of the other residence that lived here. Her stunned expression suddenly made Tsuruko self-conscious about her modesty. The blade in her hand feel as her grip suddenly weakened. She attempted to cover up as much as she can as a melancholic silence descended into the room.
Broken only by the whimpering cries of a broken man in the corner of the room.
Tsuruko feels her heart beat faster. Not from the fact that she doesn't have a stitch of clothing on, but more from the heavy atmosphere of the room. Even with Motoko gone, the irreversible consequences of her action weigh leavily against her. The once airy feel of the dorm was now gone. And... 'It... it was all my fault!' Suddenly, through the haze of her own guilt, she hears him. She slowly turned towards the source of this mournful sound. Once she laid eyes on him, her own fallen blade stabbed her heart.
Keitaro's face was nearly drained of color. His face was still moist from all the tears that he had spilled. And he was shivering badly. To Tsuruko, it appeared as if he was being tortured, hooked up to a car battery with no signs of being let up by his sadistic torturer. His silent agony broken only from the occasional whimpering he made.
It was a torment that she put him through.
Tsuruko took a few steps towards Keitaro. She forced her quivering mouth as she tried to speak to reach out to him. Somehow. "Kei... Kei..."
"Don't talk to him!"
Tsuruko's heart skipped a beat. The cold venomous voice cut through her clouded mind. Tsuruko slowly pivoted her head toward the source.
She sees a woman, whose seemingly unemotional face was betrayed by her cold dead eyes glaring back at Tsuruko. A cigarette hangs off of her mouth, and her arms crossed in front of her chest. "Now, do you mind putting on some clothes? Or do I take it that the Aoyama Clan teaches nudism as one of their techniques?" Haruka joked, though it was not laced with any trace of humor.
Tsuruko's went bright red as she noted the state of dress, or lack there of. She tentatively began to cover herself. "I uh... um..."
Haruka eyed Keitaro on the side. "And what Shinmei Ryu technique did you use on Keitaro? It seemed to be more effective than the Rock-Splitting technique Motoko kept using on him."
"Well uh... wait, she's been using that technique against him?" Tsuruko said in a reserved, but surprised tone.
"I'm not talking about her though since she isn't here." Haruka sternly said in her mostly monotone voice. "I am however, talking about you."
Tsuruko kept opening and closing her mouth, wanting to say anything in response to Haruka. But she could not find the words for a proper response.
"Never mind that." Haruka took a drag from her cigarette. Her eyes darted from Tsuruko, than to the whimpering Keitaro. "I'm going to have a talk with Keitaro first, while you get properly dressed. Not that I care. But I think the other residences would find your 'free lifestyle' a little disconcerting."
"But I am..." The normally stoic swordwoman wilted against in intense gaze of Haruka. "I will um, get right to it."
Outside, the tapping sound of many feet reached their ears. This was followed by young slightly timid voice. "What happened? What's going on?"
"Yah!" A more cheery voice said next to her. "Is there a party going on?"
"I heard loud noises going up in there!" Another girl said, this one about as energetic as the previous, but not as playful. "Is that dork doing something perverted again?"
Haruka stared at Kitsune, who instinctively knew what Haruka wanted. Kitsune turned immediately to block the two newcomers from entering or even viewing what has transpired in the room.
"I think we should all play together!" Kitsune said in as cheery of a voice she could muster.
"Ahhhh. But I want to see what happened." Su said in a disappointed tone.
"Um... now isn't the right time!" Kitsune quickly said. "So let's go down and play some games!"
"Kitsune?" Shinobu said as she tentatively looked up at her. "What happened?"
Kitsune fake smile began to falter a bit. "I'll... I'll tell you all later! Now does anyone here want ice cream?"
"Ice cream? Why now? Why can't we..." Sarah took a glance back at the room. Her eyes caught that of Haruka, who stared back at her with cold intent. For Sarah, it felt like whatever happened in this room was sucking out all of the blissfulness that had always emulated from the dorm. Sarah gulped, as she turned back to the young girls around her. "On second thought, maybe we should get some ice cream!"
"Can I have banana chocolate chip?" Su excited said.
"Anything you want!" Kitsune smiled brightly. "I'll even get Ben and Jerry's since that's the only brand that I could think of that actually sells that! And I'm going to treat you all!"
"Really?" Shinobu blinked. Something was definitely wrong here if Kitsune would offer to pay for something. "But Kitsune, isn't Ben and Jerry's kind of expensive?"
"Not to worry!" Kitsune cheerily smiled. "I should have plenty! Besides, I can just ask Kei... um... write some more juicy stories for the magazine! They've been good to me so far! Hehehehe!" Her smile faltered a bit at end.
"Keitaro?" Su's eyes lit up. "Can he come too?"
"Umm..." Sarah gave a tentative look back before she addressed Su. "I don't think that would be a good idea."
"Ahhh. But why?" Su gave a pouted. "He's always fun to be with."
"It's... because he has some things to do here first! That's all!" Kitsune began to push the girls away from the doorway. "Now, we should all go before I change my mind and decide to spend the money all to myself now right?" Kitsune grinned.
This seemed to sate the dark skilled princess a bit. "Okay! But he doesn't know what he's missing out!"
"Oh, I'm sure he has other stuff on his mind to worry about." Kitsune said. Her mouth twitched a bit as she continued to compel the girls to move away from the room.
As the sound of the young residences began to diminished, Haruka turned her attention back from the door to the still naked Tsuruko. She eyed a bathrobe hanging in the closet. She grabbed the garment and quickly threw it to Tsuruko. "Here."
Tsuruko grabbed the garment. "Huh?"
"You want to walk around naked?" Haruka glared.
"Eh, no. That's... no." Tsuruko quietly said as she shifted her eyes away from Haruka.
"Get yourself cleaned up." Haruka said as she let out a whiff of smoke. "You can use the bath on the second floor. At the moment, I'm not allowing you anywhere near the hot springs."
"I... understand." Tsuruko replied quietly.
"Once you are done, wait in the main living room and wait for me." Haruka said as she crushed her cigarette on a nearby ashtray. "For now, just clean up while I check on Keitaro." Haruka then walked around the room and opened one of the closets. She took out a kimono that was hanging there, and threw it towards Tsuruko. "Oh, and once you're done, I suggest wearing this."
Tsuruko was stunned at what she was holding. "But this is..."
"Go." Haruka ordered. "Go now."
As the room descended back into silence, Tsuruko nodded and tentatively dressed herself with the bathrobe that was given to her by Haruka. She also hugged the kimono that Haruka threw at her, and left the room without saying another word.
After silence descended into the room, Haruka's eyes wandered to the corner where a now very scared boy was crouching. Haruka slowly paced towards him, and the boy looked up with tear soaked eyes. As their eyes met, Haruka slowly shook her head and gave a tentative smile. "Don't worry Keitaro. I'm going to make sure everything will be alright."
Tsuruko lined the rim of the small wooden bath that took up most of the space of this room. This mostly private bathroom was a bit away from what visitors like tourist would go when it was still a co-ed inn instead of the dorm that it was today. Unless said guest took the time to wonder around the Hinata Sou, most likely lost. Which given the size of the Hinata Sou, this might not be all that uncommon.
But at the moment, this isolated bathroom was much preferable to the more public hot springs outside. The turmoil within Tusruko's mind was already at its breaking point Seeing one of the residents as she attempted to recollect her thoughts, and try to make sense of the events that had transpired would have made this all but impossible. This was especially true if Motoko were to walk in on her during this point.
'Motoko.' Tsuruko thought sadly as she sank into the lukewarm water of the bath. She never bothered turning the heat up anymore than was necessary. 'How can I face her ever again after what I did? How can I face anyone? The Shinmei Ryu. The Aoyama Clan!' She sank as far down as she could in the small bath. She quickly shook her head as tears threatened to well up. 'No. Why should I care about myself? What about... what about...' As hard as she tried, she could not focus on the person that she had caused so much pain with her selfishness. In a matter of seconds, the front she had built up over the years, of strength, power, and even her more recent transformation as a caring but tough woman, all seemed to be like a distant memory to her now. Everything shattered in one night by weakness. Weakness that shattered the illusion she gave out to everyone.
She turned her head to the window where the only source of light shined through. As she stared at the darkened bathroom, she thought how appropriate the situation was to her. The eerie quietness of the room made sure that she cannot escape the ranting coming from her own mind. And she sat in water that no matter how soothing it may feel, could never truly cleanse her of the crime she had committed mere hours before. Sitting here alone, naked in the darkness with the sunlight taunting her of the deed she had committed. Eventually she knew that she would have to face up to her judgment one way or the other. But at the moment, all she wanted to do was drown in the darkness of her own doing.
Tsuruko took a deep breath, and began to sink into the bath. Sinking as far down as she could as the water began to surround every inch of her tear stained face. Her hair floating on the surface, appearing like the monster she felt she had become in one dark night.
Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock...
The only sound that permeated the room was the sound of a nearby hanging clock as the pendulum swings from side to side. The clock it seemed, was the only thing moving in what appeared to be a crime scene. A crime scene photographer could come in and use an old antique camera and take images that would satisfy the morbid curiosity of those that seek the underside of society. Broken bottles, floor stained with sake (and possibly other kinds of fluid), a broken table, and torn clothing laying everywhere. The only thing missing from this still life were the bodies of the victims strewn aside in a bloody heap.
Instead, we have a man, Keitaro, wearing his glasses with the right lens cracked, sitting cross-legged with a blanket draped over his shoulders, with his gaze fixated at the shattered end of the small table that adorned this sparsely furnished room.
Standing above him in the dimly lit room, was Haruka, with a cigarette slowing burning down to the tip. Like a detective from a noir film, Haruka, with her arms crossed, stood stoic above the poor victim as she awaited his response. The smoke rising from the tip, further adding to the murky atmosphere of the room.
Seconds ticked by, which turned into minutes. Both of them waiting for the other to respond, and neither of them wanted to be the first to break the stillness of the room.
Finally, seeing no other way around it, and needing this situation to somehow come to a resolution that seemed almost impossible to comprehend, Haruka began to speak. "Keitaro... it's okay to hate her."
Keitaro began to shake at her words. He shut his eyes and turned his head away from Haruka's direction. Tears began to form. "No... no... NO! There is no reason to hate her! Since... since I'm the one to blame for all this!"
Haruka tried to keep her austere expression after hearing Keitaro's broken outburst. However, she began to feel cracks showing in her armor as she started her response. "Is that what you have been... conditioned to believe? I know what has been happening around here. What the girls have accused you of in the past. Until now, I admit I've watched from the sidelines and felt that none of it was all that big of a deal."
Keitaro continued to weep. He tried to respond between his sobs. "Except... except..."
"Except what?" Haruka said, with as much control as she could muster at this point. "Except that it was major? That you were really the 'monster' that they have all accused you of being in the past? That all of their accusations were true?"
"Ye... ye..." Keitaro was quickly cut off by Haruka.
"No Keitaro!" Haruka said in a slightly elevated voice. "I admit I was amused by the girls accusations about you. But it became quite clear that almost none of them were true."
Keitaro dug his fingernails into the wooden table. "But... but... what I did to Motoko's sister..."
"You didn't do anything to her." Haruka said as she bit down on her cigarette. Ash on the tip fell to the floor. Her hands began to dig into her forearms. Any deeper and her long fingernails might actually break the skin. "Don't you get it Keitaro?! Not everything here is your fault."
"No... it... it has to be my fault!" Keitaro eyes shot open and stared back at Haruka. "If I wasn't there... then I..."
"Then you WHAT?!" Haruka shouted back, breaking all control she had of her emotions. "You, doing what any good 'manager' would have done, attended to a resident when she called! It wasn't your are fault, it was HER?!"
"And what do you mean by it HAS to be YOUR fault?" Haruka grabbed her cigarette and crushed it on the floor, completely ignoring the fact that it was the straw mat that she was crushing it on. "So you're willing to take responsibility for everything?! Has it ever occurred to you that maybe, just maybe, the burden doesn't rest on you?!"
"I... I..." Keitaro started before quickly shaking his head. "But I... it... it just isn't right."
"How is it not right?!" Haruka took a few steps, and dropped to her knees as she glared at Keitaro. When Keitaro tried to look away, Haruka grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. "Do you see woman as weak? Something that needed protection from you? Over the years of living here, living with Naru, living with Mutsumi, living with Motoko of all people, do you think that they are weak?" Haruka said in a slightly lower, and more 'normal' tone than before.
"No..." Keitaro lightly shook his head. As much as he could from Haruka's grip on his face. "It's that... I... I vowed to protect all of them! I know I..."
"Protect all of them from what?" Haruka narrowed her eyes at him. "From other people? From your friends? From you?!" Haruka then dropped her head, breaking her intense gaze. "Of all the people, of all the 'men' that they had to worry about, you should be one of the last they should worry about."
Keitaro shaking began to subside a little. "It's that... I saw them all as... as family..."
"Hmph." Haruka smiled slightly as she looked back at him. "Is that so? And do you believe that that is no longer the case?"
"But what I did to Motoko's sister..." Keitaro quietly replied.
He was quickly cut off by Haruka pushing him to the ground. "Haven't you been listening to a word I've been saying?! What happened to this room is NOT your fault. What ever her reasons might have been, she didn't have to drag you in to it! Not... not like this! She isn't a resident of the Hinata Sou, and I am damn well going to make sure it stays that way!"
Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock, Tick, Tock...
Stillness returned to the room as Haruka and Keitaro seemed frozen in the moment. Only the clock refused to cooperate with the scene. Both tired and drained emotionally, neither felt like moving from their position until the other one took up the initiative. Neither was willing to take it up.
After relishing in the silence for the moment, Keitaro decided that it was time to stir. He slowly sat up and stared at Haruka with somber eyes. "I just... I... I can't allow myself to think that."
Haruka crawled back a few steps, following Keitaro's lead. "Keitaro..."
"I... when I looked into her eyes..." Keitaro stated as he dropped his gaze. "I... she was so sad. I just... I just..." Tears began falling again. "I just... wanted her to be happy!"
Haruka sighed as she embraced Keitaro. "I know. It's who you are. Something I, and the residents of this place have since taken for granted. Whatever you decide to do... I'll be here to support you. We're all here to support you." 'I just hope the choices you make now, are the right ones Keitaro. I truly do.'
At that moment, all that could be heard was the sound of Keitaro weeping into Haruka's shirt. The only thing that mattered now.
Ice Cream Shop
"I want a double banana sundae with banana chocolate chip ice cream!" Su proudly said to the ice cream server. She began to jump up and down on her stool.
"Eh?" The ice cream server raised an eyebrow. "Isn't that a bit much? I mean, that is a lot of ice cream for a little girl?"
"Well it is Su." Kitsune stated. "You'd be surprised with how much she eats!"
"Also..." The ice cream server continued. "Double banana sundae with banana chocolate chip ice cream? Isn't that... kind of redundant?"
"Just give it to her." Kitsune said in a less then cheery voice. "Needless to say, she loves bananas." 'I'm already going to pay a fortune for this. You don't need to rub it in. Now I seriously hope the magazine will pick up my next article!'
The ice cream server sighed. "Alright. If you say so. Don't blame me if she overdoses on potassium."
"Yeah." Kitsune raised her hands in a resigned expression. "She just loves her bananas. Hasn't been a problem so far. Heheheh."
The small ice cream shop was a recent addition to Hinata's retail establishments. The building itself was made of sturdy steel and concrete. The theme of the place, old American 50s style ice cream stand. Which was an odd modern addition to Hinata's traditionally Japanese architecture. Inside, the white tiled floors appeared untarnished as the overhead lights reflecting back from its surface. A 50's style clock, with its chrome edge, and neon lighted numbers and hands, hanged above the ice cream vendor. The metallic trims of the counter was polished into a mirrored shine. The round retro stools with its red vinyl covers, metallic trim, and base further added to the atmosphere. Even the employees wore uniforms reminiscent of old American movies like "American Graffiti", with its red bow tie, paper hat, and the red apron. A throw back to an era that was simpler and much less complicated.
The logic of placing an American looking establishment in Hinata, well, closer to the border of Hinata and Tokyo proper at least, never really clicked with Kitsune. While it was allowed due to the fact that it was closer to the much more modern cosmopolitan neighbor than old Hinata, it still seemed out of place compared to the rest of the district. After all, Hinata's charm, was in its Japanese style and culture. Something like this would seem like an insult to that way of life Kitsune thought.
Even so, it appeared that this place was successful enough to remain for the past, six months or so. Business it seemed, was booming for this unique establishment.
'And to be honest, I want to go someplace far away from the Hinata Sou, or anything that reminded of that place.' Kitsune thought as she waited for her order of double fudge chocolate sundae to arrive. As she eyed the ice cream vendor, the man smiled back at her as he tried to pass off the image of the always grateful and attentive server. 'From a simpler time huh? How I wish it was just like those old American 50s movies. Where crap like this never happens. And when in the end, everything will turn out the way it should.'
For a while, Kitsune began to relish in the change of venue. No Hinata Sou, no Keitaro, no Motoko, and no... Kitsune quickly shook her head at the thought of 'her'. 'This... is our time. Even if we're not exactly speaking to each other about... well, a lot of topics, still, this is our time. I'd rather be here than in there! Yeah! Yeah...' Kitsune began to tap the table as her patience for the sweet distraction has yet to arrive. 'But then, we have to go back eventually. And I don't... want to think about what will happen then. Can't he hurry it up?'
Shinobu began sucking down on her strawberry milkshake. Decided early on to forego the frozen delicacy, and instead, have something a little, less solid at least. As Shinobu's eyed Kitsune for a second, a slight frown appeared on Shinobu's face. She stopped consuming her milkshake and began to speak. "Kitsune? Is something wrong?"
"What?" Kitsune tried in vain to place a large smile on her face. "Nothing is the matter! What gave you that idea?"
"It just seemed that, you're not yourself, that's all." Shinobu said as she took another sip from her milkshake. "I mean, normally you don't treat anyone out. You usually have someone pay for it. Like Senpai."
Kitsune winced after Shinobu used 'Senpai'. While it was not his name, she knew exactly who she was referring too.
This did not go unnoticed by Shinobu. "Kitsune?"
"Oh, it's nothing!" Kitsune said smiling. "I just, I just wanted to be extra kind today. That's all! Hahahahahahaha..." Kitsune gave a someone strained laugh.
At that moment, the ice cream server presented Su with her 'prize'. "Here it is little girl! Your... double banana sundae with banana chocolate chip ice cream." The man strained his smile a bit. "Now don't eat too much or too fast or you might get sick."
"Ooooooooooooo." Su said as she stared at her soon to be devoured entree. "Mmmmmmmmmm. Bananas! Too bad Keitaro couldn't come!"
Again, Kitsune began to shake. This time, it began rattling her teeth a bit as his name was actually mentioned this time.
The server then handed Kitsune her order. "Double fudge chocolate sundae for you ma'am!"
'Finally!' Kitsune thought as she smiled brightly. "Great! We can now eat!" Kitsune began to dig into her ice cream. Her spoon seemingly tearing apart the ice cream and banana with a bit more force than what would otherwise be necessary. Relishing in the slightly bitter taste of the chocolate. "Mmmmmm. I never remembered this being so good!" A bit of the fudge began trickling down Kitsune's mouth, but she did not care. No, at the moment, this was what all that mattered at the moment.
Shinobu stopped sucking down her milkshake for a moment, and sighed. "Anoooooooo... I... I might be naÃ¯ve but... I can tell something is very wrong." Shinobu looked at Kitsune with saddened eyes. "What happened to Senpai?"
Kitsune's smile began to falter as the girl next to her just had to slam reality back into her face. "Like I said I'll... I'll tell you later Shinobu."
"Hey! Don't forget me!" Sarah butted in. "What... what exactly happened in that room? When I saw Haruka's expression when I left... it..." Sarah shivered a bit as she remembered the older woman's expression.
"So you saw her?" Kitsune blinked before taking a deep sigh. "How am I going to say this?" She mumbled to herself when she noticed even Su was staring at her. "Um..."
"Yeah." Su said her cheery expression dissipating a bit. "What happened in that room that has everyone all sad and depressed about?"
"It... I..." Kitsune head shot from Su's gaze to the right of her, and then to Shinobu's and Sarah's gaze to the left of her. Swiveling from side to side on her stool to get a better angle of the three girls. "Well, eh, um... you see... it's... something that has to do with adults! Yeah! That's it!"
"Awwwwww. So you can't tell me?" Su began to pout as she began to give Kitsune a pleading expression. One that seemed way too cute Kitsune would add. "Come on, I can handle it!"
"It isn't that..." Kitsune began to scratch the back of her head furiously. She really did not want to be the center of attention one bit here. Certainly not with what she seen. And she was not sure exactly what she had seen either. "Heheh... eh..."
"Come on Kitsune." Shinobu too, began to plead. "Can't you... give us a hint. Anooooooo... if it is too 'adult', we won't go too far. But, it just seemed that, what ever happened in that room is affecting everyone. And... Senpai... what happened to Senpai? Is he alright? Can't you tell us that at least?"
"Yeah." Sarah huffed at Kitsune's lack of response. "I mean come on? What did that dork..."
"HE DIDN'T DO ANYTHING!" Kitsune cried out suddenly. Breathing hard, she suddenly cringed as she realized what she just did. The live and active ambiance of the shop suddenly became very quiet and still. Her eyes widened a bit as she glanced around the shop.
The Su, Shinobu, and Sarah, all cowered back from their seats after Kitsune's outburst. All stunned silent and fearful after seeing Kitsune like this. Something that she never did before. As she swiveled back in her chair, she could see that she had garnered the attention of the other patrons as well. She gave an embarrassed wave back at them and apologized. "Sorry! Hehehe. Must have been something I a... um, took this morning! Yeah!" Kitsune suddenly sank down with her face red. While she admitted that she had no problem making a scene, not when all of the attention was on her. "Anyways, let's all eat up! Mmmmm. Delicious! Hahahahahahaha!" Kitsune at that point began shoveling down her ice cream in a vain attempt to deflect attention away from her.
After a few moments, the patrons around her lost interest in her, and began to go about in their merry way.
Kitsune's eyes wandered about the room, and then stopped her mad consumption for the moment. She took a deep breath and sighed. "Well, at least that is over..." Kitsune said quietly to herself. That was when she felt a slight tug at her shirt sleeve. Kitsune gave a slightly frightful eye as she knew who was tugging at her shirt sleeve.
"Kit... Kit... Kitsune?!" Shinobu stuttered out as tears began to form. "Is it... is... I... Senpai..."
Kitsune sighed. She then eyed Sarah and Su who both held very fearful expressions at her. She could not blame them given her loss of control recently. 'This isn't going to end is it?' Kitsune shook her head in defeat. 'Guess I'll have to tell them something.' "I'm... not really sure what to say about it except... what happened, what I think happened, wasn't good."
"Was Senpai... hurt?" Shinobu began, a single tear began to fall.
"I... I guess you can say that." Kitsune tentatively said. Her voice barely audible.
Sarah's mouth was slightly open as she began to contemplate exactly what had caused the 'Fox' to be like this. She suddenly regretted pushing for an answer that was probably much worse than her young mind could have imagined. "Is... is the do... Keitaro going to be okay?"
"I... I'm not sure." Kitsune replied honestly. "What happened... hasn't really happened to him before..." 'And something that should have never happened.' She mentally added.
The normally joyful Su, lowered her head downheartedly. While she knew that whatever had happen had a depressing effect on the Hinata Sou, she was hoping that this event would blow over like the other times. This was not to say that she did not understand the seriousness of what might have happened (if anyone told her outright what did happen). After all, being a royal princess with the ability to age during a red moon was enough to 'grow her up' so to speak. The only reason why she retained, and remained as a playful child was due to the fact that she wanted to hold on to her childhood for as long as she can. Since being the princess of the Molmol nation, by default, the weight of responsibility would have been bearing down on her. Making what little of her childhood years much shorter than anyone else. So when she came to the Hinata Sou, she had hoped that the playful atmosphere of the place would remain there forever.
That hope was starting to fade.
"Should we go back?" Sarah tentatively said. "I mean, if he's hurt or something, should... we be there to... help him I guess?"
Kitsune only nodded back a response. In her heart, she knew it was what Keitaro needed at this point. She was just unsure how to give him that 'help' and support.
"Don't worry!" Su smiled as she tried to return to her cheerful ways. "I'm sure after a few weeks, things will go back to normal! You'll see!"
Kitsune smiled at the girl's optimism. However... "I would love to think that Su! I really do! But..." Kitsune's voice began to trail off. "I'm afraid things will never go back to the way they are. No matter how hard we try."
After that, the three girls sat and ate their desserts in silence. None of them looking forward to returning to the Hinata Sou anytime soon.
Back at the Hinata Sou...
Tsuruko sat quietly on the couch in the living room area right next to the stairs. She was wearing a spare Kimono that Haruka had lent to her the night before. She was not sure why Haruka would give this to her to borrow. The only thing that came to mind was the idea that she should be 'decent' when she sees him, or any of the residents again. Maybe Haruka also wanted to lesson the impact of her transgression by not having her wear her own now, tattered and stained kimono. Although why she would want to do that, considering the sin that she committed, was currently beyond Tsuruko's comprehension.
Next to her was a lone tree that was Tsuruko's only living company there. Of course, it was also an unwilling one at that. 'I'm sure if it could move, it too would try and avoid me at all cost.' Tsuruko thought sadly. She came here as instructed by a not so apathetic Haruka that she remembered when she was here. She remembered her eyes, changed from that of a mere 'observer' to someone full of, what she could be described as 'controlled rage'. 'That woman,' Tsuruko noted, 'is used to controlling her emotions. Not allowing herself to show others what she truly felt most of the time. So when I...' Tsuruko's thoughts trailed off as it began.
When she heard the muffled sounds of loud screaming reached her ears, Tsuruko immediately cringed. The woman she said who was in full control of her emotions, no longer seemed to have it. As she looked around the now empty living room, she remembered what she said the day that she arrived. When she noted how everyone seemed to be so happy around here. How that feeling had a relaxing feeling for her. A joyful atmosphere that seemed to be unique to this place. An atmosphere that she knew...
That she had shattered forever.
'What have I done? My selfishness...' Tsuruko thought gloomily. She felt like crying at that point, but held back for she knew that her tears would have done nothing to reverse the actions that she had done. She thought about looking up towards the staircase next to her, but quickly decided against it. For it would have made it even more difficult to keep her composure.
Seconds turned into minutes. The waiting was complete agony for her. She already knew her crime, and she already knew the verdict. All she needed now was the punishment. 'Maybe this is it.' Tsuruko thought. Though she knew, it had to be much worse than this.
Suddenly, the lone sound of footsteps reached Tsuruko's ears. While she had prepared for this moment, her hands still shook at what she might say. In Tsuruko's mind, it seemed like the executioner was coming down the stairs with each step she took. And that was just fine given how things now stood.
As Haruka reached the bottom of the stairs, she slowly turned her head towards Tsuruko. Her face, back to what appeared to be a stoic state, and with the cigarette hanging from her mouth, stood over the kendo woman. Her arms crossed as she stared down the Tsuruko. She slowly approached the kendo woman, one step at a time, while never breaking eye contact with her.
Tsuruko continued to focus on Haruka. She waited for the words that would impale her for the sins she committed.
Haruka exhaled a puff of long smoke, before she began. "Tell me Tsuruko... why shouldn't I call the police and have them take you away?"
Tsuruko's eyes widened a bit, before she glanced down at the table in front of her. "To be honest, I'm still wondering why you haven't. For I have no excuses that would be sufficient. It isn't like I have an excuse to run away or anything."
"Hmph." Haruka responded. "I guess that should be the answer I should expect. After all, you're a woman who that follows a strict honor code. Running away isn't quite honorable."
Tsuruko cringed for she can sense the sarcasm in Haruka's voice.
"Then again..." Haruka wearily eyed Tsuruko. "I'm not sure what kind of honor code allows you to..."
"Could you please get on with it?" Tsuruko quietly said. "I'm well aware of what I did."
"Do you?" Haruka asked incredulously. "Do you really know the full extent of what you did?"
"Do you want me to say it?" Tsuruko said. Her jaw quivering slightly.
Haruka shook her head. "No. Keitaro told me enough about what had happened. Once I got him calm down enough for him to tell me that is." Haruka watched Tsuruko drop her head slightly at her comment before she continued. "Unless of course you want to tell me your side of the story."
"No." Tsuruko said in a barely audible tone. "I'm sure he told how everything happened."
"Hmph." Haruka grunted her response again. "You mean like the fact that it was all his fault for taking advantage of you?"
"What?!" Tsuruko's head shot up to meet Haruka's. "But... no... that... that isn't..."
"That isn't what happened?" Haruka said in her controlled tone of voice. "That's what he told me. Are you telling me he's wrong?"
"Well... it... you see..." Tsuruko bit her lip as she was 'forced' to recall the memories of that night. "It was all my fault! I... I was the one who was drinking! I was the one that called him into my room! I was the one that... that... that... r... r... RAPED HI..."
Haruka waved Tsuruko off. "I don't need to hear it from you. It's more important for your conscious to know what you did." Haruka took the cigarette out and blew a puff of smoke out. "Of course, you asked me a while ago why you're not arrested and thrown in jail yet correct?"
"Well... you..." Tsuruko stopped as she sees Haruka's piecing gaze. "Yes."
"Hmph." Haruka sounded before continuing. "Because that isn't what Keitaro wants."
"What?" Tsuruko said shocked. "But I... he..."
"I told you what his mindset was didn't I?" Haruka took a deep breath before continuing. "He believes that he was at fault. And so you shouldn't have to suffer for his doing. At least, suffer anymore than what he believed he put you through."
"I know." Tsuruko frowned. "But still I... you..."
"What I think is irrelevant." Haruka sighed. "I may think what he wants in this case is wrong, but I told myself that I would support him no matter what he decides." Haruka took a deep drag. "Besides, he's the one at the center of all this. Not me."
Tsuruko dropped her head even lower. "I still can't believe it..."
"Believe it." Haruka took a few steps closer to Tsuruko. She was now mere inches from the kendo woman. "I want you to know who you did this too. While he has plenty of faults, one thing that has never wavered from him was his commitment to the people around him. Mainly, the women that have all lived here. To him, they weren't just residents that needed to stay for one reason or the other." Haruka touched her face as she reminisced the many memories she had with Keitaro, and the stories she heard within the Hinata Sou when she was not there. "No matter how much of a hard time we give him, no matter how many times he could do something, he always got up and tried his best to accomplish his goal. And even so, he would almost always put the wellbeing of the girls ahead of his own. To him, they were all family that he needed to protect."
Tsuruko felt the tears beginning to well up as what kind of person Keitaro was, the person she violated, what he truly was like.
"And that includes you."
As hard as Tsuruko tried, she could not keep a single tear from falling. "Is... is there anything you want me to do? To atone for this?"
"Atone?" Haruka narrowed her eyes. "To be honest, I don't think there is anything you could do that could 'atone' for this. Besides, I'm not the one you should be asking."
Tsuruko shut her yes in the hope that more tears would not fall. "Where... where is he now?"
"Still sitting in ground zero the last I saw him." Haruka said as she looked up behind her towards the top of the staircase. "I tried to convince him to leave. Told him I'll deal with the mess in there. But... he refused."
'I... I think that would be better than seeing me at least.' Tsuruko thought as her mind wandered to another member that was greatly affected by this. "What... what about Motoko? How is she doing?"
Haruka shrugged while keeping her arms crossed. "Don't know. She has been in her room since this morning. And she hasn't left since."
"I see." Tsuruko said as she glanced at nothing in particular.
The room became as quiet as a mausoleum. There was not much that Tsuruko could say to the woman. Either in her defense, or to further her condemnation. Though after a few moments in the silence, she asked the only thing that was of any relevance in her mind.
"Where do I go from here?" Tsuruko said unsure what the answer should be.
"That... I can't tell you." Haruka lightly shook her head. "You're free to go. I have no reason to keep you here. But..." Haruka's gazed to the side.
"But?" Tsuruko repeated with curiosity.
"We're... well, he isn't kicking you out either." Haruka frowned slightly.
"He... isn't?" Tsuruko asked tentatively.
"Didn't you pay attention to anything I said?" Haruka replied with a bit of venom in her voice. "He places the happiness of others before him. That includes you."
If any of this was meant to put Tsuruko's mind at ease, it was not succeeding. Of course, if her goal was to make her feel even more guilty, than it was doing a fine job of doing just that. "I... I... I don't deserve that kindness!"
"I don't believe that you deserve that kindness either. But that is the way he is." Haruka's frown deepened. After seeing the kendo woman appear to start another rain of tears, decided to qualify her statement about him. "Look, it isn't like he doesn't care about himself every so often. After all, while everyone was telling him that he couldn't get into Toudai, he ignored them all, and worked his hardest to achieve that goal. Took him around three times to do it, but in the end, without the help of anyone else, he achieved this dream. And it was his dream, no one else's. At least initially."
Tsuruko sat quietly for the moment. She was unsure how to continue. She certainly had no idea what to think, or how to make this right in her mind. At the mention of dreams, she could not help but be taken back to the time before all of this happened, how she believed that she would one day, instead of inheriting the school, she would be happily married, have children, and pass her art to them. Only some of that has come to pass. And the first, was never really happy.
"Of course where you go from here, is up to you." Haruka commented as she snuffed out another cigarette on the ash tray. At the rate she was going, she was going to burn up another pack by the end of the day. "Like I said, Keitaro is not kicking you out. Just don't expect the atmosphere to be as 'happy' as it was if you do decide to stay."
After Haruka's words, Tsuruko sat and contemplated her position. Where would she go now? For a while, she had been stuck in the here and now. Too wrapped up in the moment to focus on anything else. Mainly... her future. 'Where can I go? I... I can't go back to Kyoto. Not like this! But then... can I really go back at all?' Tsuruko's head lowered. 'The only thing I am certain though is where I can't stay.' Tsuruko looked up towards Haruka and gave her answer. "I'll... I'll be gone by the end of the day."
"Hmph." Haruka grunted her answer.
"And..." Tsuruko began feeling the side of the kimono she was wearing.
"Keep it." Haruka said bluntly. "It isn't like I have much use for it now anyways. Besides, the one that you wore earlier, needs to be cleaned. At the very least."
Tsuruko nodded. "I'll pack my stuff and be on my way." Tsuruko said as she slowly got up from the couch.
Tsuruko gasped at the sound. 'It... it couldn't be him. No...'
Even Haruka was noticeably surprised by the intrusion. "Keitaro?" She looked back at the man who was quickly making his way down the stairs. Her melancholy eyes catching his descending figure.
"No!" Keitaro said as one of his feets missed a step, which sent him tumbling down to the bottom. Of course any humor that might have came from this, was quickly discarded due to the seriousness of the events around him.
"Keita..." Tsuruko barely spoke out.
Keitaro got back on his feet, rounded the corner between the stairs and the couch that Tsuruko was standing in front of. Before Tsuruko could speak another word, Keitaro spoke. "No. You... you're welcome to stay as long as you want."
"But Keitaro... I..." Tsuruko tried to look away, for the longer she looked at him, the more her resolved to leave crumbled. But she was not able to look away from Keitaro's pleading. "You... you don't have to do this! After all, I..."
"Please? I'm begging you." Keitaro dropped to his knees as he looked up at Tsuruko. "I... I'll clean up the room as best as I can. You don't have to pay rent for the next three months, six months, year, as long as you stay here!"
Haruka began biting the end of her teeth. She hated seeing Keitaro like this. While she has seen Keitaro depressed before, never as broken down like this.
"Please." Keitaro knelled over in a begging position. "I can't... you shouldn't have to worry about where you're staying tonight. I... it's the least I can do." Drops of tears began to fall to the ground.
"Keitaro I..." Tsuruko dropped to her knees next to Keitaro as she felt her strength evaporate. "Oh Keitaro..." She tentatively laid a hand on his back in an effort to comfort the man. Snapping it back a few times before she allowed it to rest on his back as doubt kept creeping up in her mind as to whether or not this was truly right.
Haruka reflexively shut her fist at the scene in front of her. As much as she hated the woman in front of her, she knew she could not do anything against her. 'Whatever you decide Keitaro, I'll be by your side.'
"Okay." Tsuruko gently said. "I'll... I'll stay." Tsuruko eyed the woman next to her. The eyes she saw were full of contempt and hatred for her.
Haruka broke eye contact with Tsuruko and turned to face the exit. "I'll be around. The other girls should be getting back soon and... I want them to feel as if things are returning back to normal." 'Which will never be the case. Especially with YOU here.' After giving one last piercing gaze at Tsuruko, Haruka turned and walked down the hallway.
Leaving the two suffering people alone in their grief.
Hinata Sou - Multiple Rooms
As it should have been expected, life in the Hinata Sou never really returned back to normal.
Kitsune tried, in her own way to, liven up the place. However, the most she could do was buy more booze and drink it till she passed out. Not exactly the road to lifting the heavy atmosphere of the place.
Shinobu tried to act as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Mainly, she did the cooking and the laundry without question. Though the other residents might have noticed that, Shinobu had been engrossed a bit more into the work than usual. The most that she had spoken to anyone were in response to the compliments to her cooking during meal time. At times though, it did seem that she wanted to talk to Keitaro. Possibly to discuss what had happen, or to give help him deal with the burden placed on him. However, she never was able to build up the courage to confront him.
Su was... Su for the most part. Though even the atmosphere of the place was too heavy for her to go about in her normally carefree attitude. She would go about, as cheerful as she could be, waving and playing around the Hinata Sou with her toys. She even got Keitaro to join in on her fun a few times. But the smile that Su saw on his face, did not seem the most genuine she would later surmise. She certainly disregarded the notion that she would use him as a guinea pig, for the time being at least, and in the back of her mind, for the rest of her stay there too.
Sarah seemed to go back to some sort of routine. Leave her room, eat breakfast, play with Su, eat lunch, play with Su some more, eat dinner, play with Su some more, and then go to bed. She did however try to avoid two certain people at the dorm. More so one of them than the other.
Haruka was also at the Hinata Sou more than she would normally be given her duties at the Tea House. For one thing, she was now present at each dinner that Shinobu prepared. She could also be seen helping Keitaro around the house, another thing that she never did before. Not to say that she would get in the way of Keitaro if he felt that he needed to do something on his own, but she would help lessen the burden for Keitaro on most everyday aspects of running the Hinata Sou. While it was true that they knew that she genuinely was concerned about Keitaro's well being, none of them actually thought that Haruka would go as far as stay at the Hinata Sou more just to check up on. Not that she was always there given her other obligations that she had would never go away. Still, this was not a sight that the other girls of the place would ever get used to. Certainly more than if something, not necessarily similar, but bad had happened to the other girls or to Keitaro. Obviously, she felt that what had happened, was something that needed special attention.
Motoko refused to leave her room most of the time. The only times she was not in her personal cell was when she had to go to the bathroom or take a bath. Though where she took that bath was unknown by the residence because none of them ever saw her in the hot springs, or entering or exiting one of the private baths on the property. The most anyone can do for her was leave food out in front of her door in the hopes that she would eat it. After a day and half, when Shinobu came by to check on the food she left, she was grateful that the food was readily absent from the dishes that remained at her doorstep.
As worried as any of the residents were at Motoko basically shutting herself off with the rest of the world, none of them had the courage to confront or even check up on her. The only one that could talk to her arguably, was Tsuruko or Keitaro. Neither of whom had the courage to do just that.
Speaking of the two, in Keitaro's case, he had been keeping himself busy with the maintenance and the cleaning of the Hinata Sou. While he was not avoiding the residents like the younger kendo girl was, he was not actively seeking their attention either. He seemed to put everything into in the work. He even waved off most help from Haruka or any of the other girls that suggested doing some of it. And each time he did, he did it was a smile, and said something along the lines of "Don't worry. I can do this just fine. Don't worry about it!" Of course, his words and his smile were in complete contradiction to his mood. While none of the girls ever brought it up for fear of causing another flood of tears and pain for the already wounded man, it was clear that he was trying to hide his true feelings from the others. As if, that would make the other girls worry less about him.
Which obviously had the opposite effect as everyone had a sudden interest in keeping an eye on Keitaro.
It was not like that Keitaro did not engage in any conversations. If any of the other residents wanted to talk to him, they could. Just that, the conversation were almost universally light in content, and all avoided discussion on 'it'.
Tsuruko on the other hand, while it appeared that everyone in the Hinata Sou was concern about Keitaro's well being. Almost none of them cared about hers. As she walked down the hallway, the resident woman, Shinobu, Su, Kitsune, and Haruka all avoided meeting her. Tsuruko could recall one event where Kitsune was about to leave to do something, only to quickly return to her room when she saw her. She also recalled Kitsune giving her a disapproving look before shutting the door on her. Well, at least Shinobu tried to be friendly with her. Shinobu did not try to, outwardly avoid her. She would even acknowledge her presence a few times. And she did give a friendly smile or two towards Tsuruko. Tsuruko herself did give thanks at the wonderful meals that Shinobu cooked for her. Which was pretty much the only benefit she had staying here. And in her mind, that was more than she deserved.
Everyone else however, gave her the cold shoulder. Haruka in particular made sure that she was not welcomed there. Even Su would make it her personal mission to get rid of her as her attacks seemed to be directed at her. The few times she had caught Motoko out of her room, she quickly ran away, avoiding even being close to her.
The only one that seemed to be actively pursuing her companionship, was the last person she wanted it to be. When the others refused to call her to dinner, Keitaro took it upon himself to get her. Whenever her laundry, what little she had at least, needed to be done, Keitaro was there to get it. And when she needed a favor, like where the bathroom was or the best place to get a drink (non-alcoholic of course), it was Keitaro that helped her.
No matter how many times she tried to wave him away, he would always be there trying to improve her well being. And each time he did something for her, the worse and worse she felt.
This can't continue.
Hinata Sou - Tsuruko's Room
As Tsuruko sat alone in the room... the same room where it happened (since the other ones were already occupied, and Tsuruko refused to switch rooms with Keitaro's), wearing the clothes that she came in with (which has since been cleaned since that night), the only thought in her mind was what must be done to correct this injustice. The only honorable thing she could do.
Tsuruko, knelling down in front of her scabbard, contained the sword that she would have used to teach Motoko a lesson. Funny how purpose of an object can change due to one night. As she picked up her the sword, she held the handle on one end, and released a bit of it from its scabbard. Just enough so that she could see her reflection on the blade.
"I have been a coward." Tsuruko said to herself as she peered into the sword's reflection. "I should have done this earlier. The only way my soul is to be cleansed, and to cleanse the stain of the sins I have committed here, lies with this in my hands."
-------End of Chapter 2
And so, the long wait... is over! Sorry about that but, as you could see, this fic, one of my most challenging fics to write. Certainly on an emotional standpoint this story is 'heavy hitting'. I might write something a little more light hearted next time to get out of this mood. Maybe... Valiant Shinji? Or Fullmetal Evangelion?
Thanks to the wonderful people at TFF, and in particular, Lord Raa, PCHeintz72 and Sigfried27 for their help in Betaing this. And of course, all remaining mistakes... the fault lies with them. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAhhahahahahahahahah.
coughSeriously. All mistakes are mine and mine alone. And so I am to blame for them.cough
Next chapter... Tsuruko has made up her mind. But is that what everyone in the Hinata Sou wants? Until then... later.