Atonement: Rei's Story
by Jason C. Ulloa
Rei watched from the steps of the haiden as Ryoku and Makoto slowly went through a slow martial arts kata, each move graceful and precise as they mirrored each other perfectly. Each punch traveled exactly the same distance. Each kick flew at exactly the same angle. It was amazing, even after watching it several times before.
She had learned a lot of their style of kenpo from Ryoku. She wasn't quite at their level of skill just yet, but she wasn't that far away, either. It also helped that Makoto was good at helping her get down the moves that she had trouble with.
School had started up again and now they were all in seventh grade. The route they usually took to school changed since they had to accommodate for Ryoku going to Juuban Junior High. Fortunately, the new path didn't take Rei and Makoto too far out of their way.
That was the beginning of their new school routine. Rei, Makoto, and Ryoku would leave the jinja together and meet with Usagi on the way before she and Ryoku had to part ways to go to Juuban Junior High. After school, they would repeat the same process, but in reverse.
Rei slowly stretched her arms as the two siblings' kata drew to a close. As they prepared to start sparring with each other, Rei slowly cast her mind back a couple of weeks to the night when Ryoku had come into her room to talk to her about Keiko. After that short talk, she had expected Ryoku to show some kind of change or something, but he continued to act the same as he always did. It was frustrating; just when she thought she would finally get somewhere with him, he would pull back, telling her something was unimportant or something similar.
Shaking her head, she decided to focus instead on the progress of Ryoku's priest training. He had come pretty far during the short time she had trained him. He wasn't anywhere near her level yet, but he was nearing the point where she would have to turn Ryoku over to Grandpa for the rest of his instruction. It would be a shame; she really enjoyed the time she spent training him. They would still spend time together when Grandpa would train them in the same lessons, but for the most part, it would be just her by herself, as Ryoku still needed a long time to catch up with her.
The raven-haired miko blinked as she turned to regard Makoto. "Hmm?" She had been so absorbed in her thoughts that she hadn't noticed that they had stopped sparring.
"Something on your mind? You seemed to be deep in thought for a while," Makoto added with an inquisitive tilt to her head.
"Nothing, really," Rei shook her head. "Just thinking."
The taller girl merely shrugged and let the matter drop.
"Hey, where's Ryo-kun?" she asked as she glanced around the grounds. The ponytailed boy was nowhere to be seen.
"Oh, Grandpa wanted to talk with him for a little while," Makoto replied, then grinned. "Hey, do you wanna try sparring with me for a little bit? I promise I'll take it easy on you."
Rei sniffed as she stood up. "Don't take me too lightly. I have been practicing what you and Ryo-kun have taught me."
Makoto's grin widened as Rei advanced. "Oh? Then, let's see how much you've improved."
The miko nodded and rushed forward as her opponent settled into a defensive stance and waited.
Ryoku shifted a little in his seat in the living room as he waited. Grandpa seemed very solemn when he asked to speak with him. Maybe it had something to do with his priest training? Did Grandpa think he was ready to start receiving training from him personally? It had been almost two years since he started his training; was his progress that rapid? Would he still be trained by Rei on certain things? He was certain that he hadn't learned everything that he was supposed to learn at Rei's level of mastery.
Now that he thought about it, it probably wasn't likely that that was the case. So, what did Grandpa want to talk to him about? He shifted again and grimaced at the feel of his sweaty gi on his body. Couldn't this have waited until he had taken a bath? Makoto would probably be taking one now. He hoped she'd leave everything ready for him when she was done with hers.
Grandpa entered the room with a tray just as Ryoku shifted in his seat again. The tray had two tea cups and a tea pot, which he set down on the table just before sitting down across from him. Grandpa then poured two cups of tea, offering one to Ryoku before taking the other one for himself. Ryoku took a single sip and set the cup down on the table, waiting for Grandpa to say something.
"You've been here for quite a while, haven't you, Ryo-kun?" he said after taking a single sip of his tea.
Ryoku blinked. That wasn't exactly a question he was expecting. "I guess so," he nodded, his brows furrowed in confusion.
"In the time since you've started training to become a Shinto priest, you've made amazing progress," he added with a proud nod.
"Rei-chan's a good teacher."
Grandpa nodded again. "Yes, but you still have a way to go, my boy. Still, it won't be that long before I start training you myself." His expression turned serious. "That is one of the reasons why I wanted to talk with you. What exactly are your goals for the future right now?"
He blinked again. "Goals?"
The elderly man nodded. "Yes. I ask you because, as you can see, I'm an old man and I won't be around forever."
"You? Old?" Ryoku retorted with a smirk. "Hah! You could run circles around guys half your age. If only Oyaji was as energetic as you."
"Yes, yes," Grandpa said, rubbing the back of his head and smiling in embarrassment. "Well, I've always been young at heart and...." He quickly cleared his throat and took on a serious expression again. "Anyway, I'm not THAT young anymore, Ryo-kun. I have to start thinking about the future of the Hikawa Jinja. Someone has to take over after I'm gone and I wanted to know how serious you were in becoming a priest."
Ryoku gave him an astonished look. "What? Are you seriously thinking of asking me to take over? What about Rei-chan? I thought she was going to take over for you!"
Grandpa's expression grew even more somber. "Well, that's another reason why I wanted to talk with you. Can I ask you to be completely honest with me?"
The seriousness of that question made Ryoku give pause for a moment before reaching for his tea. "Of course, Grandpa," he agreed and took a long pull from the cup before setting it down again. "If it's that important, I will."
"Ryo-kun, how do you feel about Rei?"
"What?" he said, frowning uncertainly. "How do I feel about her? She's my friend," he added in a tone to suggest that the answer was obvious.
"That's not what I meant," Grandpa clarified, shaking his head. "What I wanted to know is whether or not there is something more than just friendship between you two."
"More than...," Ryoku began, but trailed off.
"You don't have to answer right away," Grandpa cut in. "I can tell you haven't really considered it. I don't blame you; especially since I just sprung this on you from out of nowhere."
Ryoku shook his head. "It's all right, Grandpa," he told him. "To be honest, I like Rei-chan as a friend. As for whether or not I think there is something more between us...." He paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. "There are times when I'm happy just to be with her and there are times when she gets me so upset that I have to get away. She makes me smile, she confuses me, she hugs me, and she hits me. But despite all that, there's no one else I'd rather go through all of that with."
Grandpa considered Ryoku for a few moments, then nodded as he took another sip of his tea. "I understand," he finally said with a small smile. "Either way, I'm not going anywhere for a while yet. There's plenty of time to figure it out."
The ponytailed boy sighed. "Don't worry me like that, Grandpa!" he complained as he finished his tea. "I was afraid something had happened or was going to happen."
"Sorry, Ryo-kun," Grandpa laughed sheepishly. "Don't mind me. Anyway, you should go change out of those clothes and into some clean ones. I'll clean up here."
"Sure," Ryoku said as he got up from the table. "Thanks, Grandpa."
After Ryoku left, Grandpa sighed as he started to gather the tea cups. "Sorry, Ryo-kun," he said to himself as he picked up Ryoku's cup and placed it on the tray. "I just wanted to make sure that Rei and the jinja are taken care of before I go. That's all."
Makoto raised a hand as she backed away, signaling an end to their practice session. "Okay, Rei-chan, you're doing much better than before," she said with a pleased look on her face. "However, you need to work on tightening your defense. I was able to tag you way more times than I should've been."
Rei nodded as she wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Still, you're way better than I am, so of course you'd get me. I mean, I haven't been practicing martial arts for as long as you have."
The ponytailed girl shrugged as she adjusted the belt at her gi. "True enough. Anyway, I'm going to stay out here and practice for a little bit longer. You might as well go take a bath first. Just leave everything ready for me when you're done, all right?"
"Sure," she nodded as she went inside.
As Rei made her way through the hallway, she heard muffled voices coming from the living room. 'Probably Grandpa and Ryo-kun,' she thought to herself as her steps slowed to a stop at the door. The voices were too muffled to hear clearly, but from the tone of the voices, it sounded important.
'I probably shouldn't be listening to this.' She shook her head and turned to leave, but hesitated before turning back to the door, curiosity taking over.
'I shouldn't be listening, but...,' she thought as she leaned close enough to the door to make out some of what they were saying.
"...another reason why I wanted to talk with you. Can I ask you to be completely honest with me?"
"Of course, Grandpa. If it's that important, I will."
"Ryo-kun, how do you feel about Rei?"
Rei almost jerked back in surprise. That wasn't what she was expecting at all. Part of her wanted to turn and leave right now, but another part of her wanted to stay and hear the answer. This was a private conversation, and besides, this was her best friend. It wasn't fair to him to be listening in on this.
However... this also had to do with her. How he truly felt about her. His private feelings were a secret that she had never really gotten a good look at before. She'd had brief glimpses during those rare times that he either dropped his guard or chose to show them to her, but that was it. This was a very rare opportunity to learn something that she had been wondering about ever since he gave her that book with that poem written in it. Could she really pass this rare chance up?
"What? How do I feel about her? She's my friend."
Her expression fell when she heard those words. Still, what was she expecting? He hadn't said anything wrong; they were friends. That was it, wasn't it? It's not like there was anything more between them.
"That's not what I meant. What I wanted to know is whether or not there is something more than just friendship between you two."
This time, Rei did turn and leave. The way he had trailed off... it sounded almost like he had come across something he hadn't thought of before.
Much like herself, now that she thought of it.
Rei shook her head as she increased her pace toward the furo. She was not going to think about this now. She was going to take a bath, she was going to relax, and she was going to figure this all out later.
The water from the furo had been emptied earlier this morning, so she didn't have to worry about doing it herself. The water heater usually didn't take that long to warm up, so all she had to do was to let the water fill the furo. It would reach the proper temperature as filled the tub; meanwhile, she could change out of her clothes and start washing herself as it did.
As the water started to fill the tub, she headed back to the changing room. Once in the changing room, she stopped as she realized that because her mind was on the conversation she overheard earlier, she forgot to get a clean set of robes from her room. With an irritable sigh, she strode over to her room.
'Stupid Ryo-kun, making a mess of my head again. I'm going to have to work him hard later during training. That'll teach him.'
After that talk with Grandpa, Ryoku had been doing some heavy thinking as he trudged to the furo with his normal hakama robes in hand. As far as he knew, Grandpa was fine. He still had quite a few years of life in him yet, so why was he worried about the jinja now? No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't see the reason in it.
'I still can't believe he could seriously consider me taking over when Rei-chan is much more qualified than me to take over. How could he do that to Rei-chan?' He shook his head. 'No, that can't be it, either. He loves and trusts her. Besides, she's been training for it her entire life. There's no way that Grandpa would pass the jinja on to someone like me, who had just barely started his training. There's just got to be something else to this.'
Ryoku slid the door open to the changing room and glanced at the door. The 'occupied' sign wasn't hung. "Done already, Mako-chan?" he said to himself as he set his clothes aside and started to undress. Halfway through, he stopped as he noticed that his shampoo bottle was empty.
"Mako-chan...," he grumbled under his breath as he put his clothes back on and grabbed the offending empty shampoo bottle. "If you're going to use my shampoo, at least get me a new bottle when you finish it." He sighed as he stepped out of the room, grumbling to himself as he went.
Rei tried to clear her mind as she returned to the furo. She had taken a little longer than she had anticipated to get the bath ready due to her forgetting her clean change of clothes, so now the tub was starting to overflow. It was fine, though, since the floor had drains at the foot and sides of the tub to catch and drain overflow.
She went into the room to turn off the water, then went back into the changing room to disrobe. In the corner, she noticed that Ryoku's hakama robes were sitting, neatly folded. He was probably going to use the furo after he finished speaking with Grandpa. Seeing his robes there made her cheeks flush slightly as she remembered what she had last heard Grandpa say.
'What I wanted to know is whether or not there is something more than just friendship between you two.'
She had never thought about other boys like that before. They were mostly too immature and stupid for her to bother with. Besides, having to attend an all-girls school, and a Catholic one at that, didn't give her much of an opportunity to meet any. Her experiences with the opposite sex were pretty much limited to her interactions with Ryoku. It wasn't as if she had never seen another boy; it was just that since she didn't have any friends outside of Makoto, Ryoku, and Usagi, and since she had her duties and training as a miko, she had never had any reason to really go out of her way to meet anyone.
Besides, wasn't this all too soon anyway? She had just recently turned twelve and Ryoku had been thirteen for only a few months. And it wasn't like he had ever asked her out on a date, anyway....
Her cheeks started to flush even more as she made an effort to steer her thoughts away from the direction they had suddenly turned. She really needed to clear her mind and think.
She placed her clean change of clothes on the opposite side of the room from Ryoku's clothes and went into the furo. She sat down on a stool next to the tub, as she dipped a wide, plastic ladle into the hot, clean water and dumped it over her head, letting the water run over her body and through her hair. She repeated the process a couple more times, then reached for the soap. After a quick scrubbing, she used more tub water to rinse herself off, and then reached for the shampoo. She repeated the process of wash and rinse, then stood up in order to get into the tub itself for a nice, long, relaxing soak.
That's when the door opened.
Ryoku continued grumbling to himself as he gripped the shampoo bottle in his hand and strode toward the furo. Makoto really needed to stop using his shampoo. Either that, or get her own bottle if she liked it so much. She didn't even seem contrite in the least when she apologized! Well, she was right that it was just shampoo, but it was HIS shampoo, dammit! She could've at least asked first.
Once he reached the changing room, he set his bottle down next to his soap and started to disrobe again, pausing only to check to make sure that the 'occupied' sign hadn't been hung on the furo door. Seeing no sign hung, he quickly disrobed, tossed his dirty clothing into the hamper in the corner, picked up his shampoo and soap, and slid open the door.
And froze in place as he found himself staring at a completely naked Rei.
Who was also frozen in place and staring back at him.
A small part of his mind that hadn't locked up noticed that not only was her hair wet, but the floor beneath her had small puddles of water pooled around the stood she had recently sat in. So, she had just finished washing herself, meaning that she hadn't been in the furo for very long.
Also, she was extraordinarily beautiful.
As if that was the thought that kickstarted his brain, he quickly scrambled backward and slid shut the furo door. "I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I'm so very sorry! I didn't mean to walk in on you like that!"
Just as soon as Ryoku started moving, Rei flung her arms around herself and all but dove into the tub. "You idiot!" she shouted as she dunked her entire body into the tub up to her neck. "Why didn't you knock or something?"
"The 'occupied' sign wasn't on the door," he told her through the closed door. "I thought that there wasn't anyone in there."
Rei quickly thought back and winced as she realized that she did forget to hang the sign. "W-Well, you should've knocked anyway! Remember that so something like this doesn't happen again!"
"All right," he agreed. "Just as long as you remember to hang the 'occupied' sign on the door so that something like this doesn't happen again."
She winced again, then frowned. "A-Are you saying that this is my fault?"
"Only partially. Half of the fault lies with me for not checking to make sure that no one was in the furo. I'm really very sorry for that, Rei-chan."
"Hmph. As long as you realize your mistake," she replied. "And... I'm sorry for forgetting to put up the sign."
She could hear a small, nervous laugh from the other side of the door. "D-Don't worry about it. No harm done..., right?"
She felt her cheeks redden furiously at both the memory of what she had seen earlier, and at the embarrassment of what he had obviously seen. "Y-Yeah...."
"I'm... um... going to wait in my room," Ryoku finally said after a long silence had passed between them. "Could you please let me know when you're done?"
After her answer, she could hear the door to the hallway slide open and closed again as he left. Once he was gone, she let her head sink into the water as she exhaled a long sigh, listening to the air bubbles rise and pop once they reached the water's surface. Over and over, the scene that occurred only a few moments ago replayed in her mind along with the small snippet of the discussion that she overheard between Ryoku and Grandpa. Embarrassment and humiliation threatened to overwhelm her mind as she fought valiantly to calm it. In the midst of the tumult that was her current state of mind, one realization kept creeping to the surface, which was the knowledge that she was going to have to face him again, since he lived there.
"...what do we do now, Ryo-kun...?" she muttered to herself as she leaned back in the tub, letting the heat of the water soak into her body while her mind roiled in emotion and worry.
Disclaimer: All original materials belong to their respective owners. Sailor Moon belongs to Naoko Takeuchi and a bunch of big companies. No copyright infringement is intended. This story belongs me, so I would appreciate it very much if you would ask for permission before posting it anywhere else. Thank you.
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Copyright © July 6, 2001 Jason C. Ulloa.
All Rights Reserved.