Then To Live As a Woman
The Fourth Day
A Love Hina Fanfic
Tim Williams (ffml(underscore)tim(at)yahoo(dot)com)
All characters and settings are copyright Ken Akamatsu, and others. Divergence from manga #74 (Volume 9) or anime episode 25. Fairly spoiler-ridden if you haven't seen or read that far, but not too badly so. This series is the sequel to "To Live Not as a Warrior".
Note: I'm trying an altered format on this one. I went back to using slashes around thoughts, though I can only do one at a time or they'll get eaten. The italics alone were not doing the job I needed them to do, I don't believe. So now thoughts look like /thought text/.I like this because it makes thoughts easily recognizable and lets me use them in a fashion more akin to dialogue.
Note2: I am looking for prereaders. Drop me an email or another way to get in touch with you if you're interested. Don't look to have to do much spell checking, you'll basically need to read my fics and give me feedback on the direction, etc., before I "publish" them. Hopefully, this will cut down on the number of revisions I need to make once work is posted.
The soft sound of snoring was the only indication that Motoko required to know that Keitaro was still asleep. She was an early riser, and always had been, of course, so this was no surprise. They had spent the night on separate futons, though they were close enough together that they could have touched if they had desired. She rested silently for a while, listening to the rhythmic sounds of her own breathing and that of her husband.
The soft fabric of her bedding caressed her and rustled faintly as she shifted, rolling over to face her husband. The night hadn't been as full of dreams as many others, and she felt more rested than she had in a while. The air in the room felt crisp, almost uncharacteristically so given the normal heat of the daytime, and it made her shiver slightly as her movement exposed more flesh to the cool kiss of the air.
/How trusting I have become,/ she chided herself as she looked over at his still sleeping form. In the predawn light, his outline was blurred but her memory filled in the details of his features with little trouble. /I am not worried by sleeping so close to a man, and Urashima, at that./
Memories of his incident with Kitsune the night before rose up in her mind, unbidden. She flushed slightly at the memory, though the exact emotions she felt concerning it were a jumbled mess that seemed almost impossible to untangle. /He is such a clumsy oaf when he is not focused on something./
/Why... why am I so jealous?/ she asked herself, thinking of the incident and her reaction. /Why did I react so violently?/
She thought on her questions for a while, but the darkness and the futon held no answers. Sighing deeply, she rose and prepared to face another day in which she would have to juggle two personalities.
/I cannot be the swordswoman,/ she lamented as she slipped from their rooms, clad in clothing suitable for a workout and wearing a bokken across her back in a heavy cotton sling. Her hair had been tied up in a tight ponytail, as well, to keep it out of her way. /But I also cannot be the wife./
She worked herself hard, feeling for the limits of her fragile knee. The injury was recovering, but not quite back to normal. She favored it as she ran through sword forms over and over again. The activity seemed to clear her mind and made thoughts flow around her mind instead of through it.
/I told Keitaro that I like him./
/Keitaro said likes me, as well./
/If it were not for him.../ the last thought died as she fought to keep her bokken under control. Her form deteriorated to an amateurish caricature of her normal poise as the thought hit her. Memories tried to flood back, but she fought them off.
/If it had not been for Keitaro, I would have killed myself. If he had rejected me.../ Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought and she knew that her suicide attempt hadn't been an idle ploy.
For a long moment, she stood perfectly still, letting the emotions run their course through her mind and body. Only the knowledge that he hadn't rejected her allowed her to push the painful feelings aside. She lifted the bokken in shaking hands and began her form again.
/He was there./
/He did not reject me./
Slowly, her form grew more and more composed as she reminded herself that things had not been as dark as they could have been. Eventually, the wavering in bokken was more attributable to exhaustion than to emotional turmoil. She stopped her sword work, breathing heavily and covered in a thin sheen of sweat. The sun was rising and the crisp air was beginning to warm, making her exertion all the more taxing.
Finally, before the sun could break the horizon, she wiped her face with one of her sleeves and shook her head, as though freeing it from unpleasant thoughts.
/I should prepare breakfast,/ she decided. /But first, a bath./
His leg felt better. Not perfect, of course, but he could already tell that the bone was almost ready for the cast to come off. /The doctors said one more week, but that was before the whole Tsuruko thing,/ he thought with a grimace. The workout then and the ones he had been undertaking since were not conductive to a smooth healing process.
It did feel better, though, and the cast itself almost seemed more of a hindrance than the injury itself. His skin had started to itch underneath the hardened shell, and he was eager to have it off. Taking a bath with the cast had been a taxing experience, and he was eager to be able to soak in the hot springs again.
While the cast remained in place, maneuvering it around required at least one crutch, and balance was a delicate issue, at best. He used one of those crutches as he limped down the stairs behind Motoko as she made her way for the door, dressed in her fuku and carrying her textbooks. /She's still in high school,/ he reminded himself, though it was hard to remember sometimes because of her inherent maturity. /That outfit is oddly... sexy./
At the base of the stairs she turned to watch him half hop, half stumble down the last few of them. "I do not have to attend classes tonight. If you would like to, we can train before dinner." Her voice was soft and cool, though it still lacked some of the confidence it had once possessed. Fortunately, it also lacked the subservience that it had held a few days before.
"Alright," he said with a weak smile. While his leg felt better, he wasn't sure how much training he would be able to survive without further injury. If the last night had shown anything, it was that he still had the ability to invoke Motoko's wrath. "I will see you then."
She turned to leave, her ponytail swinging around behind her like a whip. He felt a sudden need to say something, as though to complete a homey scene in a soap opera. "Have... have a good day."
She stopped short of the door and turned to offer him a weak smile of her own. "I shall try. Be careful, yourself," she added before turning and heading off to make her way to class.
/Sake, I need sake./ Kitsune pulled herself upright and started groping for a bottle. Her head hurt from the night before, and a hair of the dog seemed to be called for. Finally finding a bottle which wasn't empty or filled with vinegar, she poured herself a cup and drank it down.
/I hit the bottle a bit hard last night,/ she chided herself. /After the Motoko and Keitaro show, I kind of needed it, though./ What limited understanding she had gained of the relationship between the pair seemed to be less than accurate. Or, at least, the relationship between them seemed to be shifting constantly.
/Poor Keitaro,/ she thought as the warming feeling of her second cup of sake pushed the hangover down and away. /Boy shoulda' found himself a nice older woman instead of a violent young one./
With her throat and brain properly lubricated for another day, she stretched and yawned. She'd had a lot of dreams the night before, though she couldn't recall what any of them had actually been about. She got the bad feeling that remembering them would have been a good thing.
She shook the sleep from her head and basked in the pleasant floating feeling that the sake poured through her being. She checked the time and saw that it was just past ten in the morning which was about as close to a normal wakeup time as she got. With any luck, there would be some leftover breakfast in the kitchen, and if not, she could always make something simple for herself. Well, she could make something that came out of a box, at least.
Still groggy, she got dressed and staggered downstairs, though she stopped short when she realized that Keitaro was in the kitchen. With Shinobu gone, many of the day-to-day tasks had fallen onto his shoulders and, right now, he was cleaning up.
Kitsune hesitated for a moment as she watched him scrubbing pots and pans. Even leaning on a crutch, he seemed somehow stronger than he had even a few weeks before. /Must be the responsibility,/ she noted. Watching him caused something to stir deep within her that felt very much like regret or desire.
"Hey, Keitaro, anything left from breakfast?" she asked, breaking her internal monologue before it could take her too far down forbidden paths.
He looked up from his cleaning and gave her a smile. "Yeah, but it's cold," he said with a gesture toward a covered tray. "Help yourself."
As he went back to work, she did, scooping up the tray and retreating from the room in a hurry. /Why's he so happy this morning,/ she wondered. /And, more importantly, why am I blushing?/ Silently, she resolved to make herself scarce for a little while.
/When, exactly, did I start living in a soap opera?/
Outside the train window, the scenery of the Kyoto to Tokyo route slide slowly past. The urban sprawl lent a feeling of sameness to much of it, though there was still enough natural beauty to keep Naru watching the countryside for a while. She sighed deeply and rested her head on her hand.
It was Monday morning, and she should have been in class. /Why did I run to Kyoto?/ she asked herself. Though she'd given lip service to doing it for Shinobu's sake, it had become clear that she had her own feelings wrapped up in it as well. During their unproductive meeting with Tsuruko, it had been obvious that it was she, rather than Shinobu, that was the more upset.
/I didn't want things to change between us... that's why I couldn't tell him how I felt. But now.../ The enormity of it all made her head spin. /But now, things can never change that way. I mean... I like him, and he's my best friend. But now, he can only ever be my best friend./
She watched a wooded slope go past and leaned back in her seat. Glancing around, she realized that Su and Shinobu had vanished again. Su's arrival at their room in the inn had been a surprise, though she understood how the younger girl might have been worried about Shinobu. /I guess they're best friends, too./ She smiled at the thought. /Kitsune and I used to be like that. It's nice not having that male-female tension there./
Thinking of Kitsune made her sigh again. There was a time when they had been the best of friends, though their paths had been widely divergent in the last couple of years. Ever since Kitsune had left high school and taken up the life of a professional loafer and Naru had dedicated her life to study, there had been ended up lowering the intensity of their friendship.
/When we get back, I think I'm going to try to be Kitsune's friend a little more./ She decided. For some reason, the thought made her feel a little better. /And Keitaro, too. He's my friend... if I hadn't been afraid of loosing that, we might have been more, but I guess I got what I wanted./
She forced herself to smile, though down inside her soul it felt hollow.
Shinobu pressed her hands against the cool material of the bathroom sink. Her body was still shaking and her hands almost refused to stop trembling. Fumbling, she turned the water on and let the cold water pool into her cupped hands before splashing it onto her face.
Rising slightly, she looked at herself in the mirror. After last night and what had just happened, it was difficult to hide her unease. Su had been so insistent and she hadn't fought against the idea very firmly. Now, she just felt dirty.
The other girl had talked her into a few heated minutes in the bathroom and then vanished to find something to eat, not realizing how much bigger the incident was to Shinobu. For her part, Shinobu could only grip try to wash the feeling away with the ice cold water of the sink and adjust her clothes in an attempt to forget that it had happened.
/When it happens, I like it,/ some detached part of her mind reasoned. /When it's over... then it's not something I want to think about./ She shuddered as even the thought made her recoil inwardly.
/Am I really... like that?/ she wondered again. She'd had a few idle fantasies about Naru the day before, but those seemed silly now. She had been reacting to this whole new set of emotions and problems that Su's behavior had initiated.
/If I'm not like that... why didn't I tell her no?/ she asked herself. It was true, she hadn't protested at all. She'd been all for it, after the first probing touches had awoken desire within her body. She slashed some more water on her face and used her wet hands to slick down her hair.
She straightened and pulled her clothing again, trying to straighten her skirt and blouse. She looked like she had been through the wringer, but with a shuddering breath she calmed herself. "I'm not that way. I can't be."
She stumbled back to her seat across from Naru, only to find that the other girl had fallen asleep. Taking that as a good idea, she settled into her own seat and relaxed, waiting for the train ride to be over.
Keitaro turned a page in the study guide, going over the problems without working them. Motoko had said that she didn't have class that night, which meant he would have a chance to tutor her a little for the Toudai examination. He fully intended to do the best job of it possible, since, even without the promise hanging over their heads, the legend about happiness and Toudai still existed.
He stretched and yawned, putting the book aside for the moment and laying back on the floor. He'd been a ronin for a very long time and when he'd finally gotten to be a student again, it hadn't lasted for very long. Right now, he was stuck with a crutch for at least another week, and after that he would be behind in school at best. /It almost seems like I shouldn't bother trying./
A knock on the door caused him to wake from his introspection. Rising, he limped his way over to slide the screen open. He stopped in surprise when he saw that it was Naru.
"Oh," he said, hesitating and not really knowing what to say. "How was... wherever you guys went."
Naru gave him a half smile that took the edge off of his surprise. "We were in Kyoto. Shinobu wanted to go talk to Tsuruko."
A little voice down inside him was disappointed that it wasn't Naru driving the trip. "Oh. Well, I'm glad you're back. Did anything... How is Shinobu?"
"She's doing better, I think. It was all so sudden," Naru said, and paused for a moment, though it was clear she intended to go on. Keitaro watched her and found that he couldn't read her emotions at all from her body language. "She was a little upset, at first, but I think she is deal with it now. Tsuruko is very firm."
He laughed nervously. "Yeah, she is. Umm... look, I'm sorry about all of this."
Her smile changed and he didn't sense a bit of reservation in it. "It's okay, I think." She paused again and he was afraid she was going to say something nasty, but instead, she pressed on normally, "You're my best friend, Keitaro. I... a month ago..."
"You don't have to say anything," he said, not wanting to be reminded of what could have been.
"No, I do. You're my best friend, and I was afraid we'd mess that up with some juvenile relationship. I like you, Keitaro, but as a friend. Now, I don't think we have to worry about loosing that." Her face showed happiness and Keitaro felt an emotion halfway between relief and disappointment.
"I..." A part of him he wanted to shout at her that she should be begging him for his love, but the more mature part of him knew it was stupid to wish for such things. Instead, he offered her a relieved smile, "I'm glad we can be friends."
Motoko and Keitaro had chosen the yard out in front of the Hinatasou for their exercise and Naru watched them silently from the third floor hallway. /"I'm glad we can be friends," he said./
Watching them together was almost painful, she realized. Keitaro was her friend, and that was what she'd wanted, but now she realized that she wanted more than that. /But I waited, and now it is too late./
In the yard, they were sitting close to each other, and Motoko was apparently talking him through a meditation technique. They were apparently unaware of her watching, and it made her feel a little weird for doing so. Their movements and body language spoke to an intimacy that hadn't been there when she'd left. The soft way that Motoko touched him as he was getting into a meditative position spoke volumes for the change in their relationship.
/I didn't know that Motoko could feel that way about a man,/ she thought, momentarily amazed at the change that had come over the girl. In all of the time that she had known her, Motoko had had never shown interest in a male, but watching the two showed clear proof that they were more than just acquaintances.
She felt momentarily ashamed for pining after Keitaro when she remembered how long she had known Motoko. Even if she had feelings for him, she didn't want to step on a relationship held by one of her friends. If the events had played out differently, she might have done so, but she knew well the aura of command that Tsuruko projected.
/I'm your friend, Keitaro, even if you did something stupid. I'm going to stay your friend, for all of our sakes,/ she reminded herself even as tears rolled silently down her cheeks.
Motoko tapped her pencil against the exam booklet as she thought. She could feel Keitaro's eyes on her, though she didn't think he realized that she knew he was watching. She scrawled a few more numbers into the answer blank and looked up at him. He looked away hurriedly, though he certainly tried to look casual about it. "So... this the differential of x in this one would be three?"
He cleaned closer to her and she got a smell of his scent, which was strong with the smell of soap from the bath he took after training with her outside. The smell distracted her for an instant but his voice brought her back to reality. "No, you have to do this instead," he said, scrawling out a formula for her to consider. "The formula you used is for integrals."
"Oh," she said, and sighed. "I am not very good at math, I fear."
He leaned back and gave her a reassuring smile. "Neither was I. Don't worry, you've got the best teacher that no money can buy for this test. And almost six months before the center exam."
She nodded, though she didn't really feel any more confident in her abilities with numbers than she had a week before. Somehow, having Keitaro there teaching her made it easier to grasp things. Somewhat to her alarm, however, it made it harder to concentrate.
/Am I really thinking of him in... that way now?/ she shivered from a breeze that wasn't there. /At least he isn't pushing me for... you know.../ Even in her own mind, she couldn't bring herself to think of the word or the act that it represented.
An hour later, she was placing her study materials back on the bookshelf when a brown paper package on a shelf caught her eye. She picked it up and opened the top, curious to see what was inside. The wrapping was just a paper bag, and there seemed to be a single rectangular object inside.
With the top open, the label became clear and she blushed crimson, glancing around for Keitaro. He wasn't looking at her and she hurriedly closed and put the bag back in place, not wanting to let him know that she knew he had... those items.
Hurriedly, she changed for bed, got into her futon and pulled it tight around her. /If he has those then that means that he... and me... to do.../ the panicked thoughts ran through her head. She listened while he turned out the light and walked slowly across the room toward their futons. She tensed as he moved, afraid and excited that tonight was meant to be "the night".
When he walked past her and settled into his own bed, she relaxed a little, though, much to her surprise, there was a sensation of disappointment there as well.
"Good night, Motoko," he mumbled.
"G-good night, Keitaro," she managed in reply.
Apparently the training had taxed him more than he let on because soon soft snores and heavy breathing indicated that he was asleep. She sighed softly, not sure whether to be disappointed or not. It was clear, though, that their eventual nuptials were a "sooner" rather than "later affair. She blushed in the darkness and franticly tried to figure out how she was going to deal with this.
Shinobu hugged her pillow in the darkness, waiting with dread for what she knew would come. Things had been "normal" for a while when they returned. She hadn't spoken to Keitaro, but that was because she had too much on her mind. She'd mad dinner for the house and had eaten a little, but besides that she had spent the evening ducking Su.
In the darkness, she knew that she would come for her. She shivered and the flesh on her arms pebbled.
/I hate myself./
She rocked with the pillow in her arms, hugging it tightly to her chest. Seeing Keitaro and Motoko together at dinner had only served to remind her of the pain it had caused her several days ago. When she was away from them, she'd convinced herself that she didn't care anymore, but seeing them together made her ache inside.
/I hate this./
In the darkness, she could only hug herself and wait. She knew that the other girl was coming and as much as she didn't want to be "that way" the pain of seeing Keitaro and Motoko together made her want to feel something, anything else. Being with Su wasn't so bad, she was a gentle lover and it made Shinobu feel special while it was happening. The remorse that happened after was unavoidable, but right then, Shinobu was willing to pay that price.
/Please come to me./
After a seeming eternity, she heard the soft sound of footsteps and then the warmth of another body against hers. She pressed her lips to those of the other person and fumbled her hands across her body, taking an active role for the first time. They didn't speak, and they didn't have to.
Author's Notes: Sort of a short one there. In any case, I know I'm going back and forth on the Shinobu thing, but I'm liking it for now so it looks like I'm rolling with it. As per the note at the top, I'm looking for prereaders, so drop me a line in one fashion or another if you'd like to help out with this and/or my other fic.
Quite possibly the next chapter I produce will be for the other story since this one took me a long time to take from concept to reality.
In any case, please review or send me direct C&C. I love getting notes and it really does influence where the story goes.