So this time, he actually got me to write something. This is the first chapter in a long, rambling story that may or may not ever be finished. Read at your own risk.
Warnings: this story explores gender identity and the exploration of sexuality. There is crossdressing and transexualism involved. Relationships include m/f, m/m, and f/f. There will be explicit sex scenes. There is also mention of family abuse in this chapter. If any of this makes you uncomfortable, please stop reading now!
Pairings: Issei plus Jinpachi, Sakura plus Issei, Issei/Sakura, Jinpachi/Issei (and, of course, Enju plus Gyokuran, Gyokuran/Enju, and Shusuran/Enju). There will be little or no mention of the other characters from the series; these are the only ones I can write convincingly.
Disclaimer: It's been too long since I've seen the series for me to remember who owns the rights to it, but I know it's certainly NOT me. This is intended for entertainment value only, and I'm not making any money from it. C&C is, as always, highly appreciated.
Searching for Sanity - Chapter 1
Dinner in the Nishikiyori household was always a quiet affair. It was held late, to give Issei's father a chance to get home from the office where he spent the majority of his time. The senior Nishikiyori was a very reserved and proper man, who heartily approved of the British belief 'children should be seen and not heard'.
So for the length of the meal, the only sounds to be heard were chopsticks clicking, and occasional murmured requests to pass this or that condiment around the table. As a child, Issei had always found it calming, a quiet time to relax after the hectic schedule of the day. As a young adult, however, it now often seemed to hang over his head like a katana waiting to fall.
Once dessert had been served, conversation was permitted once again. The two children, brother and sister, would be asked questions about their day, their classes, homework, and any other relevant subject that came to their father's mind.
It was the 'relevant subjects' Issei was now worried about. He fidgeted with his tea mug, turning it slightly with each pass of his fingers over it, staring into the barley tea as if it might shelter him from the upcoming questions. Father was almost done with his sister, and that meant it would be his turn any moment... if only he dared excuse himself and leave the table before it reached that point! But his father would only corner him later.
And here it came. "Issei," his father rumbled, turning penetrating dark eyes on his son and eldest child. "How is your schooling?"
"It's fine, father," he said, long practice allowing him to keep his voice level and bland. "We got the results back from our first set of mock exams, today. I was in the top five percent."
"Excellent!" The rare word of praise was something Issei had once cherished from his father, but now it was overshadowed by the more important questions he knew were still coming. "And you're still planning to take the exams for Tokyo University?"
"Yes, father," he acknowledged. His father asked him that every day, as if afraid Issei would suddenly change his mind about his first choice of schools. Issei wasn't entirely certain he was a good enough student to pass the difficult Toudai exams, but he was certainly more than willing to try, especially since his father was going to foot the bill if he got in there.
"And that friend of yours? Ogura?" His father watched him closely, and Issei wasn't totally able to conceal his surprise. This was a new, unexpected line of questioning.
"I... haven't spoken to Jinpachi in some time, father," he said softly, which was regrettably true. Although they still saw each other in class, they no longer spent much time together outside of school. After the moon base had been destroyed and Rin had regained his sanity, all of the former scientists had gone their own ways. Some new friendships, such as the one between Issei and Sakura, had remained, but some old friendship had dissolved. Jinpachi had never really been comfortable around his long-time best friend after the day Issei had broken down and kissed him.
"I believe he's planning to apply to the larger schools as well, but that he expects to be accepted to one of the other universities in the city," he continued. His father nodded, as if pleased to hear that. Issei couldn't imagine why he would be. Both his parents had met Jinpachi numerous times, when the other boy had come over to study or just hang out, and both of them had always seemed to approve of his redheaded friend.
"And have you found a girlfriend yet, Issei?" his father rumbled, and Issei managed not to flinch through long practice. This was the line of questioning he'd been expecting - and dreading.
"No, father," he replied, as he always did. And as always of late, his father frowned in response. It seemed that the frown got deeper with every passing evening. "I've been spending quite a bit of time studying for the mock exams," Issei added, on a whim of inspiration.
That seemed to mollify his father a bit. "Good boy," the older man nodded. "Education is important, very important. The school you get into will determine the course of the rest of your life, you know that." Issei merely nodded; he and his sister had both heard the lecture a thousand times before.
"But," his father startled him by continuing, "senior high school is also a very important time in a young man's life, for building relationship skills. Companies like their up-and-coming employees to be married, settled down and stable."
"I... I'm sure I'll find someone in university, when I don't have to worry about studying so hard for the exams," Issei extemporized hastily. His father was leaning forward, frowning, with his eyes narrowed. It was the expression he always got when one of his children had said or done something he didn't feel was appropriate.
"A decent plan, but not well enough thought out," the elder Nishikiyori said, tapping the table with his hand for emphasis. "High school is the time to be practicing the social skills that will serve you well later in life. Besides, women who go to university want their own lives, their own careers. That's not the sort of family a good company is looking for an employee to have. You want the girls who never go farther than high school, who are content to stay home and raise their family after that, as is proper."
Issei had no idea what to say to that. Of the only two females he counted among his friends, Sakura would undoubtedly fall into the former category. She was the most headstrong, determined woman he'd ever met. Alice was exactly the sort of woman his father was describing as an ideal wife, but she was quite firmly attached to Rin. And other than those two, whom he was connected with mainly because of their shared, secret past... he couldn't think of a single girl he'd ever met who had held his interest for more than a few minutes at a time.
"I... there... all the girls at my school already have boyfriends, except the ones that would be even worse candidates for a 'proper wife', father," he finally said, a little desperately. His sister and mother were both giving him sympathetic looks, though neither of them did anything to attempt to deflect his father's attention away from him. His sister knew something about Issei's preferences, having caught him sobbing into his pillow one night over Jinpachi's rejection. As far as he knew his mother didn't suspect anything, but she was naturally an empathic sort of person. He took after her, in more than just looks.
"Well, of course they do," his father agreed, leaning back in his chair. "You waited far too long to begin." Issei let out a little, relieved sigh, thinking he was safe for the night. His heart nearly stopped when his father continued, "One of my colleagues has a daughter two years younger than you. She's a lovely girl, a good student and an accomplished shamisen player."
"Father..." Issei said slowly, hoping he was understanding the situation incorrectly, "you're not trying to matchmake, are you?"
"Of course not," his father huffed. "Matchmaking is a woman's game. This is business, pure and simple. We've already arranged a dinner for the two of you, next Thursday evening. It will be both families in attendance, of course, for propriety's sake. If the two of you take to one another, and I'm sure you will, then further arrangements can be discussed from there."
His father smiled, looking quite self satisfied. "She's already seen your picture, and is quite smitten with you. You'll have no trouble gaining her attention."
Issei had been huddling in his chair during this entire speech, his dinner churning in his stomach so that he had to fight to keep it down and not embarrass himself. His mind was spinning in frantic little circles, trying to find a way out of this neatly laid trap. "I'd really prefer to find my own g-girlfriend, father," he protested, tripping a little over the word. "Arranged marriages are so... impersonal..."
For he had no doubt that an arranged marriage was exactly what his father had been talking about. Or the negotiations leading up to one, anyway. And his father was very much the sort of person who, once he'd latched onto an idea, held onto it with the tenacity of a wolverine.
"There are still plenty of arranged marriages happening every day, despite what people your age would like to believe about these Western ideas of love before duty," his father told him brusquely, in the tone that meant he would hear no arguments about his decision. "Why, your mother and I had never met until a month before our wedding, and look how wonderful our marriage has turned out."
Wildly, Issei looked to his mother, hoping for support, but she only smiled gently at him. "You'll see, Issei," she assured him. "True love comes with time, over years of knowing and caring for someone. Even if you don't love her right away, you will after you've been together for a few years." She turned the smile on his father, and it brightened when he smiled back at her.
Despairing, Issei searched for a way out of this. He could, he supposed, simply go along with it, and then pretend - or contrive - an abiding dislike between him and his proposed fiancee. But that would only lead to his father finding another likely candidate, and he couldn't possibly convince his parents that he had massive, unfixable personality conflicts with them all.
"I'm not ready for marriage," he tried, clenching his hands beneath the table, out of sight of his father. "The commitments and responsibilities involved would bog down my studying!" he concluded, certain that this would at least give him a stay of execution.
"There's no rush for you to get married right away, dear," his mother said, and he groaned internally as he realized she was already sold on the idea. "You can be engaged until it wouldn't interfere with your studies."
"And you'll be amazed at how much better you can focus with some steady... feminine company to help relax you," his father added, clapping him on the back to indicate the sort of connotations to 'feminine company' that he couldn't say aloud in front of the women present.
Issei felt even more sick to his stomach, and was absolutely certain he was going to throw up if he didn't end this now. In his panic and desperation, he let slip the one argument he never should have allowed himself to even think of in front of his parents. "But father, I'm not interested in women that way!"
There was dead silence around the table for a long moment; just long enough for him to realize what he'd just blurted out, and clap his hand over his mouth in horror. His sister was staring at him wide-eyed, and his mother looked like she was torn between hysterics and fainting. Trembling, Issei glanced at his father.
The older man was simply sitting in his chair, looking at his son with a steely gaze. "What did you just say?" he demanded.
Wildly he considered lying, trying to find some other, less evil interpretation for his too-hasty words. In the end, however, he realized that now was as good a time as any for the truth to come out. They would always be suspicious from now on, no matter what he said.
"I said, I'm not interested in women," he replied, straightening his back and clenching his fists in his lap. He couldn't quite bring himself to look his father in the eyes, fearing what he would see there, so he focused his gaze on his tea. "I have no intentions of ever getting married, nor the desire to do so."
There. It was out. He'd admitted the worst, and now it was up to his family to decide how they would react to it.
His mother, perhaps unsurprisingly, burst into tears. She buried her face in her hands and sobbed, shoulders shaking. His sister threw him an indecipherable look that was part pity and part fascinated revulsion, then leaned over to try to comfort their mother.
Finally, the response he'd been half expecting came from his other side. Something hard impacted him on the side of his head, sending him sprawling out of his chair. From the floor he looked up, tasting blood where his cheek had been cut against his teeth by the impact of his father's hand.
The older man was standing over him, seething with barely contained rage. His father detested people who showed their emotions plainly in public, even when 'public' was only family members. For him to look this angry... Issei had never seen him this furious. He cringed as a sharp kick was delivered to his ribs.
"You see?" the words were directed not at Issei, but at his mother. "This is what comes of coddling the boy! I warned you right from the beginning not to indulge him. Letting him cry as he pleased, permitting him to wear those fancy clothes he liked... and now this is the result!"
His mother stood and caught his sister's hand, pulling her hastily out of the room, down the hall towards the bedrooms. Issei's heart ached at the tacit abandonment; his mother was washing her hands of him, leaving him to his father's discipline, too afraid of her husband to stand up to him for her son's sake. Assuming she even wanted to, after what he'd revealed about himself.
"You..." Another kick to his ribs, and then he cried out as his father grasped him by the hair and pulled him up to a sitting position, forcing him to look up into the angry black eyes. "No child of mine will ever indulge in such abominations. Admit that you were wrong and apologize, and we'll get you married off to this girl and let that be the end of it!"
It was tempting to just give in and say the words, but the spectre of Enju was rising within him, crying with despair. As an empath she had been harshly treated on their home planet, abandoned and despised by her own people. Now it was happening again, in another time and another place, with only a different name on the 'abomination' in question. Issei knew he would never be able to live the lie for long. He'd die of despair, first.
"No," he croaked, eyes narrowed fiercely. He might be the passive one among his friends, but all of the former moon scientists knew well that he could be amazingly determined when pressed to it. "No, I won't take it back! It's what I am, father! I..."
He choked as a hard fist connected with his jaw again, and this time he saw stars and the taste of blood in his mouth was much stronger. He heard something crack as his jaw burst with pain, and he cried out, tears flowing freely.
"You are disgusting," his father pronounced, tossing him back to the floor as if he couldn't stand to touch his own son any longer. "You are no child of mine. Get out of here. I don't ever want to see you near here again. And if I hear that you've ever brought your corrupting influence anywhere near my daughter, I'll do worse than simply break your jaw, is that understood?"
It was no more than he'd dreaded when he'd planned how to tell his parents part of the truth about him; it wasn't even the worst-case scenario that he'd imagined, but it certainly came close. Dragging himself to his feet despite the sharp ache in his ribs and the ribbons of agony threaded through his jaw, Issei staggered towards the front door.
Judging he was moving too slowly, his father grabbed him by the neck of his shirt and hauled him forwards, dragging him right off his feet. He cried out again, one final wordless protest as his father opened the front door of their house and literally threw him out onto the sidewalk, sending his sneakers clattering after him. As the door slammed, Issei hysterically supposed he should be grateful his father had even allowed him the shoes. It was clear he wasn't going to be given the chance to retrieve any of his other belongings.