Disclaimer: You should know this by now.

Time: This story is occurring in the winter of 2041.

Warnings: This is not an AU. It is a post Galaxia fanfiction about what I now call The One Hundred Year Sleep. This might very well turn into a series under the name I've used to dub the period of time this, and later stories, occur within. I'm treating this time of "sleep" to metaphorically describe a time period where the Senshi are trying to get themselves together (in this story, only one person is even close to being labeled as in a sleeping status, maybe). The reality of it is that Rome was not built within a day (and that was not even close to being labeled as a Utopia). The period may not even be exactly one hundred years; it too is used as a metaphor for this time period.

Summary: Kumada Akina has just lost her Father, Kumada Yuuichiro, to disease and age. However, on his death bed he requested to not be buried with his prestigious ancestors but to have his ashes placed at a Tokyo shrine. From there on out, a trip to Tokyo for the family from Kobe will force Akina to face a few flaws in her character and discover a city of ghosts. There, through the memory of others, Akina will learn the bonds of friendship and family, one that she had forsaken long ago in her silent anger at a father she loved and hated above all others.

"Who's that lady in black down the hall?" Kumada Akina whispered to her teary-eyed sister. "I've never seen her before."

Kumada Hiroshi, who was sitting in between his two sisters, cleared his throat and gently turned away the pointing finger. "It's not polite to point, Akina Chan."

Akina made a face at him, "You should treat your older sister with more respect," she snubbed him. "Akina Sensei or Akina San would do."

Hiroshi raised a cool brow at this comment. "Only if you act your age, Older Sister Chan," he countered briskly, the words of honor spiced with hints of mockery.

Akina opened her mouth to angrily retort but caught herself as Nami sent them both a harsh glare with her bleary eyes before settling a gentle, pointed hand on their mother's shaking shoulders. Silent and solemn, both siblings settled grudgingly to glaring at each other instead before turning to the white wall before them.

"She looks young, doesn't she?" Akina asked at last, when she couldn't contain herself anymore. "I wonder how Father would come to know such a woman." Akina felt Hiroshi sigh heavily beside her before he rose abruptly.

"If you will excuse us, Mother." Hiroshi bowed respectfully to their teary eyed mother but it was Nami who dismissed them with weariness etched on her face.

"What do you mean us? Who's us--" Akina demanded brashly. Surprise came over her face when she felt her brother's strong fingers wrap around her arm, lifting and then dragging her away. "Let go of me, you brute!" She struggled till they passed the lady and turned down the hallway. Akina finally jerked herself away with a glare. "How dare you--?"

"Did you not see how much you were hurting Mother with those comments?" Hiroshi exploded, his face completely changed from the calm and cool facade he always wore to anger, the lines of such strong emotions were etched deeply around his mouth and eyes. "How dare I? You were never mindful of your mouth, Akina, but you've gone too far this time!"

"How dare you accuse me of something like that?" Akina sputtered. "Father was always away, he deserves no more respect from us now than he did when he was healthy."

"Akina!" Hiroshi raised his hand threateningly, and for a moment they stood frozen, waiting for the other to move. Hiroshi sighed and turned, punching the wall behind him harshly. "He is still our father," he finally said with quiet resignation that hid his emotions.

Akina glared at his back, feeling the moment of danger passing. "Unlike you, younger brother, I won't lie to myself and pretend that I don't know what's going on. I will never accept that, I will never forgive him for what he did!" Blue eyes turned away. "And that woman, she was watching us. I could feel it. She was the reason he left." The slap stunned both of them, the sound echoing down the hallway.

But Kumada Hiroshi did not feel sorry for it one bit. "You are so selfish, Akina," he finally said, eyes cast down to the floor. "Just like our Father," Akina's eyes snapped up at him, her mouth agape with outrage. "Until you collect yourself to be more responsible, I will not allow such words you sprout near Mother again." Before Akina could recover to say anything else, Hiroshi turned and left.

"Baka!" Akina finally shouted after her brother, legs shaking. Stumbling back against the white wall of the hospital, she then fell to her knees. She quickly covered her face with her hands to hide the unwanted tears that fell in both anger and those uncontrolled emotions she dared not name. "Baka," she whispered to the lonely hallway.

Things That Change

by Blue Jeans

"I have a secret that I wish to tell to you.

Only you. I trust you, and you alone, with

such a secret. It is the truth, you see?

It might hurt you too- this secret.

But... it will set me free."

Chapter 1

A Daughter's Anger

It was raining and dreary. Everyone wore black except Kumada Iku. People whispered a little at her conservative white kimono that stood out like a beacon in the sea of black suits. "She had always been a child of the past," one observer described it later. And the setting had been like one from the past as well, the whole funeral, in fact. All the way up to the point when Iku had told those around her that they would not be keeping the ashes of her deceased husband, but that they were going on a pilgrimage to Tokyo, where Kumada Yuuichiro had said a temple still stood. "Someone there will know what to do," he told his wife before his death. "Just tell them, Kumada Yuuichiro has returned and wishes for forgiveness."

It confused them all, for the Kumadas had a family plot to bury him in as with all the Kumadas before him. It was, and had always been, a symbol of their family's wealth and influence. But it was not what Kumada Yuuichiro had wished for. So Iku had agreed to travel from Kobe to Tokyo and take her children and the last of her husband's earthly remains with her. But first, there was a headstone to be put into the cemetery, in honor to the Kumada name. After everyone was gone, Akina found herself to be the last to leave. "Baka, never knew why you loved lilies so much. They're such a depressing flower for such a philandering man." She muttered but she set the white flower onto the headstone with a heavy heart.

A part of her could never forgive her father, for what he had done to the family. Still, there was no helping it when it came to the tears in her eyes. The cool rain drenched her black hair and the expensive black suit that the maid had picked out that morning. She was glad, glad that she could lie and say that it was not tears staining her cheeks but rain. Anyway, she couldn't tell the difference nowadays. Did it really matter? "They're Casablancas, you know?" A beautiful voice spoke from behind her, and Akina blinked in realization that the rain had stopped falling on her and it was getting cold. "They're a very special type of lilies."

"Huh?" Blue eyes turned to see the familiar figure of a dark-haired woman whose attire was as surprising as Kumada Iku's. A simple black-white kimono adorned the stranger's small, but graceful figure along with a sode-kaburi covering the other's hair in silk-white. It was not at all like the plain but elegant one that her mother wore, yet the style of dress was too similar for Akina's taste. "Y-you're the lady from the hospital that we saw... the woman the nurse spoke of."

Akina rose and found herself towering over the slight form of the Japanese woman, whose features were breath-taking, even from her perspective. The woman had a fine boned face that was framed by straight, black hair. The other carried herself with a confident knowing that built a powerful presence in the small frame. And the stranger emulated the image of traditional beauty to the very tips of her long eyelashes, all except for the foreign and yet exotic eyes set upon a face of alabaster. And those eyes, there were fire in those strange, dark eyes. The hue was of a purple sheen over a blackness that appeared to be fathomless. Akina had never met anyone with such eyes. "I was visiting an old friend," the stranger answered before shifting to have a better view of the headstone. "It would have been his birthday today, you know?" Akina blinked in surprise as she watched the lady tilt her head with a sorrow laden glance.

"Who are you? How did you know my father?" Akina asked tentatively, though inside she seethed with resentment and suspicion at this unknown person before her.

"An old, old friend," the other answered. Fingers reached and caressed a petal of the white flower. "I can't believe he still wanted these," the stranger reminisced.

Akina didn't realize she slapped the woman's hand away until it had happened. Yet, she couldn't find it in herself to be ashamed or sorry. "Are you his mistress? Because if you are, we really don't want you here!"

"Akina!" Hiroshi appeared just then. "How rude to say that to a stranger--" His breath caught when he caught sight of their stranger though. "M-Miss, are you alright?"

"Get out of here," Akina growled, pointing a threatening finger at the bland face of the woman before her. Her annoyance grew at her younger brother's love-sick expression. "Get out and don't come back. Haven't you ruined our family enough? Go find another rich, pathetic, old man to leech off of."

Hiroshi sucked in his breath in alarm, "Akina!" he scolded angrily. "I can't believe--"

It was the soft, grim laughter that caught them off-guard. "Is that your opinion of your own father?" The woman paused as she studied both brother and sister. "I shared similar resentment for mine a long time ago." The woman smiled, her hand settled over the smooth, wooden handle of her parasol with careful grace. "I am Mars Reiko, and I am no one's mistress." Akina and Hiroshi glanced at her with apprehensive eyes. "I depend on no one, especially not men. It was your father who lived freely at my temple for a while in his youth. My grandfather had thought him a crude student to be had and not the brightest of sorts, but Yuuichiro was a kind hearted boy and stubborn to the bone. He meant well then," she said, glancing at the grave stone fondly. "When he left, I-- my grandfather and I-- we missed him, we did. That was all there was to that story."

"Mars Reiko-- San?" Hiroshi blinked, unsure where he had heard the name right. "Y-you're that idol singer, aren't you?"

The dark-haired woman smiled, "Once, I had been a priestess," she answered vaguely. "We were children together then, your father and I."

"Mars Reiko San? I-I bought your CDs a few months back." Akina blinked. "Y-you've seen my father at a... a temple?"

Reiko looked at them surprised. "I worked with him, yes."

"Why are you here, Mars Reiko San? To pay your respect?" Akina asked incredulously. "I don't believe you! My father has never set foot in a temple, and he certainly does not associate with a woman without taking advantage of them, or my mother's poor heart!"

Reiko raised a brow at this. "Your mother made her own decisions. Knowing the things that she knew, she was not at a disadvantage when she had chosen what she did. When it came to your father, she was never taken advantage of without the full consent she gave freely herself," the woman before her said with her dark eyes sad but clear. "We all chose what we did then, it was how it was."

Akina angrily threw her hand out, and it would have caught Mars Reiko in the cheek if the woman hadn't stopped her. Pale hands, delicate looking but calloused on the inside, startled Akina. "I let you slap me once," Reiko said, eyes narrowing slightly. "Don't think I'll let you do so again when your only reason is so pointless and selfish. Nobody slaps me twice without my deserving it, especially when they move so slowly that anyone can avoid such a careless attack."

Angered, Akina struck out again and again, each time stopped by the woman with easy grace. But by the third blow, her brother was dragging her away. "Let me go!" Akina cried out in rage, struggling to attack Mars Reiko once more. "Let me go, damn you!" She finally settled when she realized she wasn't going anywhere when Hiroshi and her had fallen into the mud together in a tangled and messy heap. Both Akina and her brother were getting wet exceptionally fast in the downpour, and muddied as well from the fall, but Hiroshi would not let her go.

"Stop it!" Hiroshi finally said harshly in her ear. Apparently, he had been yelling at her for some time because his voice seemed hoarser than before. "Stop it, Akina! Stop making such a spectacle of yourself while you shame this family, and at such a time… Stop being like Father! Why are you so absorbed in your own pain? Why can't you look beyond that to see the people you're hurting?"

Akina cried, breaking down. "Idiot!" she shouted with renewed strength as she tried to get away from her brother's harsh embrace. "I'm nothing like him!"

"I agree." Mars Reiko's quiet and yet beautiful voice surprised them both. "Yuuichiro never amounted to much of anything in his life because he was selfish, but he never fought for any of the things he desired for either. He never liked confrontations, and yet, here now is his daughter who thrives upon it." Akina glared at Mars Reiko through wet, black bangs. A small part of her was satisfied to see that there was mud spatters on the beautiful kimono the other woman wore that must have resulted from their scuffle.

"How do you know our father so well?" Hiroshi asked in surprise. "He was seventy years old when he died. You cannot have known him for more than ten, twenty years at most!"

Reiko blinked at them in surprise. "Huh?" She smiled a bit sadly down at them, at Akina's solemn face and Hiroshi's curious one. "That's my secret," she said. "But it's not one that I share alone. So, I can't tell."

"Whore," Akina muttered under her breath when no further information came from the woman's lips.

Reiko's dark eyes narrowed angrily then. "Don't insult others for situations you don't understand," The other bowed to the rising Hiroshi. "You have my condolences, Kumada San." Mars Reiko straightened and smiled ruefully. "It was nice meeting with both of you. I will be seeing you in the future." With that, the other turned and left.

"What?" Akina exploded. "I don't want to ever see you again!" she declared rudely to the other woman's retreating back. But Mars Reiko only shot Akina an uncaring glance over her shoulder as she left.

Hiroshi sighed almost dreamily, "Now that's a lady." At Akina's snort however, Hiroshi promptly smacked her on the head. "That was amazingly stupid," Hiroshi lectured. "Do you even know what you're doing anymore, Akina? Have a little more control! You're turning twenty-two in two months, so stop acting like an animal. We're not four anymore, you realize that?"

Akina glared at the retreating figure of Mars Reiko. "I won't forgive either of them," she turned to her brother. "Like Father must have learned before, I don't forgive liars and deceivers. And that especially means her!"

"How do you know Reiko San is the other woman, anyway?" Hiroshi demanded in annoyance.

"Because," Akina thought to a few months back when she had to clean her father's study. There had been photographs of Mars Reiko (some with Yuuichiro in it) that her father had hid in his drawers, ones that Akina discovered by herself. "I know."

- - - - -

Lesta Gin tapped at the key of her computer with some amount of interest, but her intensity was disturbed by the voice of her unwelcome friend. "Well," Akina demanded as she leaned over Gin's shoulder. "Did you find anything, yet?" Akina asked over the music that Gin insisted upon listening to while she tapped away at the computer.

The dirty-blonde haired woman shot a glare at Akina, whose face was next to her own. With great annoyance at the other's pestering proximity, Gin answered with icy reproach. "If I didn't grow up with you, Akina Chan, I wouldn't know how I could have been able to stand you for so long."

Akina stuck her tongue out at her friend playfully. "You know you love me!"

"Unfortunately," Gin replied with a resigned sigh, "that was also not my choice."

"So what have you found, if not everything I've asked of you?" Akina challenged.

Gin shot her another annoyed glance before popping up a screen. "Mars Reiko San's been a pop artist for five years in the industry. She rose to prominence pretty quickly and the model agencies and such immediately picked her up. I can see why though," Gin sighed enviously as she scrolled down the documents she collected. "It was difficult to find any really concrete information on her. There are a lot of bios, but no actual year of birth, which I noticed with some surprising frequency." Gin nodded to herself, ignoring the curious glances Akina shot her. "But a lot of people assume that she's in her early twenties, but her agent has yet to disclose anything."

"Agent?" Akina asked.

Gin grinned at this. "Yup, and you'd never guess who it is, either?"

"Who?" Akina asked wide-eyed.

"Hidekai Kyoko San," Gin replied easily, "a former student of Tokyo University. She's apparently one of the university's last students before they converted it to JTI-U."

"What a silly change in name for a once distinguished university," Akina commented, but her comment was easily ignored. "Still, Hidekai Kyoko San? That's Nami's fianc's cousin, if I remember correctly," Akina thought out loud to herself.

"Ignoring the confusion of your family tree, you still picked a very interesting person to look up," Gin answered instead with a roll of her eyes. "There's really no record of a Mars Reiko before this, though, so I thought it was a stage name that she must have picked up earlier on. So, without any leads, I begin looking up the list of shrines your father might have hopped around to in his earlier ages. Another rather strange anomaly did pop up from that search. Well, there is--" Gin paused "--but there is no way that the two are the same woman!" Akina was confused and expressed it in her glance to her friend's speculative face. "You said that Mars Reiko San told you and Hiroshi Kun that your father stayed at her temple?" Akina nodded slowly in agreement. "Well, there were several temples your father had resided in while in his twenties." Akina blinked in surprise at this information.

That woman wasn't lying then?

"But here's the part that confused me," Gin told Akina with a disturbed air about her. "There was a shrine by the name of Hikawa Jinja, owned by a Matsuko Masakazu." At this the picture of an old man appeared. "He died in 2006 and left his shrine to his granddaughter -- a Hino Rei San." There was a small, black and white picture from school records that Gin dug up somehow on the web, the only one to accompany the young lady's profile. "I couldn't find a trace of her background really, except to this really old Catholic girl school that's been around for decades. But the woman in this picture must be in her fifties or sixties now if she was around when your father lived there."

"The Mars Reiko San that you and I know is most definitely in her early twenties," Akina pondered.

"Bing-o," Gin agreed cheerfully. "As I said, it's not possible."

Akina tapped her chin. "Could it be her daughter that visited me and Hiroshi Chan, then?"

Gin scratched her head. "I want to say yes, Akina Chan, except there are no records of Hino Rei San having a child, or even marrying. The pictures are too disturbingly similar. The girl and the older women look almost like the same woman, only at two different stages in life. It's hard to believe the two of them are not related," Gin said, grinning a bit mischievously, "Unless you start believing in reincarnation, or the Doppelganger Theory. Other than that, the trail for Hino Rei ends when she turned twenty-two. No records were kept, apparently. Not after she graduated from university with a Bachelor's in Political Science."

"Political Science?" Akina inquired.

"Apparently, her father was an important politician in the day," Gin explained.

"Ah!" Akina exclaimed, "I remember now! There was a Hino Akira San we read about in modern politics when I was in high school!" Akina blinked in surprise. "But, that was quite a few decades back," she whispered in confusion.

"Exactly," Gin nodded. "Her story and the one she told you don't match." Thinking about it some more, Gin then started to shake her head. "Actually, they do match," she remarked, scratching her head once more in confusion, "but the implications that came with the matching are too impossible to be true."

"You know, she might be a bit crazy in the head," Akina joked. "She might have gotten her mother's story and her own mixed up! Or she's really a reincarnation gone completely wrong!"

Gin rolled her eyes at this. "You're crazy in the head, Akina Chan. Sometimes I don't know why I hang out with you, knowing this to be true."

Akina stuck her tongue out at her friend in retaliation. "No one else can stand you, that's why," she remarked saucily. "Anyway, you're the one who's crazy in the head."

Gin rolled her eyes again. "You sure you graduated from high school, Akina Chan?" Gin leaned back in her chair and stared at the white ceiling. "Sometimes, you act like such a kid. Makes me wonder who let you graduate university with that attitude in tact."

Akina glared at Gin for that one. "At least I don't work at a job I detest, Gin Chan," she answered with sugared venom in her tone.

But Gin was used to Akina's short temper as well as her arguments. "Ah, the life of the wealthy. I can't compete with such lazy luxuries that you take advantage of everyday!" Gin grieved, shooting a pointed look at Akina's expensive purse that was haphazardly thrown onto Gin's bed. "The rest of us must slave away just to earn a living, you know? While others just live spoiled and rotten for the rest of their pampered lives."

Akina was outraged but she could do no more than humph at her friend, choosing not to continue the argument any further.

- - - - -

The train station was as crowded as ever. Winter was coming and the holiday decorations were already being put up by the stores and offices. Kumada Iku had put off the family pilgrimage so that every child of hers would be available to make the trip. The bundle of clothes that Akina brought from home took up more space than she had expected since the weather in Tokyo was reportedly colder than Kobe this year, and the city was expecting snow before they could take leave from it back to Kobe.

"I can't believe we'll be missing the Luminarie!" Akina groused. Her form was hunched over her leather bag sullenly. "Gin Chan and I were so looking forward to it. I mean, Mother, do we really need to make this trip?"

Nami was the one who spoke this time, though Hiroshi shot Akina his disapproving glance. "Akina Chan, please control yourself," Nami said in her soft, authoritative voice. Of the family, other than their father, no one could silence Akina as effectively as Nami could.

Akina sighed and crossed her arms over her chest rebelliously though she said nothing. "I made a promise to your father, you know?" Iku finally spoke when her children silenced. Between her two hands was the urn that held the last of her husband's remains. There was great weariness in the lines of Kumada Iku's slight frame and more lines on her aged face. "We must go, all of us, to that place that changed everything."

"Eh?" Akina perked up interested. "Changed everything?"

Iku smiled ruefully at her second daughter. "Yes, Akina Chan, everything." Mother spoke no more after that little speech, ignoring all of Akina's careful prodding that soon deteriorated to bold questions. But no amount of coercion worked and Akina spent the rest of the train ride looking out the window at the passing of fields, trees, and towns.

The conductor finally announced their arrival at Tokyo, making the excited Akina ready to leap out of her seat. "Come on, everyone!" Akina announced with cheerful determination. "We got a temple to visit!"

But Kumada Iku only chuckled a little at her second daughter's antics, the first in a while, as Nami and Hiroshi shared a knowing smile. "Baka," Hiroshi spoke, "we all need rest before we go. We have a hotel to check into first."

Akina pouted, but complied when she saw the tired shadows beneath her mother's eyes. "Alright," she gave reluctantly. "Let's go then to the hotel!"

Iku smiled, knowing that her family's been worried about her since her husband's death. It was lonelier somehow, knowing he was gone for good. And yet, he had never really been there. Iku looked at the urn sitting on her lap. It held the last of the man who had once made her heart tremble like a frightened rabbit. For such a simple container, it held with it also, the last of his secrets.

Kumada Iku, then Haruko Iku, knew from day one that she would never have Kumada Yuuichiro's heart. He had told her so later, when she had tried to force him to see her for once. But even then, he only saw one woman, even after three children and endless years, he still loved that woman above all others. She was a woman who cared for him as much as he did for Iku. It was an irony not lost to Iku, not even after all these years. She had thought then, as a girl, that he would one day realize the fruitlessness of his desires and turn to her at last. But, Iku ruefully thought, it was herself who should have saw the foolishness of her own desires. Yuuichiro and her, they were indeed alike in too many ways, ways married people should never have in common.

"Mother?" Nami leaned over cautiously to get a better view of her mother's face in the shadowed darkness. "Are you alright?"

Iku forced a smile upon her face. "Yes, Nami Chan," Iku nodded, "I'm fine."

Nami nodded politely to show she would not push the matter whether or not she believed her mother's words. For that, Iku was thankful. Nami was born a polite, serious, and quiet child. Her fiancé, Hidekai Kiyoshi was a much looser person, though some considered him a bit too loose. Iku had liked how Kiyoshi could make a room light up with a smile, but she had seen her daughter stand quietly beside the man like the darkness deepening next to the bright candle. Yuuichiro liked the match from the start and pushed for his daughter to marry the man. Not because Kiyoshi was successful or well off, but because Yuuichiro said he did Nami good. She needed the light in her life, their serious Nami, Yuuichiro used to say. But Iku thought it was not a relationship that should have ended in marriage.

Iku had played a shadow to her husband's desires, and knew no woman would want that in the end. Sometimes the light could hurt a person. After all, prince charming wasn't for everyone. Nami would have done well if she found herself a kind, quiet man who could understand her silence, her seriousness. But Kiyoshi and Nami was what Yuuichiro had wanted, and even when it came to her children, Iku could not help but be swayed by her husband's desires. She was a weak woman, Iku knew that. It was not something in her that she was proud of, far from it, but she knew also that she had not the strength to change it even if she wanted to.

The cab stopped at the hotel and Hiroshi hurriedly helped his mother out of the car. "Thank you," Iku murmured with a small smile at her handsome son. Hiroshi looked much like his father did, though his face was narrower, a trait from her side of the family. Akina, on the other hand, looked nothing like either parents, though she did inherit their colorings. Akina looked like her grandfather, Iku's father, along with all of his spirit. Iku always thought that Kiyoshi would have done better with Akina. At least the two of them would be competing for the spotlight then.

Akina had always been the wild child. Though Hiroshi held much of the passion his sister had, he controlled himself better. If there were two more different from each other, it was Nami and Akina, two sisters who looked and acted not quite like those who were born from the same parents. Where Nami stilled, Akina burned, and where Nami thought, Akina acted. Once, Yuuichiro had smilingly described his two daughters as two opposing elements where one was like a pool of still waters, and the other a burning flame. Yuuichiro always did like Akina more, of the two daughters Iku gave him. It did not take much to realize such was true; Akina had a lot of the spirit that must have reminded Yuuichiro of the woman he once pursued.

Akina, who was like that woman, Akina who adored her father as a child and had grown to hate him as an adult, Akina, who, come tomorrow, would at last see that place that made her parents who they were, and the woman who was at the heart of it all. Iku sighed as she closed the door to Nami's worried expression and Hiroshi's weary grin. Akina was waving goodnight, and Iku held onto that smile. Tomorrow, tomorrow that smile may disappear when Akina learned how weak her mother truly was. And then, Akina may come to hate her as much as Akina despised her father now, as much as Iku hated herself.

- - - - -

Iku had insisted they take the bus that day after walking around Tokyo a bit, much to the surprise of her children. "We may be able to afford a cab or a private ride," she smiled, "but I'd much rather take a bus."

Nami only shrugged, something she did whenever she was confused with a decision. Hiroshi looked perplexed, but did not protest. Akina was the one who challenged the decision. "Mother," the dark-haired woman whined, "you don't want to take public transportation in Tokyo. You know how many perverts are on that bus?" Akina's blue eyes were round with disbelief. "It's not safe for you, or Nami, or me!" Casting a sly glance at Hiroshi, she said, "Though I'm sure some members of the household won't mind being grabbed by the opposite sex."

"Akina Chan!" Nami's voice was sharp. Rarely did the eldest daughter ever use such a tone, but it stopped Akina dead in her tracks, along with her words. "Such crude remarks are unbecoming of a Kumada. Please don't repeat yourself in a similar manner again." Akina grudgingly complied with a grumbled apology. "Thank you, Akina Chan," Nami said in a soft, compelling tone.

"Hey," Hiroshi cheered after a silence fell over them. "Are we going to do more sight seeing after we visit the temple?"

"Yeah!" Akina perked up. "I heard the stores in Tokyo are definitely worth a tour of. And Christmas is coming, along with New Years. I want to get my boyfriend something he'll never be able to lay a hand on back home!"

Nami smiled, a little excited herself. "I heard Kiyoshi San tell me of a great noodle place downtown, when he last visited the city."

"Ah, Nami Chan," Akina taunted, wagging a finger at her older sister, "I can't believe you still call him Kiyoshi San. Didn't he tell you not to be so formal?"

Nami blushed a bit under her younger sister's scrutiny. "What I call Kiyoshi San is my own business, Akina Chan. It's not polite to butt in like that."

Hiroshi sighed at this, and quickly cut in before Akina could make a blunder with her words. "Where will this noodle place be?" he asked curiously. "I didn't know Kiyoshi even liked noodles."

It was known in the family that Nami had a great like of noodles and noodle shops, though it was one of the few quirks that did not match her somber personality and expensive tastes. "He doesn't really. But he looked into it for me," Nami told them with a blush staining her cheeks. If one didn't know her better, they'd think Nami was quite in love with her fiancé. But Nami quite blushed at any personal information she gave out about herself, even to her own family, be it about her love life or her likes and dislikes.

"Quite considerate of him," Akina teased.

Iku watched her children with a smile. They didn't get along quite as well as one may have hoped, but they certainly fitted quite well together as is. Iku looked down at the jar in her hand with a small smile. "We didn't do so badly, you and I," she said softly with a soft smile. Yuuichiro did not love her as he did that woman. But he loved his children and he liked her quite a lot; there were things they had shared in their lifetime together that she wouldn't have traded for anything in the world, except... for his love.

The rumored bus-ride filled with perverts did not turn out to be so bad. There were a few incidents with shifty eyed men, but everyone exited at the stop safely without any groping or inappropriate touching. "That was freakish," Akina shuddered with a sigh. "I don't know how Tokyo girls do it!"

Hiroshi raised an amused brow at his sister as he was wont to do. "By not being so paranoid," he suggested. The comment earned him a good, sound whack on the back of his head. "Hey, what was that for? I was merely answering your question, baka!"

"Who are you calling a baka?" Akina demanded.

Hiroshi opened his mouth to answer only to be interrupted by a caw from overhead. Startled, he looked up to see two black crows, seemingly cawing, or more like laughing, at them. "Eh?" He blinked.

"Eh?" Akina demanded before her gaze shifted and she gasped. "Hikawa-- Jinja?"

"There was a shrine by the name of Hikawa Jinja, owned by a Matsuko Masakazu. He died in 2006 and left his shrine to his granddaughter-- a Hino Rei San." Gin's voice returned to Akina in that moment as she looked at the weather worn stone tablet.

"Yes," Iku smiled sadly at the worn sign. "Hikawa Jinja, where it had all began. Your father, she, and I came together at such a place. A place of the past, some call it, a place of memories."

To be continued...

Baka - Idiot

- Kobe Luminarie -- December 23 festival of illumination (no less than 5 mill visitors are expected -- though I really think the numbers here are a bit exaggerated for tourism sake...)

- In big cities like Tokyo, it is notorious for "hentai" – perverted – men to grope women on crowded, public transits, at least, that's the rumors I've heard. So, Akina apparently heard such a rumor too, that's why she was so stressed out about using the public transit. The rumor need not be true; it's a rumor after all.

- Because the Kumada family is rich, most likely, Akina never really used the public transit until now. Most likely her siblings probably never have been on a bus before, either. Iku is reliving her teenage years by taking the bus. The hotel is not that far from the shrine in this story (it is in walking distance).

Special Thanks To:

My editor, Yumeko San! She had to wade through my horrible grammar to help me polish this baby to perfection! Thank you so much Yumeko San! I would be so lost without you! Dabs away tears of gratitude