Love's Redemption: Truths
From somewhere deep within the misty haze, a peaceful feeling spread across the young man's soul like a merry bonfire springing out of the darkest depths of the coldest of winter nights. It was a nostalgic feeling, when his life remained perfect order, when he knew exactly what he wanted and where he was going. When he had yet to experience the tragedy of losing the one he held most dear.
He knew he was dreaming, but that did nothing to keep him from relishing in the bliss of the moment. He had this dreams many times over the course of the past year, but he had experienced it less and less these past few months. This could be the very last time.
The remembrance of every sensation: the softness of her touch, the sweetness of her scent, and the taste of her lips. As his recollections of her faded and were replaced with new memories by the harsh cruelty of time, only in this place could he experience these things. Soon enough, he would lose this sanctuary as well.
A voice called out his name from the ether, a well-learned signal that the dream was reaching its conclusion and he would soon wake.
"No! Not yet! Just a while longer!" he screamed, but his voice was swallowed into the void.
His soundless cry unheeded, the voice repeated his name, but this voice was much different from the one before. Usually, the voice that called his name was garbled, as though he was underwater. This time, the voice was as clear as a bell in his head. And it was not her voice, as it usually was…
Jake opened his eyes, squinting at the brightness that assaulted him. A blurry silhouette of what appeared to be a face was before his eyes. "Jake…"
He blinked rapidly, his eyes beginning to adjust to the light as his consciousness returned. A hand brushed the hair at his scalp, another warmly caressing his cheek. These hands… they were not hers, but the feeling was the same as those days that had long since passed. Hauntingly, frighteningly similar. The very same.
His vision at last cleared, he looked towards the ceiling, and upon the face of a woman hovering over him only a foot away. Her hair cascaded down her crown like a waterfall, her golden eyes sparkling as she gazed down at him, wearing a smile he swore he had seen once before. "Kitsune," he muttered.
In the next second, as Jake returned to full consciousness, a multitude of thoughts ran through his head, none as pleasant as the thoughts he had in the previous moment. Glancing down, he saw his feet dangling over the armrest of a sofa. Turning his head to one side, he realized his head was resting between a pair of legs. His body lurched before his mind had the time to process this combined information.
"Oh, no you don't," Kitsune rebuked him, wrapping her arms around his body as he tried to rise and pulled him back down onto her lap.
Just as Jake wondered why Kitsune was going out of her way to keep him in such an embarrassing position, he understood when he felt as though a bomb had just exploded inside his skull, making the migraine headache he had earlier in the morning feel as though it were only a minor nuisance.
He cried out, raising a hand to his forehead. He was about to ask what had happened, but he then recalled his earlier tussle with Motoko. "I must have lost, huh?"
"Yup," Kitsune replied softly. "Rather spectacularly, I might add."
"I don't really remember it, but I sure as hell can feel it now." After a moment's silence in which Kitsune continued to brush her fingers over Jake's forehead and scalp, he said, "That's too bad."
"Why do you say that?"
Cracking the faintest of smiles, Jake said, "Because I would have liked to cop that feel."
Kitsune laughed. "Yeah, I guess that is too bad, isn't it?"
"Then again, it is your fault that I lost."
"I guess that's true. I suppose I owe you one, then."
"In that case," Jake said as he removed his hand from his head and moved it towards Kitsune's chest.
A sharp slapping sound echoed through the room as Kitsune smacked Jake's hand away. "Nope!"
"Ouch!" Jake exclaimed, rubbing his smarting hand. "Cheapskate."
They laughed with one another, so much so that it became painful for one of them in particular. "Ouch, haha, don't make me laugh, heh, it hurts my head," Jake said, clutching at his head again.
The intimate moment was dispelled with the sound of someone clearing her throat. Jake and Kitsune snapped her heads away from each other and saw, well, the entire household looking at them.
"H-how long have you all been standing there?" Kitsune asked.
Jake took his time sitting up as Naru said with a knowing smile, "Long enough, I think."
"Don't start, Naru," Kitsune warned her friend off with a threatening look.
"What? I didn't see anything strange at all. Right, Keitaro?" Naru nudged her boyfriend in the ribs.
"Nope, nothing strange at all!"
Jake, holding his head in his hands, shook his head and chuckled. "You guys don't let up for a minute, do you?"
"Alright, let Doctor Su take a look," Su said, holding what looked like a pistol in her hand.
Jake removed his hands from his head just long enough to see a gun pointed at his head and he instantly recoiled. "What in the hell is that? Don't point that thing at me!"
Su laughed innocently. "Don't worry. This is my new "Temporal Remedy Pistol Mk III". It won't hurt a bit!"
"Is that what you wanted to show me earlier?" Jake asked.
Su scratched her head. "Well, sort of. I have a full body version in my room, and this is still only a prototype."
Jake lowered his hands. "Are you sure that thing isn't going to hurt me?"
"It's guaranteed safe! Trust me!"
Jake looked to the others, who either shook their heads or wore grim expressions. Way to inspire confidence, guys, he thought. "Alright then. Just…be careful with that, alright."
"Of course. Who are you talking to here?"
A mad scientist, Jake thought, though he dared not say it aloud.
As Su worked her "magic", Mutsumi stepped forward. "Uh, I need to apologize, Ja-kun. I didn't mean to cause any trouble."
"Couldn't you tell I was just kidding around with you?" Jake asked.
"I did. It's just that no one could tell that I was playing along, and before I knew it, you and Motoko-chan were already fighting. Sorry, guys, I really didn't mean for things to turn out like this."
Jake tried to shake his head, but Su grabbed at his neck with her free hand. "Stay still," she ordered him. "This is delicate work, you know."
"Sorry, Su. Don't worry about it too much, Mutsumi. I'm sure she and I were going to have it out eventually, anyway."
Jake looked towards Motoko, who turned her face away from him. His eyes might have been deceiving him, but he could have sworn he noticed a touch of color in her cheeks. "I guess I might have lost control of my temper. I'm sorry, Motoko. I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Motoko hesitated, then raised her chin and struck a haughty pose. "Make sure that it doesn't."
"Oh well, at least no one got hurt," Kitsune said with a short laugh, which Jake cut off by giving her a nasty look.
"Hey, I said don't move!" Su yanked at Jake's chin, pulling his head back to its original position.
"No one got hurt too badly, that is…"
After a few minutes of back-and-forth between the tenants, Su finally let Jake's head go. "All right, all done!"
Jake raised his hand to the side of his head and gingerly touched the spot where the knot had been just moments before. "It's gone?" There was no pain. Whatever Su had done it must have been gradual, since Jake was unable to determine exactly when his head stopped hurting.
"There's no bump on the noggin' that can stand up against my invention," Su said haughtily, twirling the pistol about on her finger.
"That's amazing, Kaolla!" Shinobu exclaimed.
"I know, right?"
"How is that even possible?
"I'd explain, but it wouldn't make any sense," Su said with a shrug of her shoulders as she returned the pistol to its case.
"All I know is I feel a lot better, so thanks a lot, Su. You're a lifesaver."
"Aw, shucks," Su replied with a grin, embarrassed.
A sharp rapping of a fist on the front door turned the attention of the group. "Hello, everyone."
Kentaro, clad in an expensive-looking business suit, waved at no one in particular. "Is Kitsune around?"
"I'm here," Kitsune called out, standing up.
Jake noticed her steal a glance in his direction before she stepped away, and he felt a dull pain in his chest when she stepped through the group and greeted her boyfriend with a peck on the lips.
"See you guys later," Kitsune said, waving goodbye.
The ache in Jake's chest amplified when he noticed Kitsune wrap the hands that had just been caressing his face ten minutes ago around Kentaro's arm as they walked out of the inn.
Jake looked down at his open hands…
"Um…Jake-san, what's the matter?"
He hated himself…
"Excuse me, Jake-san?"
Hearing Shinobu calling him for the first time, he raised his head in surprise. "Yes, what is it, Shinobu?"
"Since breakfast was a bust this morning, would you like me to cook up lunch now, or do you want to wait until later?"
He looked at the others, who were all staring at him, then turned his attention back onto the blue-haired teen. "I'm pretty hungry. If everyone's in agreement, I'd say go ahead and make it now."
Nodding like bobblehead dolls, all agreed that eating now would be better than later.
"Alright, I'll get to it then. If you wanted, Jake, you and Urashima-sempai could use the bath before lunch is ready."
"Sounds good to me," Keitaro said, giving a thumbs-up.
"Okay, then," Jake agreed.
After washing up, Keitaro and Jake lounged in the hot spring, which was particularly relaxing after the tension of the morning's events.
"Thanks for saving my ass today," Keitaro said.
"Really? You're thanking me for what I did? If it were me, I'd have scolded the crap out of you for that."
"That girl, I tell you. She says she doesn't like men, but she knows exactly what to do to push your buttons and piss you off. And I thought she might have been getting more comfortable with you, but…"
"I don't get her at all. One minute she acts cordial, and the next she's trying to rip out my throat," Jake said, shaking his head in frustration.
"Maybe you just need to spend more time with her or something," Keitaro suggested, taking off his glasses to rub his eyes with his forearm. "But don't feel bad. It took a year for her to not reach for her sword every time we ran into each other."
"I'll have to think about it," Jake said.
"Speaking of thinking about it, can I ask you a serious question?"
"Sure," Jake said.
"And you'll answer honestly?"
"What do you think of Kitsune-san?"
"What about her?"
"You like her, don't you?" The way Keitaro phrased the question made it sound more like a statement than an inquiry.
Jake glanced at his friend and smirked.
"You said you'd answer honestly."
"What makes you think I like her?"
Keitaro laughed out loud. "Oh come on, now. You mean other than the thunderstorm of sparks flying between you two whenever you are together? Everyone can tell, you know."
Jake sighed, interlaced his hands and rested the back of his head against them and said, "Does it really matter whether I do or not? She's seeing someone else."
"Of course it matters!" Keitaro exclaimed.
His friend's sudden outburst caused Jake to flinch, and he lowered his arms back into the water. "What's gotten into you? Why do you even care?"
"Because I'm your friend, you asshole!" Keitaro countered angrily. "I know you've been carrying a lot of weight on your shoulders, and you of all people deserve to be happy after all the shit you've been through these last few years."
Keitaro's words struck Jake like a blow to the stomach. He had no idea that Keitaro felt so strongly about his recent strife, and despite his harsh words, he appreciated his sentiment. "Thanks, man. That means a lot to me. But that doesn't give me the right to try to steal someone else's girl."
Keitaro ran a wet hand through his hair, slicking his mane back against his scalp. "Look, I've known Kitsune-san for a long time now, and Narusegawa is her best friend. She doesn't look at him the same way she looks at you. She's never looked at anyone the way she looks at you."
That night in Kitsune's apartment, and today when he woke up with his head in her lap. As his mind's eye recalled the images of her angelic smile…indeed, there was no reason to question Keitaro's words. While his heart soared with the possibility of Kitsune having romantic feelings towards him, the obstacles and the distance separating them remained far too great. "I hear what you're saying, Keitaro, but I just can't do that."
"While I disagree with you, I can understand," Keitaro relented. "Anyway, you've got bigger fish to fry right now."
"Like what you're going to do about Motoko-chan?"
"Oh," Jake said, chuckling lightly. "I think I have a good idea of what to do about that."
An idea he had, but it took Jake several days to build up the gumption to take the first step in hatching his plan. Just standing in front of the swordswoman's door sent a frigid tingle down the young man's spine as he reached out to knock on the door. "Get a hold of yourself, man," Jake quietly berated himself for his cowardice. He knocked sharply on the door three times, and instantly felt the urge to turn tail and head for the hills.
Unfortunately for him, the door slid open a foot within two seconds, and a head of messy dark hair appeared from opposite the portal. "What do you want?" Motoko asked, her voice much more raspy than usual. Had she not answered the door so quickly, judging by the state of her hair and voice, Jake might have thought he had just interrupted her while she was sleeping.
Jake took a breath, and then half a step towards the girl. "I'd like to talk. Are you busy?"
"Of course I'm busy. Ronins can't afford a day of rest." The way the young woman inflected the word ronin as though it were a stigma caused Jake's eyebrow to twitch.
"Even still, can you spare a moment?" Motoko gave the American a look that suggested he take the hint and leave, but he had expected such a reaction. "It's important," he added.
Motoko pursed her lips and breathed out loudly through her nose. "Very well, then. Give me just a moment." Without waiting for a reply, Motoko retracted her head and slid her door shut.
Jake leaned against the far wall, waiting impatiently for Motoko to emerge from her room as 'a moment' lapsed into five minutes. As he began to think that she might have just told him to wait only to ignore him, the door before him slid open fully. Motoko had fixed her hair and changed into her usual practice attire, and she bored holes through him as though he were her worst enemy.
Jake knew he had his work cut out for him, but now he wondered if there was even any point to trying. "You didn't need to fix yourself up for me," he began, trying to break the ice.
Motoko folded her arms across her chest. "I would not do anything of the sort for someone the likes of you."
Keitaro was right. She did know how to press the right buttons. "Look, I'm not here to start another argument with you. In fact, it's quite the opposite."
Motoko squinted at the young man, but the lack of verbal reply suggested to him that she was not averse to hearing what he had to say. "I know we don't see eye to eye on a lot of things."
Motoko nodded her head sagely.
"And I know you don't really care for me that much."
"But the fact remains that I'm still the manager of this place."
The nodding stopped.
"And, like it or not, we're going to be around each other for a while. If it's possible, I'd like us to at least try to get to a point where we don't want to rip each other apart."
Motoko cast an appraising glance at Jake, and decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. "What would you suggest?" The way the man standing in front of her door grinned made her immediately regret her decision.
The very next morning, before the sun had yet to peek from beyond the mountains in the east, Jake stood in the lobby of the building, leaning against the wall, dressed in his running sweats. Suppressing a yawn, he looked at his heart rate monitor on his wrist. The time read six-fourteen. Not very punctual, is she, he thought.
After a few minutes of fumbling with the zipper of his sweater, he heard footfalls on the staircase. "About damn time," he grumbled, wondering if the swordswoman was keeping him waiting on purpose. However, when Motoko came into his view, he instantly understood why she had been late.
"I, uh, sorry to keep you waiting," Motoko said quietly, fidgeting about like a five-year-old that needed to use the bathroom.
A short-sleeved white t-shirt and blue bloomers…tube socks and track shoes…had he not seen it with his own two eyes, Jake never would have believed an outfit like that existed. Sure, he had seen it on the late night anime that he came across and watched out of sheer boredom when he suffered from bouts of insomnia, but he wrote it off as a silly cliché.
"Stop staring at me," Motoko whined, pulling down on the end of her shirt with both hands as though it would do anything to hide her embarrassing state of dress.
"Is that…all you have to wear?" Jake asked, choosing his words with extreme caution, though he could not help but realize that Motoko had a shapelier figure than she appeared when dressed in her normal wardrobe.
"I do not normally indulge in this form of exercise, and as such, my kendo uniform is unsuitable for such movement."
Jake nodded his head, understanding the young woman's plight. "If you're uncomfortable, I have some spare sweats you can borrow, if you want." After seeing the expression on Motoko's face change from surprise to anger as he spoke, he quickly recanted. "Never mind, they probably wouldn't fit you anyway. Too big for you," he added that last sentence quickly.
"Should we go, then?" Motoko asked, staring down at her feet.
Jake was flabbergasted by Motoko's attitude. He had thought her a rock that could not be shaken. But her current state of embarrassment would have been obvious to anyone. "Yeah, sure."
Jake, now well used to being alone during his morning run, was at first apprehensive about what exactly he should do around his newfound partner, but eventually, he fell back into his normal routine. He took the steps down into town two at a time to warm up. Upon reaching the bottom, he began to stretch his legs. He eyeballed Motoko, who was looking around with her arms folded across her chest. She looked like a fish out of water.
"Aren't you going to stretch out? You don't want to pull anything."
"What I choose to do or not do is none of your concern," was Motoko's stern reply.
"Ouch, take it easy on me, will you?" Jake asked, and then switched legs in his hamstring stretch. "I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"I'll be fine."
"I'll have to take your word on that then. You'd better not cramp up on me, though. I don't want to have to carry you halfway across town."
"As if I'd allow myself to be disgraced in such a manner!"
Jake sighed. Keitaro was right. She was as stubborn as an ox. There was no use trying to make nice with her right now.
After a few minutes of limbering up, Jake felt sufficiently loose. "Shall we?"
Motoko brushed past Jake's shoulder, taking the lead. She took off like a shot, breaking into a full sprint immediately.
"Hey, what the heck are you doing? This isn't a race!" Jake called out to no avail. "Whatever," he mumbled, starting after the young woman. He might as well have been yelling at a wall.
The run ended up being a silly game of cat and mouse. Keeping the girl in sight was difficult enough, but whenever he sped up in an attempt to catch her, Motoko sped up to keep her distance from him as though he were something poisonous.
"Good morning, Jake-san," a kindly old lady called out to the American as he approached. The old lady's morning ritual of airing out her futon coincided most days with Jake's morning run. After seeing him run past her home for a few weeks, she finally called out to him and the two got to know each other quite well. Now they greet each other every morning.
"Good morning, Tsurugi-chan," Jake replied between heaving breaths.
"That girl that just passed by, is she someone you know?" the curious old woman asked.
"Yeah, sort of," Jake said as he ran past.
Tsurugi chuckled softly. "Ah, the joys of youth."
"You have no idea. See you tomorrow!"
"Good luck with that one, Jake-san!"
Good luck…at this rate, Jake thought, he was probably going to need it.
A/N: Wow, I didn't realize it's been so long since I last uploaded a chapter for this long-lost story. Anyone even still reading this, or even give a damn about it? Let me know if you still care by leaving me a little note in a review. I still have some material I can use for this story. Thanks for reading, guys. It means a lot! C