Hello there! Sorry for the delay, but it's finally done. I managed to write this in spite of the school, the mind blowing parties, England's terrible weather, the industrial amount of alcohol (but I actually never got drunk), the annoying noise my room mate makes even right now, the lack of good food and my Birthday! I'm 17 now!... Gettin' old.
Here is chapter 8- Is really long, but I think is not boring. Hope you like it!
This is the BETAed version. Enjoy!
Two days later, 3: 45 a.m
"Something is happening to her, Ren."
They were both sitting in the living room. Everybody was sleeping after a day of forced work in the Inn, but not Ren and Jun. They were both natural insomniacs and had trouble keeping on a bed for more than four hours. Perhaps it was due to the demanding training they both received when they were small children or to the fact that sleeping was being with the guard down, and none of them liked to be in that state of vulnerability.
"I'm aware of that too, sister."
"You two can't sleep?" said another voice.
Ren shifted to stare at the newcomer.
"No, we can't…"
"Me neither," whispered Lyserg. "There is a matter troubling me."
The green-haired man sat next to Ren, his expression unreadable, but there was a small frown in his face that made the Tao believe he was thinking. Lyserg thought he was the only one noticing the strange behavior of both Anna and Yoh, but if Ren and Jun felt the same way as he, then he had to be right. There was something absolutely wrong. His inner detective knew it. It was just a little, bothersome voice in his head, but when it came to a mystery that voice was the one putting the pieces together.
"Anna," he repeated as if explaining the problem. He leaned his head forward and rested it on his fist. "There's something wrong. I don't know her as well as you, but I can tell she hasn't been acting as she used to. In the past, she did things to keep everyone working and everything under control. She made Yoh train, Manta and Horo clean, Ryu and Tamao cook… She was a cold, person, usually mean, but now…"
"But now… I mean, Yoh is training on his own. She spends more time in her bedroom than actually watching over everybody. "
"She's distracted, in a world of her own."
"… As if thinking on something important. But what?"
"Have you noticed she hasn't hit Horo-Horo? That's just strange. She hates him and she used to beat him almost every day on past Annual Reunions..."
"Let's think again. Anna is showing an estrange behavior. She is not hitting anybody, not checking over Yoh, not… well, not being herself."
"Besides…" started Jun with a gesture of her hand. "She is not even eating properly! She used to have a great appetite. I just had to see her face while eating to notice she wasn't enjoying the food as she used to do. Something actually bad had to happen to her…"
"Which bring us a question: what the hell happened to her to make her change so much?"
They went silent for a few moments.
"Maybe Yoh is the key. He hasn't been acting like himself lately."
"So, it's something that affects both of them. Yoh was once careless and liked to laze around. Now he seems worried about something."
"It would be wise to suppose that something bad has happened between them?"
Lyserg pondered all these ideas, then shook his head. They couldn't go further on as things were. They had to investigate more in order to find out the truth. The three of them were willing to do it, since they had a curious nature and they had been raised to get as much information as possible from their surroundings. That was precisely what they were planning to do.
"Jun, try to get closer to Anna, see what you can find out by watching her. Lyserg and I will watch Yoh and try to get something out of him."
"Do you think we should actually try get into this, brother?"
"I think we should at least know what's going on."
"We don't have the right to meddle in."
"… Maybe not, but I'm willing to take a chance."
"Perhaps we can help them, but we have to find out what has happened first," Lyserg said reasonably.
Jun dropped her head to meditate about the matter. She didn't feel good spying on their hosts, to not say friends. Nevertheless, she complied.
"Fine, then. I will watch Anna."
Days passed far too quickly for Anna's taste. She witnessed the arrival of the rest of the gang (Ryu, Jun, Faust, Lyserg, and finally Manta) and endured the painfully constant fights between all of them. It was bound to happen, with the Inn being overcrowded with people with such different tempers. Probably, the most troublesome were Ren and Horo. Nevertheless, Chocolove wasn't so far behind them, with his terrible jokes being the usual cause of a riot in the kitchen or the living room.
While Yoh enjoyed all this scenarios, Anna hated them with all her heart. In fact, this was like Hell to her. The worst thing was that she couldn't avoid this situation, her desperate efforts to remain distant notwithstanding. The excess of people and ghosts made her even more terrified of her secret being uncovered. However, that was a small fear compared to the dread of having to confront Kino and Yohmei on Friday.
The blonde woman didn't sleep the day before the meeting. She just couldn't. She kept creating and replaying all the possible worst scenarios in her head while trying to come up with the possible solutions for each one of them. She wanted to leave the talking to Yoh, since he had more ability with words than her, but she knew she would have to participate in the discussion and she could make Kino feel sympathetic, since the old woman loved her. It was an estrange love, but love nonetheless and that was a plus for her.
She was the third waking up that morning. Ryu and Tamao were in the kitchen already, preparing the breakfast. She had to recognize that both cooked very well. It had been a lot easier to eat what they made instead of what Yoh used to prepare. Also, the two shamans enjoyed preparing the food for everyone and worked in team, at least in the kitchen, because Anna knew that Tamao was a little afraid of Ryu's… weirdness….
"Is breakfast ready?" Anna asked.
"Oh… Good Morning, Anna-sama!"greeted Tamao, nervous at her sudden appearance "Not yet."
"Five more minutes!"
Anna nodded and sat near the table. Soon, everybody was awake and waiting for breakfast… Everybody except Asakura Yoh.
"I think he overslept again…" Manta said, one hand to his brow.
Everyone stared at Anna. She sighed.
"I'll wake him up.
Heaven forbid there's an Annual Reunion without Anna waking Yoh up in the most brutal ways. It was almost a ritual. They heard the itako's footsteps fading away as she climbed the stairs, the peculiar stomping sound her feet made through the hall, the soft murmur of a bedroom door being opened, and then… silence.
"Here we go," Horo whispered.
"YOH YOU BAKA! YOU OVERSLEPT AGAIN! WAKE UP, YOU LAZY BUM!..."
"AHHHHHH!" Yoh was woken up by the sound of something heavy falling to the ground and light objects being tossed near him. He tried to crawl away, but he noticed the treasure Anna had in her hands. "N-NOT BOB'S NEW CD! P-PLEASE!"
Anna froze her throwing movement at that plea and looked at him intensely. So, he must be almost fully awake to have noticed that. Yoh was almost having a heart attack on his futon. He watched with a nervous tic as Anna placed the CD back in its place.
"In the name of God! Don't ever do that again!"
"Be grateful at least! I didn't hit you this time."
Yoh thought of this for a few seconds and smiled after noticing that she had thrown his wardrobe to make some noise, maybe to get people downstairs to think she had hit him.
"Gettin' soft, aren't we," he said, cockily.
"Shut up and go downstairs before I open a hole in the wall with your head," she snorted.
"Hey," he called."Thanks for not hitting me this time."
Anna left the bedroom quickly without answering. The truth was that she hadn't had the heart to hit him that time, for some reason… She didn't think too much about the matter, though. After Yoh joined everybody for breakfast, the mood returned to the usual. Jokes and laughs filled the air, temporal fights also took place, but they're controlled by the women in the room.
After finishing breakfast, everyone started the house chores they had been assigned. Most of them didn't pay for the stay, but had to work a lot cleaning, repairing, buying groceries and cooking to make Anna happy enough to let them sleep under her roof. That had been agreed years ago and nobody was going to question the itako about the matter… The only ones actually paying were Ren, Jun, Faust, Lyserg and Manta, but even them did something to help for old time's sake. It was nice to work shoulder to shoulder with friends.
But that day was different. Yoh worked hard during the morning, as usual, but after a few hours he said he was going out with Anna… That earned a general guffaw and a few whistles. He laughed in embarrassment, but secretly wished that was the real motive for going out with her… Sadly, it wasn't.
He had to leave his friends behind to meet Anna at the house's entrance. The man threw her a nervous glimpse, as if looking for confirmation or answer in her black eyes. She just returned a cold stare that only gave him a small clue of her feelings at that moment, but it was enough. He understood her reply.
"Let's go," he said gently.
Anna obliged in silence, her body a little stiff due to her nervousness. While walking, she thought of the irony of these actions: this was like running into the wolf's mouth willingly, a suicide attempt. Well, the elders wouldn't kill her, but they would surely consider sullying her honor by spreading the rumor of the incident. God, they're giving those old men weapons to use when they considered necessary.
Time passed too quickly; soon they're walking towards an old building, some sort of Japanese restaurant where they had arranged to meet with Yohmei and Kino. They had been there before, since the building counted with private dining rooms that were perfect for heated discussions.
When they entered the restaurant they were received by a geisha. Yoh gave him his name and soon they were being led to where Yohmei and Kino were. However, when the woman opened the door to the private dining room, there were more than two people.
Yoh swallowed. Anna paled.
"Oh, Yoh-kun! Long time no see!" greeted a man sitting next to Yohmei "You've grown a lot!"
Both Yoh and Anna bowed respectfully at the sight before them: eight of the twelve elders were sitting in the room wearing traditional dressing and slightly bowing back at them. The blonde woman couldn't help but feel deeply betrayed. She had told Yohmei and Kino to come alone, not giving clues about what they would talk about. However, they had brought many other elders with them, as if they knew the motive of their summoning was too important to be decided by just two people.
"I'm sorry we couldn't come alone, my children," said Kino first. "These wonderful gentlemen insisted in accompanying us."
Anna knew she wasn't lying. She guessed Yohmei and Kino had no choice but to let them come with them to Tokyo. How the hell did the other elders find out there was a problem to be discussed and this was not a family reunion? Impossible to know… After all, the council members were distrustful people and watched each other secretly. There were some prophets there, so maybe they had been informed by the spirits already.
"Greetings, venerable elders," said Yoh.
Anna repeated this and both bowed again.
Anna took her time to evaluate the situation and tried to recall the names of the present elders. She recognized the Daichi from the Osaka province, Kenta from Nagasaki, Hotaka from Ishikawa, Hideyoshi from Kyoto and Hayate from Osaka. There was one she didn't know, but he introduced himself as Jiro from Yamagushi. Most of them didn't carry the Asakura last name, but where related to the family at some point, so they had some power of decision of the destiny of the main family.
They both sat down and enjoyed a quiet meal with the elders, who would later decide their fate.
Now that the Anna and Yoh had gone for a while, the Inn was silent. Most of the people were taking naps before the itako came back and sent them back to work. However, there was a meeting in the gardens.
"I haven't gotten Yoh to talk," Lyserg said
"Me neither. He keeps avoiding the questions, but he is definitely hiding something."
"You're closer to Anna than we are, what have you found out?"
"I haven't found out anything consistent."
"Not even small clues? Even the smallest detail can be helpful."
"… She is having trouble sleeping."
"She has never slept too much…"
"No, but I mean… nightmares."
"Pirika, Tamao and I share the room next to her. Those too haven't noticed, since they sleep soundly, but I can hear her every night. She is not so loud, but… I could catch some words…"
"Well… That can mean anything…"
Jun preferred to let Lyserg do some conjectures. There was no way the detective could find out what was happening with the few clues they had gathered. On the other hand, Jun had an abstract idea… Stop was not the only word she had heard from the mouth of the itako. She had also perceived gasping sounds that where pretty similar to words such as "hurts", "pain", "die", "sorry" and even phrases like "forgive me" and "my fault". There was something generating guilt in the girl, and so much sorrow… She could almost feel it through the walls, as the younger woman writhed soundly and let shaky gasps escape.
However, she remained silent, keeping these discoveries to herself.
"Child, it is my believing that you didn't summon us to just eat and chat" said Daichi "Am I correct?"
Anna felt the looks of those old people on her, but she was staring at Kino. The woman was blind, but she kept her head high and was very aware of the event that was about to take place.
"Well, then. Speak."
"You see, it's a very delicate situation, Yoh started. He knew how to deal with his grandparents, but this… He now had to rearrange the conversation he had planned previously to convince Yohmei and Kino. "I know you have to keep the interest and the traditions of the family, but…"
"Is she pregnant?" Hotaka asked.
"No," Anna answered quickly.
"Then, what is it?"
"Well, as I said, a very delicate situation… Hum… Three months ago, I fell terribly sick, so sick I fainted for hours… Uh, Anna went out late in the night to get me some medicines. However…."
"She was raped," Hideyoshi completed. Anna didn't even flinch at the mention of that hideous word. She wasn't going to show any openings to them. "Wasn't she?"
Yoh delayed answering, but at the end he nodded and spoke out a clear Yes. The room went silent for a moment. This was like a dream to some people. It was an opportunity to tear apart that engagement and propose their daughters or granddaughters to the heir, which would be beneficial to their families and would allow them to carry the Asakura title once again.
"I know that the traditions dictate that an impure woman must not marry the heir," Yoh said. "But Anna is healthy and is the most powerful candidate. That's why I believe the engagement should be kept."
"You won't decide that, child," Jiro said. "It is our role to decide what's best for the family."
"However, he's old enough for his words to be accounted," Kino replied. She turned to Yoh. "Then, you want to keep the engagement?"
"Yes, me too."
"My decision is settled then."
"But you alone cannot decide the fate of the heir," interrupted Jiro again. "The traditions are clear: she is impure and must not marry the heir. Another candidate must take her place."
"Shall I propose another candidate?" Hideyoshi said.
"My granddaughter, Kaede."
"I don't want another candidate" Yoh interrupted.
"Kaede is not an itako, but a shaman," Hideyoshi continued, ignoring him.
"If I remember correctly, I beat that child long ago," Anna blurted, finally bursting.
"She has trained and gotten stronger."
"So have I."
"But she is not impure, as you are now," he snorted.
Anna was just about to jump over the old man when Hayate interrupted.
"But I think Anna has a point… The main interest of this family is to survive, and the only way of accomplishing that goal is to produce powerful members. Since Anna is the strongest candidate and is still in good health, I suppose she is the most indicated to conceive strong heirs."
"Her strength hasn't been tested for years!"
"Are you proposing tryouts?"
"I think it would be the most logical thing to do. If she wins, the engagement will be kept intact."
"Tryouts won't be necessary. Anna proved to be the most indicated last year. Why to do it now again?" Kino countered.
"It's for the best."
"No, it's for your best, Hideyoshi. Kaede won't beat my student. Deal with that."
"You insolent woman! How dare you!"
"Don't you dare to speak like that to my wife!"
"Don't make a scene here!"
"Oh, shut up, Daichi!"
"The only thing you want is merit! That's all!"
"To propose this orphan girl in the first place was a mistake!"
"She is the most indicated!"
"OH, SO YOU THINK THAT SHE IS BETTER THAN KAEDE, A MEMBER OF A PRESTIGIOUS SHAMAN FAMILY!"
"YES! IT'S NOT MY FAULT SHE KICKED KAEDE'S ASS WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER!"
"ARE YOU STUPID?! HOW THE HELL WOULD SHE CHEAT?!"
"YOU IDIOTIC MAN!"
Anna and Yoh kept at the background as the elders spoke out loud the grudges they had been holdings for years. It was like watching a live wrestling match. They heard words that didn't even know that existed, but it wasn't funny… It was rather embarrassing and awkward to be witnessing that fight.
"SILENCE, YOU TWO!" Daichi stood up to face both "You're a joke. This is a formal council meeting. If you cannot behave, I suggest you two leave."
Kino sat down heavily and crossed her arms giving a loud huff.
"Now, back to the topic… Anna is strong and healthy. As Hayate said, the interest of this family is to survive by bringing stronger family members… This itako has proven to be strong. I suggest keeping the engagement…"
"Well then. But under a condition," Jiro said.
"Speak," urged Hayate.
"Let's bring forward the wedding. If in three months Anna is not pregnant, the marriage shall be nullified."
Both Yoh and Anna paled.
"It's… reasonable," Hayate said.
"God, no! It's not!"
"So, she has to be pregnant in three months?"
"Yes. If not Yoh will have to look for another candidate and marry her."
"I don't think is the best way to proceed," Yohmei said.
"What do you suggest, then?"
"I suggest leaving things as they were before."
"I would rather not," Jiro retorted. "The woman is impure. We're giving her the chance of keeping the engagement under certain conditions. If she doesn't accept, then the engagement will be dissolved."
Anna swallowed heavily. Her cold façade had broken long ago and now her feelings could be read on her eyes. A few months ago she wouldn't mind if the marriage was brought forward, but now... Not only that, but they were demanding her to conceive a child in a three month term! God, how to allow Yoh to touch her after what had happened? She wasn't even capable of holding his hand or kissing! Now they requested sleeping with him!
She knew her only role in the Asakura family was to marry Yoh and give as many children as possible, but this… This was just too much for her, for both. They were definitely not reading for sex, let alone having children.
Kino supposed the other elders weren't going to change their minds. She knew three months was not enough time for the couple.
"Three months is too little time. I suggest doubling the time."
"Yes, you heard well. Six months."
The room went silent again. The elders pondered the new suggestion. It was possible, actually, to bring the wedding forward. That way they would get new shamans sooner or else Yoh would have to look for another wife. Six months was an acceptable period of time, too.
"Let's vote, then… Yes for bringing forward the wedding and giving them six months to have a child. No for separating them…" Daichi said. "Kenta?"
"She is impure. Three months or not."
"Yes or no?"
"Of course not!"
"Jiro says no. Yohmei?"
The old woman hesitated. She wasn't sure this was the best way to proceed, but it was the only one the others seemed to accept. She apologized silently and said clearly:
Yoh swallowed. Daichi's vote would be the final. If he voted no, there would be a tie and they would have to wait for the other two elders and repeat the voting.
"And as for me, yes."
Yoh sighed from relief and smiled. His happiness faded when he turned his head to look at Anna, though. The girl's head was sunk in her shoulders and a few bangs of blonde hair prevented him to see her eyes. Although half of her features were hidden, he did notice the tense jawbone, her pursed lips and her shaking, delicate shoulders.
His countenance softened greatly as he considered extending his hand to brush hers, offering support, but he resisted the temptation. They would be together… but this deal wouldn't be easy to keep for him and less for her. Yes, she had the hardest part and it wasn't fair. They had to talk. Urgently.
Daichi turned to them.
"Yoh, do you find this acceptable?"
Anna rose her head and turned to share a look with her fiancé that the elders couldn't quite read. There was uncertainness and fear blended together in Anna's black orbs, forming a question only coherent to Yoh. The shaman responded with a look full of reassurance and care, his lips and brows twitching slightly upwards to give his face a warm appearance. Anna reassumed her cold expression, her eyes filling with razor-sharp resolution. He understood and turned to the elders.
"Yes, we find this acceptable."
"Kyouyama Anna," Hideyoshi called, disdainfully. "Even though I don't agree with the Council's decision, I shall respect it. Nevertheless, if you don't conceive a child in six months, the marriage will be nullified, your link to the Asakura family, severed…" his eyes glinted with pure abhorrence, as if the mere sight of Anna was the most hideous he had ever seen. "… and your honor shall be sullied… I will personally take care of that."
Anna just nodded slowly, her face's color suddenly resembling ash. Daichi looked at Hideyoshi and made a comment about his behavior, but actually did nothing to comfort the itako. That was not his job, after all. He turned to the engaged couple.
"You may go. We shall discuss the best date for the wedding. Once we come to an agreement, we'll call you."
Kino stood up to accompany them to the exit, wanting to have a word with her apprentice. Yoh went ahead to leave them free space to talk.
"Child, I'm sorry you had to pass through this dire situation, but please consider my position. I couldn't have done anything else."
"I know, Oba-san," Anna said, tiredly. "I know."
"We'll talk about this later. I'll try to soften the elders a bit to see if they can stretch the time period."
"I don't think they'll change their minds."
"Hush, child. Let that to my care … I will stay a while longer in Tokyo. I want to hear the whole course of events, and how it happened exactly. It may be hard, but you won't hide that to me, will you?"
"… No, of course not."
"Good… I'll see you in a couple of days."
Anna bowed respectfully and went to meet Yoh at the exit. The shaman smiled at her, but she only returned a cold stare and went on walking with him following her steps closely. His glance hardened a little as he stared at her back, noticing the stiffness of her usually graceful movements, the soft twitches her hands made when fisting in rage and the soft, yet angry murmur of her voice.
At least four hours had passed since leaving the Inn. He wondered how bad the goofing would be. He was in no mood for his friends' bad jokes, either was the girl. Luckily, at the sight of Anna's expression, nobody dared to make funny comments about their long absence. The itako went straight to her room without saying a word to anybody and Yoh just went past his friends, to the gardens. Horo tried to speak to him, but it was no use. The shaman only wanted to be alone for a moment.
Yoh went out, kicking off his shoes to feel the wet grass beneath his feet. He walked aimlessly for a few moments before spotting his favorite place to laze when Anna was not looking. He laid down, his arms behind his skull as Amidamaru flew in circles above him. The sight of his ghost companion was comforting, as usual.
Even though the day events were disturbing, he still was going easy on it. Probably the reality hadn't hit him yet. The idea of marrying Anna sooner than expected was not so bad, actually, but to have a child with her… under this conditions… This was too much. It was not as simple as fucking her. That was not the idea he had of sex, especially with her, when she had been his fiancée for so long and seemed to be so frail now.
"Amidamaru… what do you think I should do?"
"It's a hard question, Yoh-donno."
"I know… I just… God."
"Do you think we could…? I don't know if we can actually keep the engagement under these conditions."
"I'm not sure myself… But… Well, maybe you'll find a way."
"I'm afraid I stayed away from women in my path to become a samurai. I'm not very reliable when it comes to them."
"Well, not that I'm an expert myself," he smiled bitterly. "We'll find a way… I'm sure."
"No, there's no way… How could I? God, sleep with him… and have a child… So soon… There's no way…"
"Well, it won't be so hard. Come to think of it, you'll just have to lay on your back, with your legs wide open and let him do you…"
"Oh, shut up!"
"But think. He doesn't even need your permission, does he?"
"He would never do that…"
"He is a man."
"He is Yoh."
"Oh, come on, what kind of lame excuse is that?"
"We aren't ready for this…"
"Then, break the engagement."
Anna threw herself to the floor, her futon receiving her softly amongst its thick sheets, as if trying to embrace her body and caress the uncovered skin of her face. Break the engagement? No, not that… That must be even worse, mustn't it? Of course. What would she do… if her only hope of surviving, of healing, of being somebody in life was torn apart? No… maybe there was a way, in spite of the toughness of the situation.
She breathed in, then out, to ease her anxiousness and weariness. After getting comfortable she decided to think about this calmly. One of the matters concerning her was the closeness of the trials. How to bear a child whilst dealing with the criminals? Or even worse, what if the trials extended and she had to give birth to a baby and go see those bastards' faces at the same time?
It wouldn't be the most ideal childhood for that… kid.
She knew she had to give birth to at least one baby to be with Yoh, or else their marriage could be nullified, but… would she turn out to be a good mother under such turmoil? She had never been good with people, let alone with kids. When they were born everybody said they were cute, but she only saw little, crying, red crying things demanding attention twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. As they grew up and learnt how to walk and talk, they became even more annoying: they got into trouble easily, they screamed while running in circles, they demanded even more attention…
In conclusion, she hated kids. Knowing she would have to bring one of those creatures to earth to be with Yoh didn't mean she was prepared for it. Which led her to an old question: should she break the engagement?
The girl shook her head. It seemed like a dead end alley to her.
She resolved to go out for fresh air. She needed it desperately to clear her head. It was late already, so everybody was asleep. She took especial care so as to not disturb the guests. The last thing she wanted was those fools meddling with her own business. The house was mostly made of wood and was old, but she already knew by heart the planks that creaked. Therefore, she had no problem avoiding them.
The night was cold, but she didn't mind. She felt quite comfortable there. She walked in circles for a few moments, looking for her favorite spot… It was already taken. She froze at the sight of Yoh lying on the grass, fast asleep. She motioned to leave quietly before he spotted her.
"Anna?" he inquired.
She turned, very slowly, to face him. He had shifted and was now on his stomach, his arms at his sides for balance.
"I knew it was you." he smiled.
"It could be Jun or Ren. They're also insomniacs, you know?"
"Yeah, but they usually go to the kitchen and hang out until it's morning… You and I are the only ones that come here."
"…Were you stargazing again?" she quickly asked to change the subject.
"Well… more or less. I was also thinking," he beckoned her to sit by his side. Anna was reluctant, but she obliged.
"I… think we should talk… I mean, it was a very hasty decision… I feel uncomfortable with it. I want to marry you, but I think it's not the best time… I… would like to know how you feel…"
"No, I mean… What do you think about this?"
The itako remained silent as she embraced her knees.
Her voice came out in a flat tone. She glanced at him, casually, as if studying an object that was not really there. Yoh shivered. Anna hadn't looked at him like that, with so much disdain in her eyes, for years, since having met at Ozoresan.
"I… I would like to talk about this."
"What just happened!"
"I don't want to talk about it now…"
Anna stared at him scornfully, silencing him, before standing up and taking some distance.
"Look, let's just accept this. We'll get married and that's it."
Yoh blinked. He didn't know what the hell got into him after that. Maybe it was the tiredness, the stress of the past days or Anna standing in front of him with so much coldness in her eyes, so much tension in each muscle… Maybe it was all that cumulated grudge he held against the itako, but he found a spot in his body, a source of rage that gave him enough strength to fight back for the first time in his entire life.
"No, that's not it," he snorted, also standing up. His brown eyes met her black ones with so much coldness and rage it made her shiver. "I'm sick of this! You're always playing cold as if you don't care about anything! Stop pretending!"
The girl blinked, not used to this treatment, but soon found a source of rage and hatred that wasn't directed towards him, but he could be her relief. She was tired, too, weary, and so full of restrained emotions that she let her guard down, even if briefly. Just the sight of him looking down at her lighted a spark in her. What gave him the right to speak to her like that? To call her a liar? She stepped back, but stared at him with rage-filled eyes.
"Pretending? I am the one pretending? And what about you?"
"I have tried to show you everything! I have tried to help you!"
"I didn't ask for help!"
Yoh moved to get closer to her, now hardly a couple of inches apart. Anna stood her ground and even dared to move forward until they were almost touching.
"Oh, sorry then! I should have left you alone!"
"So, that's it, Yoh? Tell me!" she roared, getting closer to him. "Was it pity?! That's all?! Did you help me because of your lame compassion?! Well, I don't need it!"
"Accepting help doesn't make you weak!"
"So it was compassion!"
"It wasn't compassion!"
"Liar!" Now they were screaming, eyes locked in each other and muscles taut "Liar! Liar! Liar! I could feel it!" she paused. "Whenever you looked at me, I could feel it clearly!"
"I… I felt it… but…"
"But what?!" she asked, panting. Yoh's eyes lost its previous rage. Hers didn't "But what?! Tell me!"
"SEE?!" she hit him in the chest with one tense fist "God damn it! I… I thought what you felt for me was… and I wanted so desperately… to…! Shit! I just wanted to hear it, but it was only pity! And I am the one pretending?!"
Yoh dropped his head in signal of defeat.
"Oh" Anna said with a snarl "I get it now… You're just helping me because you felt guilty about this?! I will make you feel better. It was my fault!"
" I'm so sorry you had to bring forward the marriage because of me! Sorry I got into that fucking dark alley! Sorry I got raped by those bastards! Sorry for ruining your life!..."
"It's not like that!"
"SHUT UP!" she stepped back when he tried to get closer. "LEAVE ME ALONE!"
A crash was heard, like those you can hear when an object made of glass is dropped onto a hard floor. Anna shut her mouth close, her eyes fixed on Yoh's. His face mirrored her very own expression: lips pursed, jaw tense and brows risen in dread. She let go out the air she had been retaining for several seconds and gazed towards the wooden planks of the entrance.
Her eyes scanned the crowd standing just a few meters away. Everybody was there. Now she could clearly hear their agitated breaths, the gasps of shock Manta and Ryu were letting out so often, Tamao's and Pirika's muffled cries. She bit her tongue, unsure of what to do next, of what had just happened. She turned to Yoh, her anger resurfacing.
"Leave" she whispered with a sharp exhalation. Yoh didn't move. "Leave" she repeated, but again the man stood his ground "Leave! Leave! LEAVE! ALL OF YOU! LEAVE ME ALONE"
Yoh extended his arm and grasped her wrist.
"LET GO OF ME!" she cried out, eyes full of tears and recoiling. "DON'T TOUCH ME!"
A loud, smacking sound of flesh meeting flesh echoed in the gardens and into the house. Anna stood there, elbow still bent, mouth half opened and breathing heavily. Yoh's eyes were wide open in surprise and pain as he stared her fiancée going straight towards his friends, to yell at them in an incomprehensible way before daring to hurt some of them. He heard Manta scream when she kicked him, Chocolove grundt when she punched him, Tamao's pained cry when she received a deep scratch…
Then she suddenly stopped, and ran to the exit.
Yoh dropped to the floor as he called out her name in pure anguish. He had seen it in her eyes, all that loathing and wrath, and they were so real, so intense. It hadn't been just a petty quarrel that could be solved later; it had been a real fight, full of rage and the statements done there meant a lot to him. He could barely feel his friends' attempts to bring him to his feet, their struggles to get him into the inn and onto the floor of the living room. He stared absently at Faust, who was checking and bandaging Tamao's scratches.
He saw a cup of tea placed in front of him and heard Horo say it would calm him, but he ignored this action.
"What have I done?"
He stood up, suddenly calling out her name again.
"Where is she?" he asked, frantically
"She went out"
He immediately ran towards the exit, but found Ren blocking his path. He struggled to get him out of his way.
"What the hell are you doing? Let me go!"
Ren punched him as hard as his body could stand. Yoh tumbled and fell over the floor. He watched up in confusion.
"Settle down!" said Ren. "Everybody but us is going after her. They'll find her."
"I-I want to go!" he stood up.
"If you calm down. She's really upset now; if you go like a madman towards her you'll just blow the chance of getting her back here!"
Yoh dropped to his knees again.
"W-what should I do?"
"Calm down, breathe, and we'll go looking for her. If we find her, we'll keep an eye of her. She'll have her space to think and we'll be watching her in case something bad happens. Is that fine?"
"I think… Yeah, I think that's fine."
"Ok, then… Pirika, Tamao, stay here. Spikes, you may come if you want to"
"Don't call me Spikes!"
"Oh, shut up and let's go at once!"
It was so, so cold. Her legs hurt so much she thought they would give away at any moment, but she kept running. She just wanted to get away from him, from them, from everything. Now she didn't care. She would rather die than going back to face those eyes glancing down at her compassionately. How worse could it become? Her virginity, her dignity, her future with Yoh… All stolen in less than two months. God, she didn't remember suffering so much since her long gone childhood, or since watching Yoh dead at her feet. She had almost forgotten how bad her own suffering was. No, not others' suffering. That was bad, but her own… It had become almost unbearable.
It started raining. Kino had always told her that she was a compulsive runner. She ran whenever she felt too much grief to express or was too anxious to deal with it at the moment. Running had always helped her cool down to think about the matter at hand later, when she was calmer. It was some kind of relief; it gave her a sense of freedom, a fake illusion of having left all her problems behind to be forgotten forever. She felt even better running in the rain, even if the droplets were cold and fell so hard she thought they could pierce her skin at any moment. Not that she cared, no…
The blonde saw the blur of buildings and people with umbrellas passing at her sides, and sometimes she stumbled with a few of them, but didn't even mind apologizing, other times she fell on her knees, tearing her trousers and painfully scraping the flesh to the point of bleeding. It was just a small pain compared to the one in her chest. Yet, the pain her body was giving was some sort of small relief to her soul.
She didn't know how much she had run when she fell as long as she was and couldn't stand up again. It had been long, because now she found herself at a bridge with the flowing river beneath it. The itako curled herself into a ball and sobbed quietly. The lonely streets did not offer comfort to the girl, but it was fine to her. Once again, she was alone.
"This is not a place to be alone at night," she heard.
She jerked and, breathing heavily, stood up as quickly as her weary body would allow. Her eyes were fixed on a shadow stepping into the lights.
"Jun…" she recognized, immediately turning her back to her and walking away.
Jun did nothing but follow her from a prudent distance. The blonde was too tired to start running again and was now walking slowly. However, the other's presence was rather irritating.
"Stop following me!" she finally snapped.
"I'm just making sure you don't run into trouble."
"I don't need your help."
"I know, but I want to be here."
Anna approached until they were just millimeters apart.
"I'm not going back home. Fuck off!"
"I know you don't want to go back… But everyone is looking for you."
"Whatever," she said, tiredly. "Go back to the Inn."
"You are too tired to wander alone."
"God damnit, Jun! You're not listening a word of what I'm saying, are you?"
"I am, but I disagree with you… If you don't want to go to the Inn, why don't we find a place where we can sit and hide from the rain?"
The Chinese pointed a bench near the entrance of a closed shop. It was dry. Anna didn't want to do anything Jun said, but she was soaked and cold and the idea of staying under the rain was not so tempting anymore. She also knew the older woman was not going to leave her alone until she got what she wanted. She obliged.
They both sat down in silence. Jun stretched a little and then crossed her legs in a rather feminine way. Anna just fell heavily into the bench and staid as she was, feeling dazed.
"How did you find me so easily?"
"I was the first one on going after you. It took longer to the others to react."
"So, you're following me from the beginning."
"Yes… It was not so easy, though. You're a fast runner."
"… Where's Lee Pailong?"
"Up there," she pointed a building. The fighter was looking down watchfully, far enough to give them space, but ready in case something happened. "He doesn't like to leave me alone at any time."
"Yeah, I see…"
"Anna… I noted Yoh and you were acting estrange lately."
Strangely, Anna did not snap at her, but dropped her head as her elbows rested on her knees. The girl shook her head, as if trying to focus her blurred vision. Her heart was giving painful pangs in her chest.
"… I know… Ren and Lyserg suspected something too, right?"
"Actually, everybody was suspicious about you two… You just weren't being yourselves."
"… Was I so obvious?"
"No, not really… I thought something really bad had happened… I suspected it would be something like this, but didn't dare to make sure…"
"I recognized the symptoms."
"Recognized the…?" she twisted her head to face her, wide eyed. "You...?"
Jun changed her position and leaned back to rest her head on the wall. Her eyes were closed now, as if remembering something or picking the next words carefully. Anna watched her, almost expectant. She pressed her reishi forward, and discovered to her surprise she could hear Jun's thoughts clearly.
Anna pressed further, but found the older woman's resisting. She was a trained member of the Tao family, after all, and was aware of some people's mental abilities.
The Tao family didn't want their secrets to be discovered by a mind reader, so they had developed several techniques to avoid it.
Jun shook her head and glanced down the blonde.
"Are you sure you want to see it?" she asked, almost too politely "I can show you, and you'll see that I'm being truthful."
The girl nodded slowly, almost eager to discover the truth and surprised her reishi had came back so suddenly. The fact that she felt a morbid curiosity about what had happened to Jun was almost macabre and deemed ironic, but she felt it nonetheless. She wanted to know, she needed…
"I shall show you then, show you my suffering…"
The Chinese offered Anna her hand. The girl took it with no hesitation in her actions and did not hold back. She closed her eyes and pressed her powers forward, down her head, through her arms, towards Jun's hand. Then up the elder limb and into her head. She opened her eyes, but she was no longer in the street. Vivid scenes replayed in Jun's mind and she witnessed each one of them passing by. She could feel… so clearly, her pain, her grief, that sense of betrayal…
"You were in love with him… you thought of him as a friend and much more… He abused your trust… He was…."
"Yes… It was the first person I fell in love with."
"I told Ren soon after. He killed him, but that didn't solve my problem."
"So much… shame… how did you…?"
"I had to tell somebody. I needed to. I felt I was going out of my mind, I felt so alone with this secret…"
They closed their eyes when an especially painful moment replayed in their heads. Anna could almost hear the muffled screams Jun was emitting and the ragged breath of the young man on top of her. The feelings and sensations attached to that image were… so familiar. Rage, hatred, grief, guilt, aversion, shock, dread… pain… So much pain…
Anna was panting heavily when it was finally over. So, so real… She felt it was her own body going through that abuse, feeling every push, every throb, emitting all those shaky sobs and screams… She curled and took a hand to her mouth in repulsion as thought she was to vomit.
Anna was surprised when she tried to withdraw her hand but felt the older woman grasp tighten. Jun sat closer, her arms slowly circling the other's petite waist and blonde head to bring the girl closer.
"You… understand me… You felt the same that I feel now…" Anna mused weakly.
"Probably…Show me your pain, now."
"Do… you want me to…?"
"Yes," she whispered into the blonde's ear. She held her tighter, feeling the younger's insecurity. "Let me see, feel and hear what you saw, felt and heard. Let me share that burden with you, allow me to be your friend."
Anna's eyes snapped open.
"I have never had a… friend."
"I want to… if you want to me to be, and I know Pirika and Tamao want to be your friends, too…"
Anna did not answer.
"I know what kind of burden being a reishi is. I know that you swallow pain, suffering, sadness, hatred, rage… What does that people you heal have ever given to you? Nothing but gratitude and more burdens to carry. It's not fair"
"This curse is not intended to be fair"
"Yes, but now… Now is not their pain. Is yours. Show me; allow me to share that burden"
"I… I don't know how to… show you"
"Just do the same that you did before, get into my mind, but show me yours."
Anna was shaking from head to toe, still not recovered from the vision and the sprint in earlier moments. She was afraid, too. Showing the other her memories meant she would have to replay them exactly as she remembered them, and she did remember them, oh so vividly, every feeling and sensation still attached to her brain, like the spirits in a haunted house.
She nodded shakily, repeating the process of getting her mind into Jun's, but this time she searched in her own memories, so as to allow the Chinese to see and feel, what she had seen and felt.
Yoh ran through a dark alley with Amidamaru hovering a few meters higher. The ghost was of great help when it came to searches and now the samurai was using all his capabilities to find the itako. It wasn't so easy, though. It was Friday night, lots of people were on the streets and the city centre was especially crowded. The most worrying thing was that half of that crowd was made up by perverts…
If a jerk ever put a hand on her…
The man shook his head to clear his thoughts. No, she was fine. He felt Ren's presence getting closer behind him. He slowed down. Maybe he brought news.
"Jun has already found her," Yoh almost jumped with glee.
"How is she? Is she ok?"
"Yes, yes. Don't worry. They'll be back to the Inn in a while."
"Be back? But…"
"Jun called me to say she was following her and she would try to talk to her. She didn't say where they're heading to, but they'll be fine. My sister knows how to defend herself and has Pailong with her."
Yoh nodded his head in defeat, but was greatly relieve with these news. She would be back soon, and even if she wasn't, Jun would stay with her and watch over her. She was safe.
"God… Oh, God…"
Anna stood up, suddenly breaking the contact, stumbled and fell on her knees. She could hear Jun behind her, panting heavily, her thoughts and feelings loud enough for her to read them, but there was such turmoil in both minds that nothing coherent could be found.
"It was…"Jun started.
"Horrible… God, they're so…"
"So sick… Jun, I think I'm going out of my mind… I see them, every night, they come in dreams, but I feel so clearly what I felt back then… and now the elders want me to marry Yoh and get pregnant in less than six months!… I… can't," she smiled bitterly, getting onto her knees just to fall back. "I'm… I'm losing it…"
Jun got on her feet just to kneel in front of the girl.
"I… cannot handle this anymore… Why me, Jun? Of all people in this fucking city, why it had to me?" Anna burst tears. "What did I do to deserve such a thing?"
"You did nothing. Stop thinking that" she held the girl by the shoulders "Look, look at me. You think you're going crazy because you're bottling everything up. You cannot hold such pain to yourself, you hear me? Then you'll really lose it"
"What… will I do?"
The girl almost seemed on the verge of a breakdown, eyes closed and hands pressed to her head as if there was a terrible sound piercing her ears. Jun shook her shoulders gently to get her attention. Anna looked up, almost pleading for guidance and comprehension.
"We'll go back to the Inn and rest, ok? Tomorrow we'll get Tamao and Pirika and we'll talk them about this."
"Talk to… them about… this? But…"
"Shhh," she pressed a finger to the girl's lips. "You will feel ashamed, but then better. This burden is too much, and it will get worse if you don't share it, ok? Yoh alone cannot help you. He will lose his mind too."
"I don't want… to hurt him…"
"… That's why you don't want to speak… because you think it will harm him?"
Anna nodded, feeling pathetic.
"I think the best thing you can do right now is talk to him first, ok? He wants to know. Share your burden with him, and he will share his own with you. It's the only way of staying sane…"
The Chinese leaned forward to gently press her thumbs against the younger's cheeks and dared to dry the falling tears. As Anna was not aware of her surroundings anymore, she allowed the contact, hardly realizing she was being touched on the face. She needed… God, it was terrible for her to admit, but she needed somebody else… Not only Yoh, not the protective figure of her fiancé… It was like a craving wish for a mother. Yes, a woman that could take care of her now, as the vulnerable child she felt she was in that precise moment.
Jun pulled her into an embrace and let her sob on her shoulder. She started humming
"Let's go… Time to go home."
This chapter was intended to be even longer, with te YohxAnna scene in it... But I decided it would be a torture for you to read that much, so I just cut it and pasted that part on the other chapter. Sorry about my terrible ability to make long chapters look short. There are some amazing authors that can do that, and even though they write amazingly long stories, it's so perfectly and cleverly written it is easy to read.
Thanks for reading! Hope you've liked it! Please review!
Next chapter will be up in 3 weeks or so. I go back to Venezuela and start classes... My life sucks...
Special thanks to my Beta reader! (won't publish your name here coz I don't know if you will like it. Nex time I will ask you before updating. Anyways, thanks!)