Okay, so, I know this has been a while. Make up your own excuses, I guess. Really, it's been a tough semester, but that's just how it is. I took a different route with this chapter, so it's very experimental, and thus also kind of short. Hopefully you all enjoy it though...
A Brief History of Life
"Well, someone told me yesterday that when you shove your love away
You act as if you just don't care, you look as if you're going somewhere
But I just can't convince myself, I couldn't live with no one else
And I can only play that part and sit and nurse my broken heart"
-So Lonely, The Police
Chapter 17: The Lonely
There was something about tonight that made it miserable. Could it have been the drizzling rain? Was it the howling wind? No, that's what made it miserable outside, though it had only started a few minutes ago. What made it into a miserable night was definitely something inside.
Ayaka sat in one of her softest chairs, hugging her knees to her chest. She wasn't cold; it had been plenty warm the past few days in the village. It just felt like something she needed to do. It was like if she didn't have her arms wrapped around something, that there would be just a big empty space there where something should have been. Like there was some kind of vacuum pulling her toward the empty void in front of her and she needed something to fill the space. She knew full well that her legs weren't what she had really wanted to wrap her arms around, and she just wouldn't really feel complete without
that bastard who had betrayed her. She tried to push his face out of her mind, but every time she tried, memories of that grinning idiot would spring right back.
And that was why she now sat, hugging her knees and staring at her apartment wall on a night that could have been spent doing damn near anything else. There were plenty of books on her shelf that she had meant to get into, but no matter which one she picked up, she couldn't do anything but stare blankly at the page. She had tried one of her favorites earlier that night, but had cast it aside after she caught herself rereading the same paragraph for the fourth time. She had plenty of mission reports she had to file too, but every time she tried to write, her mind would blank and she couldn't remember any of the details.
Sighing, she got up and walked across the room, staring into a picture of a young, smiling red head girl sitting on the shoulders of a tall man with a shorter, red haired woman next to them. They had been so much happier back then, when the family had been all together. Or at least she thought they had been. Maybe that's why she hated
[that blond idiotic grinning face]
him so much, because he acted just like her father had. She frowned, 'Here today, gone tomorrow,'
Deciding that sitting around and staring at the wall wasn't doing her any good, she impulsively reached for her traveling cloak near the door, fastened it around her neck and set out into the cold, miserable night, completely unsure of where she intended to go.
It was miserable outside, that was for damn sure. Of course, she had known this before she decided to go for a walk, she just didn't care. The city lights were blurred through the haze of the pouring rain.
It didn't take long before the rain started to soak through her coat. Being wet only compounded the misery of the already cold night. With the wind wiping up at high speeds through the city streets the cold even began to sting at times. That was fine though. On some strange level it felt almost comforting. It seemed to remind her of her old days of running missions in the most miserable of conditions.
Of course all her missions these days had been easy and cushy. Her step father had taken it upon himself to protect her, and she hated it. She was better, stronger than he wanted to admit. Since he had taken over, he had pretended to be her real father, like he loved her from the moment he met her.
She shook her head, 'What a joke', she sighed, 'It's insulting really.' She looked up, taking in wherever it was her feet had taken her on their unguided shuffle around town. As her eyes regained their focus, she came to realize she was basking in the neon light of one of her favorite restaurants by the edge of town. It was a rather out of the way place, so she didn't get to come here often, but whenever she needed peace and quiet to think over something important, she always seemed to find herself here.
Meandering her way inside, she found her favorite dark corner. She took a glance around the other booths, surveying the people around her. It was an old habit of hers, and had stuck around from her early days as a ninja. The barkeep, two waitresses, one waiter, two friends sharing a quiet conversation and a meal, a traveling merchant; none of them too out of the ordinary. She buried her face in her hands, rubbing at her eyes as she leaned against the table.
"Get you anything?" a firm, gruff voice asked her.
"Noodles – ramen, I guess." She said without looking up
"Any particular flavor?"
"Pork," She said without thinking, "pork's what I need."
She could hear the man shamble away for a few minutes before he returned, accompanied with the soft clatter of porcelain on the table. At the sound of a second bowl she snapped up, her eyes meeting those of a weary old man with waist length spiky silver hair and a red vest.
"Mind if I join you?" He asked with a soft smile.
'Yes,' she thought. "No," she muttered, "I guess."
The man took a seat across from her in the dim corner booth. Quietly, he poured himself a glass of sake and started helping himself to his own serving of noodles. They sat like that, the old man eating his meal, Ayaka ignoring hers, for a minute or two before the girl looked up at him.
"Do I know you from somewhere?"
"You do." The man replied before returning to his dinner.
There was another minute or two of silence.
"You were with him."
"I was." He said.
"So you were the one that…"
She hesitated, "I…I never got your name, back when I met you two."
"Jiraiya," the man smiled.
"Ayaka," She smiled back, weakly.
"I know," the man returned to his soup.
Why was he here? What did he want? There had to be some reason for bothering her. Did he want to feel her up again? Did he want to apologize? Did he just want company? It was infuriating, trying to sort through all of the questions at once.
"Why the hell are you here!" She burst out all at once. Quietly, she sunk low into her booth as the few people in the restaurant turned to look at her.
"I wanted to clear something up." He spoke as if nothing was unusual, "I know you probably won't want to hear what I have to say, but I still want you to at least hear it, all the same."
Ayaka nodded along to what he was saying, almost in sort of a daze, thinking about just what the man might want to say to her.
"All I ask is you hear me all the way through. If you want to ask something, I'll be glad to answer, just please let me talk first."
'Fair enough,' she thought to herself, "Go on."
Jiraiya wiped his mouth with his napkin and pushed his bowl aside before leaning into the table. Then he started, "It was my fault, what happened between you two. I gave him some bad advice, because I was mistaken about him and you. Like you seem to have come to assume, I assumed he only wanted to get to know you to explore his…" He hesitated, searching for safer words, "…budding sexuality."
Ayaka shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Suddenly, the padded wood seats seemed harder than rocks.
"What I didn't realize –or refused to realize, I'm still not sure – is that beneath the chemistry between you two, it was all rooted in the excitement he had for meeting a new friend," He looked up and smiled at her briefly before returning to his gloomy slump, "It was never about sex for him. But I'm rambling. The main thing I wanted to say is this: having him leave you in the morning was my idea. It was a mistake. He really was looking forward to seeing you again. The last thing he wanted was to hurt you."
For a few moments, there was nothing to fill the empty silence besides the clinking of bowls in the other booths and the muffled mutterings of the other patrons.
"I want to believe you," Ayaka began quietly, slowly, "but it's not just what he did to me." She hesitated before starting again, "There was something a long time ago. It took me a while to figure it all out, but to get to the point, I find it hard to trust anyone anymore."
"The mayor isn't your biological father." Jiraiya filled in the next piece, "That much is obvious, from what I've seen."
Ayaka didn't question how he knew.
"Would I be correct in assuming that the reason your real father isn't around isn't because he's dead?"
She looked up with a start, "How did you…?"
"I've met many women in my life, and slept with many more, but one thing is for certain: how that woman's father treated her always shapes how the woman becomes. War orphans may start out angry at their fathers, but by the time they reach your age, that anger gets replaced by a sort of reverence for their sacrifice. Doubly so if they become a ninja themselves. If a woman's father left for selfish reasons, they'll either be bitter or vengeful. The former grow up to be strong, independent women, if distrustful. The later grow up to be strippers."
"And how does this pertain to me?" Ayaka asked coolly, hiding her surprise at the general truth to his statement, however shallow it might really have been.
"You hate your father," Jiraiya caught her eye out of the corner of his, "Considering you aren't naked, I'd say you're bitter that he left."
There was an echoing crack through the restaurant and a big red palm print on Jiraiya's cheek from where she slapped him. Her hand trembled as she rested it back on the table.
"My father was a great man." Her voice trembled slightly, "He loved us, my mom and I."
She paused, unsure, "At least, I thought he did. No, I know he did, it's just, I don't know anymore."
Jiraiya, ignoring the dull throb on the side of his face, turned to face her.
"One day, when I was six, I woke up and he wasn't there." She continued as her eyes started to puff up, "I wasn't too surprised. He was a ninja too, so he was always leaving for missions, but he would always say goodbye to me before he left. But this time he didn't. And this time he didn't come back." She shook her head, "Mom told me he died, that there was a mission and he died like a hero."
Jiraiya put a hand on her shoulder, encouraging her to go on. Ayaka didn't much like his hand there, but she ignored it and pushed on anyway. For why, she didn't know. "Six years ago, I became a ninja. I wanted to be just like him, to defend my friends and family like he had done. And then I went on my first mission outside of the country," She looked up, gazing deep into the old man's eyes, "And then I found him."
Jiraiya nodded, "You found his where he died?"
"No," She shook her head, "I found him. In a small village in the Earth country. He had another wife, another daughter, another FUCKING FAMILY!" She pounded her fist on the table, rattling the bowls, "The son of a bitch wasn't even a ninja! He just pretended to be so he could have a reason to sneak off and be with his other family." She looked up, tears in her eyes, "I hoped at least that maybe he had met them after he left us, but after I met his other daughter, my half-sister, I figured it all out. She was older than me. Almost five years older! They weren't the damn side family, mom and I were!"
Jiraiya was reeling. He hadn't expected this, much less anything close to this. At the most, he expected a cheater, or maybe a drunk or someone abusive, but this…
"I…I don't know what to say." And for once in his life, he actually didn't.
Ayaka shook her head, the tears streaming down her eyes, "Don't bother. I know he was a lying son of a bitch. But at least you can say 'I told you so'."
"Why would I say that?" Jiraiya was appalled.
She smiled through the tears, "Because I'm bitter. And I don't trust people."
He thought for a minute, "I might not be the best person to tell you this, or to try to persuade you otherwise," He started, without the usual confidence in his voice, "but not everyone's that bad. Some of us can be terrible people, but it takes a very rare breed of asshole to be that kind of scum."
She gave a stifled laugh, "Yeah, you're definitely not the right one to say that."
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each thinking about what had just transpired. There was nothing to hear but more of the same sounds that had populated their awkward silences all night long. More dishes, more people ordering, more people going about their normal, happy lives.
"He's looking for you, you know."
"You deserve a second chance."
Ayaka bit her lip, "I know I should give him another chance, but it's just so hard–"
"No," Jiraiya cut her off, "I said give yourself a second chance. Just because one man may have spent his life lying to you, however important he may have been, it doesn't mean all the rest of us are the same way."
She chuckled, "Maybe." She hesitated, then smiled, "You know, there was just something about him, when we first met. I don't know what it was, but just something about him made me think it might be worth it. I don't know if I just wanted to get to know him or what, but something about the way he looked at me made me think 'If there's anyone left in the world worth giving a chance, it might be him.' If I hadn't met you two, I'd have just gone on being miserable and bitter. Thank you." She smiled.
Jiraiya just smiled back as she pulled her coat up tighter around herself and made her way toward the front door. She hadn't told him where she was going, but he thought he had a pretty good guess.
Ayaka sat perched on the edge of a roof. It had taken her only a few hours to scour the city, but now, just as the first orange streaks of daylight began to peek over the horizon, she sat watching him. It had stopped raining just over an hour ago, and the lingering clouds made for one of the best sun rises she had witnessed in months.
Below her on the sidewalk by the street, sound asleep, leaning against the back of a bench was Naruto. She had come and gone a few times during the night, each time thinking she needed to say something to him, that she wanted to make it right, but she never could bring herself to wake him. At one point she had even sat next to him, just hoping he would wake on his own and save her the trouble. Why was this so hard?
Every time she had gotten close, she chickened out and went home. Every time she put her hand on her front door, she was overcome with regret at leaving him without sorting it all out. She would then promptly return to watch him for another hour. She had done this four times so far this night.
But now the sun was coming up. Soon it would cause Naruto to wake up and he would be on his way, and she knew she would never get the courage to try again.
Slowly, hesitantly, she climbed down off the roof and made her way across the street. She paused before taking a seat beside him and waited.
And so she waited. And waited. Minutes seemed like hours, days, maybe even an eternity. By her own count she had sat next to him this time for just under six hours. Her watch though – the eternal liar that it was – corrected her, showing she had been there for no more than thirty two minutes.
A subtle movement beside her shook her out of her daze. Naruto raised his hand to rub his eyes, grazing against her shoulder as he moved. Curious as to what he bumped, he looked to his left and caught sight of the nervous, fidgety girl sitting beside him, and the worried expression dripping off her face.
In a moment of clarity, he smiled at her, "Good morning," he mumbled.
"Yeah," she hesitated, returning a half smile, "I think it will be."
Okay, so, yeah. Like I said, very experimental. I really do need your feedback on this chapter though. The main thing I'm worried about though is the story about Ayaka's father. It's skirting right on the line of the far fetched, and I'm not sure it's believable enough. I'll say for the record though that I'm not doing this just because I want attention or anything. I did it because I thought it would be a good motivation for the way she acts. I was flirting with the idea of just having her father run off with another woman and leaving it at that, but to be honest, once I got the idea into my head I just wanted to see if I could pull it off and still have it believable. Mind you, the double life isn't that uncommon of a things, but still... What do all of you think? Pulled it off? Went too far?