June 29th, 2012: Editation! Only tiny changes to this chapter as I still like it and it still reflects the characters in the way I want it to. On track to start adding to the story proper very soon!
"You've got a strange quality about you."
The 'good man' blinked. A moment later he chuckled, raised his glass and took a sip of the amber liquid inside. Just a few shades lighter than his eyes, Kitsune noticed.
"I'm going to guess some things about your life," she said. "Stop me if I go too far wrong. You have a girlfriend. She trusts you, and not lightly – you've proven to her in the past that you can be trusted. You've always tried to do the right thing by other people, no matter how much it hurts you personally."
A small nod, an even smaller smile.
"She convinced you at some point to be just that little bit selfish and you took her up on it. You still wonder what the world would have been like, had you not given in to temptation and kissed her... I'm going to say just under a year ago."
The smile expanded. It was slowly becoming a grin.
"This doesn't come for free, though. You criticise yourself. There isn't a single thought runs through your head without you checking it for selfishness. And it hurts, and your girl has to reassure you that you really truly are a good person, even though you see all these flaws in your own mind and you think they are unforgiveable."
His face was blank. It was not a very good poker-face, though. Strain showed – the hint of anger in the flash of his eyes, the hint of sadness in the tension of his throat.
"I never asked your name," Kitsune prompted him.
He took a second to reply. He made it look as though he had to swallow his mouthful of drink before he could speak. Kitsune knew otherwise.
He coughed. "I'm Haitani. Masayuki Haitani."
Konno Mitsune laughed out loud. It pealed out against the murky rumble of the nightlife. She gathered herself quickly and started at him. "Haitani! A friend to Keitaro Urashima, the one who went all quiet about two and a half years ago, eventually let you know he'd become the Hina manager but always was just that little more subdued whenever you saw him after that? Boy, university really did do good things to you."
"You... you know Keitaro? You're a resident of his inn?"
She smirked, then saw the steel in his eye. "Hey now. I may be a tenant but I haven't landed a blow on him, not ever. I haven't made life much easier for him, though, and that's one thing I sorely regret. He could have done without the hurt he's had from us these last couple years – or at the very least, I could have tempered that for him. Maybe that can change? Who knows?"
"I'm a little out of the loop," Haitani said. "But from what I knew, Kei was hung up over some honey-haired girl who gave him a pretty hard time. He was also not coping very well with the flak he got for being a male landlord with only female tenants. And I don't know if you knew, but people have been talking all around. Ever since they saw he and that girl fighting in the town one time, maybe a year and a half ago... There have been whispers. I've tried to put them down but I can't, when I've not been paying attention for so long. That sort of spectacle raises eyebrows, which in turn start lips flapping, and well. You know what the rumour mill can do."
Kitsune closed her eyes and leant back into the plush seat. She let out a long breath through pursed lips. "I hadn't thought of that. They must say terrible things. Have the police had to entertain any particularly overzealous housewives who don't have a shred of evidence between them, yet?"
"No, thank heavens. But I can't imagine something like that being far off. I hope this doesn't take him – or Granny Hina – down. Are those two still enemies?"
"No... yes?" Kitsune looked at the ceiling. "Honestly? I don't know. Keitaro would do anything for Naru, but he'd do anything for any one of us. And she... just jilts him every time he tries anything. It feels staged, almost like she's playing hard-to-get, but sometimes she opens her mouth a bit too wide and says something that really hurts him. And she has most definitely hurt him before. You know he's clumsy, well... you trip over your own ankles straight into a girl, panic, grab out for something to at least slow your fall and see how much pain you receive for yanking her skirt down. Frankly, if that was deliberate then he'd earned a looksee out of sheer cunning – and of course, that's what she assumed it was."
Haitani scowled. "That doesn't sound good. What happened then? Has it happened again since?"
"She straightened herself up and kicked him while he was down. Hard. A lot. We had to tell her later that she'd kicked him hard enough that he'd thrown up and we'd had to call the doctor round. I think that scared her – the worst she's ever meted out since then is a shoulder-punch. But I think..." Something made her throat constrict a little, but she spluttered her way through it. "I think the worst part was what he said to us when we finally had him in bed and all the fuss was over. He said: 'You shouldn't be going to this much effort...'"
Haitani's lips moved along with hers, mouthing the next three words as she repeated them: "'...I deserved it.' And you can imagine, we disagreed. A lot. Nobody deserves that."
The man shrugged. "I'll put it in solid terms: that is quite simply domestic abuse. And it's a sad fact of the world that it's assumed on a grand scale that only women can be the victim. Which means that most men have no idea what to do about it, or even how to recognise it in the first place. I need you to promise me something, Mitsune Konno."
She blinked, then reasoned that he must have heard her name from Keitaro. "What is it?"
"You keep that head on your shoulders. Because... you recognised the way I think. Constantly criticising. Constantly battering myself into doing only the right thing, not the selfish thing. And you... you're the same. You keep yourself hidden away when there's no way of making the right thing and your own loyalties coexist. I need you to side with the right thing. If Naru starts to hurt him again... I need you to tell her that she's wrong to do it. And I need you to explain to her what domestic abuse is. And... I need you to make her understand that she is making herself into a criminal. That no matter her justification, her actions are not permissible. Can you do that for me?"
"But Naru isn't... she isn't a bad person..." Kitsune felt herself finally starting to break up.
"Maybe not. But if she isn't, then she's solidly on her way to becoming one. You have to stop her, Mitsune. And here's a thing: that selfish act my fiancée goaded me into? I don't regret it. Not even slightly. You'd do well to be selfish, too. Just the once. Claim what you want, and fix any damage caused. And don't doubt yourself, because... because you really truly are a good person."
Kitsune smirked, a little acid. There was a tear on her cheek and she recognised her own words being turned back on her. "Did you have to say that?"
He shrugged again. "It's true. Now, I have to go in a moment - would you like me to walk you home?"
She blinked hard, dried her eyes on the tablecloth, and stood up. "I think I need to walk alone to digest all of this," she said. "But, Mayasuki Haitani, it was an absolute pleasure to meet you."
He handed over a business card with a smile.
She grinned through her bleary eyes, pocketed it, turned, and left.
Q: Who is Motoko Rouzeki?
A: She is Motoko. To answer this properly I do need to supply a little info / restate what came before. Motoko Rouzeki is an accomplished martial artist, and an extremely observant and wise young woman. She is the character on whom Kitsune has based Motoko Aoyama in the manga she is working on alongside Ken Akamatsu. She specifically asked for the manga-character's family name to be changed as she did not want Motoko Aoyama's mercurial behaviour and 'special attacks' to be associated with the Rouzeki family. Kitsune has agreed to this, justifying the manga-Motoko by saying that the real Motoko is far too strong a stabilising force to be a dramatically effective character. Which of course leaves the question: how can this author possibly hope to make her an effective character if she is to cause no conflict? This author doesn't rightly know yet, but the fact is that her character can be seen dotting Real Life, so it makes sense to recreate her here.