Disclaimer: I don't own the rights to Love Hina or any of its characters.
As they ascended the steps hand in hand, Naru thanked each and every single one of her lucky stars for the chance that literally appeared right in front of her. If she left the kitchen a minute or two earlier, then she was certain she would have missed him. The thought of what would have happened if she opted to leave later wasn't something she didn't even want to think about as she reached the top of the stairs and started to move to the next flight without missing a beat.
"Um," She was met with some resistance as Keitaro stopped behind her and lifted his bookbag with his free hand. "You don't mind if I drop this off in my room, do you?"
She could have sworn he hung it up next to his jacket on the post beside the front door, but there was no problem with going to his room first. Naru slowed to a stop to let go of his hand and the landlord passed her without pause. Nodding his thanks on the way to his room and leaving her behind, Keitaro slid his door to the side and entered his room without bothering to turn on the lights. He stopped at the table and unzipped his bookbag to retrieve the treasures inside with careful hands. His sketchbook was laid atop the table and the…
The lights were flicked on, the filament coming to life as the girl that entered his room flicked the switch up. Naru closed the door behind her and locked it if only to keep herself from running away. "Keitaro…" Even though the last thing she wanted to do was chicken out, she was sure she saw something that scared her. "What are you doing?"
"Ha," She hated hearing him chuckle like that. It was the same thing Mitsune did when she caught doing something. "I'm just putting some stuff away."
It was more to it than that.
"What did you just put in your pocket?"
She was justified in stepping into his room and asking what he was doing with his stuff because, for a moment, she thought she spied something that he wasn't supposed to have.
"My eraser?" He fished in his pocket and pulled out a small square of pink. "The pencils I use don't-"
"Okay." He was lying. She could sense it, but she wouldn't press the issue. She decided she wasn't going to get angry with him anymore so she let it slide. Instead of taking about the contents of his pockets, she wanted to say the things she kept to herself for far too long. "I…" She was going to say it whether she wanted to or not. "Keitaro, I…"
She steeled her nerves and tried again.
"I… like you." Just that much was good, she was happy even though that didn't sum up everything she wanted to say. "I didn't mean to…" She was forcing every single word, each and every one of them difficult to get out, but she meant everything she said. "I didn't mean to hurt you when I… did those things."
In a way, it sounded like she was speaking to a child. Her voice was slow, the tone as delicate as she could make it. She sincerely hoped that she wasn't offending him, but the only way to get out what she wanted was to pace herself.
"I know you didn't mean to do any of that…" Keitaro sighed. It was a heavy sound on her ears, something that made the landlord sound more exhausted than he looked. "You didn't have to come up here to tell me that."
"I'm sorry." She swallowed every ounce of her pride before saying it. "I…"
"Naru, it's okay. Really." He spoke after she trailed off and walked over to the sketchbook he put down. A folded piece of paper was retrieved and smoothed out in front of her. "Here."
It wasn't okay with her, but, before she could explain as much, she made the mistake of getting closer to see what he wanted to show her. She stared at the piece of paper he held out and all she needed to look at were the big bold characters near the bottom. "You've been accepted to Tama Art University…?" She looked up at him, the blank expression on her face reflecting the way she felt inside. "Huh…?"
Keitaro nodded with a smile that couldn't be ruined by anything. She was the very first person to see the good news. "I showed them some of the stuff I drew and then I sketched the room we were in. Haha…" He laughed, blushing a little as he recalled the reactions to his art. "They told me that classes start in a few weeks and that I'd get my schedule in two to three days."
She wanted to tear it up.
Her very first impulse was to tear up the acceptance letter he held like a love letter.
The reason she apologized was because she hurt him. She had no problem with saying she was sorry about the things she did to him, but she didn't give a damn about his art. He was making a mistake that was going to ruin his life. Tokyo University was the only school for them if they wanted to succeed so she had to save him from himself.
"Keitaro, you're making a mistake." She put her affections on hold. "It's fine as a hobby…" In her eyes, it wasn't. "It's okay when you're killing time, but you can't do art for a living. You can't do sketches and think you're going to make good money."
"That's not true… Well," He spoke as he folded the letter back up and placed it on top of his sketchbook. "I guess it is in a sense, but the reason I enrolled is because I wanted to become more than what I am now. I might become a mangaka, I might be one of those people that draw portraits for the police… I don't know now, but the reason we all go to school is for the future."
"You're not listening to me." Naru felt like she was doing a good job keeping her calm. "I'm saying art school is a mistake. You're giving up on Tokyo U for some school I never heard of in my entire life just because you're too lazy to find a real career."
"This is a career." He started to understand the reason she wanted to talk to him and, at the same time, started to see the problem she had with his art. "I feel like I'm good at this and I want to get better. I don't see anything wrong with that."
"You could do something else. Something… productive."
"I could do a lot of things, but I want to become a professional artist." He appreciated that she was trying to talk him out of it. It was only after she voiced her disapproval for the second time that he thought to see the reason she… did what she did was because she was worried about him. "I think this is the best for me, but-"
"You can take art classes at Tokyo U."
"A lot of those are supplementary-"
"Forget it." Naru closed her eyes and bit down on her lip to keep from saying more. "Go with wherever you want and do what you want." She begrudgingly settled on the matter. He wasn't going to change his mind and that was okay. She'd help him when he failed. She always did. "Go to school wherever you want, I…" She had to make herself clear or he wasn't going to understand. "I'm sorry. I swear to God that I'm sorry about the door. I'm sorry about ripping up your work. I'm sorry about hitting you… Okay? All of that is in the past. I'm different now."
"I was saying that you didn't have to tell me that." The landlord found a comforting smile even in light of memories of nothing good. "I was really…" He vividly recalled coming to tears on more than one occasion, but, instead of being bitter, he embraced the heartache that made him a stronger person. "Ha, I guess I was really tender hearted, but I'm not mad at you or anything, Naru."
"Then how come you never drew me?" The question she really didn't even want to ask was something she blurted out, something she voiced almost on reaction. "Why didn't you draw me then?"
Even in the art she hated, she deserved just as much of a place as the other girls did so not seeing herself rendered in his most beloved hobby was something that added question marks to the feelings that were supposed to be certain. The thing about it was that she would have understood if he was angry. If he was mad, then it would have made sense for him not to bother sketching her, but if he wasn't…
The question clearly caught him off guard. The smile she always loved was stolen as a harder, more thoughtful expression started to set in. He bowed his head slightly, light catching in his glasses for second as he sunk into thought.
It didn't take long for the answer to arrive, but the shifty look in his eyes was enough to make her regret asking. It was easy to tell he was thinking of a way to tell her what he already knew, but she didn't want any white lies. She needed to know what happened so she could right it. She needed to know what the problem was so she could fix it so there was no way she wanted anything other than the truth.
His sight came to rest on his sketchbook, memories of half finished sketches bouncing off the lip of the garbage bin contributing to the sigh he couldn't help but let out. She was asking him not to lie so he braced himself before looking her in the eyes.
Naru, a woman that he once felt embodied an attractive combination of intelligence and confidence, looked like she was abandoned. The icing that had long since dried looked like clumps of mud and the lonely look on her face made it clear she was ready to be hurt.
With the silence that fell, she knew right then and there that he didn't really have something like a secret Naru folder so she didn't let herself rest on the solitary hope that he did. Instead, she waited on the truth she asked for and bit down on her lip in a lacking effort to subdue the feelings that made her so nervous she didn't know what to do.
"Sometimes it feels like I don't understand you at all, Naru. It's like… No," There was no such thing as understanding someone completely so he corrected himself. "I mean, I don't get—Whoa!"
The hand he used to push his glasses back up barely, just barely, managed to catch the fist that flew straight for his face. It was only after he was sure he had a good enough grip on the fist that almost broke his nose that he thought to look over her knuckles.
She was pissed.
The same woman that looked so pitiful a second ago was livid, her eyes narrowed with nothing other than rage as she drew her other hand back to slap him. Again, he caught her by the wrist and was quick to force her arms above her head.
"You don't understand me…" She wasn't just surprised. She was mystified by the thought that the man she wanted to spend her life with could say something so stupid. He wouldn't have said he loved her if he didn't at least think he understood her on some level! "How can you not-"
"This is what I'm talking about, Naru!" Someone that never raised his voice yelled in her face. "You always do this to me! We can just be talking one moment and then you're knocking me out! I…" The voice he raised without realizing was quickly lowered and the grip on her wrists was relaxed. "I'm saying that I don't understand why you are so angry all the time…"
He didn't get why she was angry?
It was because the world was against her. She had to fight every single day, every second of every minute, in an attempt to make her dreams come true and she had to combat idiocy every step of the way.
She was bad at school at first because the failures took up too much of the teacher's time, she couldn't be with Seta because too many people were in the way, she couldn't get into the school she staked her life on because of a moron, she didn't have any friends because they all turned out to be backstabbers, and…
"Because I love you!" She let go of the reins, and her feelings flowed freely. "I love you and you don't care!"
"It's not like that at all." He wouldn't let her off that easy. "I just want to know why you always get so angry? Is it me? If it is then is it something I can do?"
The words he whispered were far from the yelling he did before, but the light in his eyes never dimmed. He was closing in on something, something important, and he sensed it.
He was on the verge of seeing her.
The woman that quietly ceased her struggling arrived at the same conclusion he did. "Why?" She didn't care about stuff like that so it shouldn't have mattered to him at all. "I just…" The confession, every bit of courage she summoned to voice it, and her best effort to breathe life into their relationship were ruthlessly cut down by the fact that he simply didn't care. "I just said I love you so why is anything else important…?"
"Everything is important, Naru." Someone that hated his art would never see the point of it. "I'm flattered you feel that way about me, really, but don't you wonder why you get like this? Don't you want to know why-"
"Don't treat me like I'm bipolar!" Naru snatched her hands free of his grasp as she spoke, but the strained look in her eyes softened as what she said dawned on her. "I'm…" No more apologies. "I didn't mean to snap at you like that." She rubbed her wrists, unable to look him in the eyes as she spoke. "I… I'm ready now. You don't have to bother with them anymore. I can tell you're serious about your art and that's… okay. I'm okay with it, but I want you to be with me now."
"Naru," Another sigh made him sound older than he really was. "When I said I was in love with you back then I meant it, but now…"
She wasn't going to give up.
"What do you want me to do?" Her throat felt a little tighter and she found it harder to speak, but she had to make him see that it could work. They could still be together! "I can't… sleep with you, but I-"
"Noooo!" He quick to dismiss whatever she was thinking about. "It's just that I'm different from the person that I was seven or eight months ago… I thought I was in-"
She didn't want to hear it.
"We can still be together even…" Every concession that she could make was given up. "E-Even if you like Mitsune."
The chance she waited on her entire life was something that became fleeting and the only thing that hurt more than losing her grasp on it was the fact that his heart didn't even budge. She said she loved him. She finally said it and all she got in return was less than mutual feelings.
"Naru, I'm saying Kitsune is the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with."
"I…" All she wanted was to be happy, but everything was falling apart. "We…" All she had left was a fragile hope that he wouldn't turn her away after how hard she fought so they could be together the way she wanted. "We can keep it a secret… at first."
She offered herself to him the only way she could. If he didn't want to leave Mitsune, then he didn't have to until later. It wasn't so much that it was an affair. It would be reconciliation. Mitsune was already the other woman, so she didn't mind giving him time to get things back in the proper order as long as he…
Keitaro took off his glasses, and her thread of broken logic was frayed by the look in his eyes. He was concerned about her for good reason, but she didn't want him to worry. She wanted him to love her. She wanted him to say something to make her feel better.
Naru wanted him to kiss her.
She moved, crossing the space between them for the sake of an affair that was denied before it started. In her haste, she tripped and clumsily fell into the landlord that gently caught and held her.
That much, by itself, was all it took to stress the change in him.
The idiot that normally would have fell with her, the same fool that would have somehow ended up with his hands all over her breasts, stood as firm as statue and handled her with careful hands. The touch that landed on the shoulders that shook were a far cry from the strength that surrounded her wrists not even a minute ago and the absentminded gropes were a thing of the past.
He hugged her without warning and she sunk into the warmth of his chest. "I love you." Did he know that was all he had to say? That was all she ever wanted from him. "If I didn't love you, if I didn't care, then I don't know what I would have done after-"
A muffled apology came and a comforting hand went up and down her back.
"I know. I know you didn't mean for to happen like that, but… Ha…" It wasn't exactly his fondest memory. "It hurt. It hurt me a lot, but I know you don't go around making master plans to do stuff. It just happens, right? You just get mad and can't help yourself?"
It was truth, but she didn't want to talk about it. She didn't want to talk about being mean to him. "I need you…" She had no reason to save face anymore. "I need you with me, Keitaro. Please-"
It was a blatant refusal and he made no illusion about it. There was no hope to be found in the single word he voiced. It was curt and dry, something that killed any chance of having what she wanted.
"I already said Kitsune is the only person I'm going to be with."
Naru pulled away, the steps she took backwards once again creating the distance she hated between them. It was then and there that she decided that she hated Mitsune. She hated that she masqueraded as her friend. She hated that Keitaro came to possess some of her qualities. She hated that she stole Keitaro from her. She hated that she thought to take the practice exam on a whim. She hated that she was the woman that Keitaro kissed. She hated every single thing about Mitsune and hoped to God that she had it in her not to do something to the woman on sight.
Keitaro put his glasses back on, clearly searching for something to say as conversation waned, but she was finished talking. Naru turned on her heel and started on her way to her room for a chance of clothes.
Naru stopped and waited for him near the doorway, but he stood right where she was. It was only then that she sensed the line between them, something she noticed only because it was something she would be able to cross anymore.
The only way for her dream to come true was for him to come to her. If he came to her, if he forgot about Mitsune, then they could be happy so the reason she waited was to give him ample time to do something. He didn't even have to say anything. All he had to do was touch her. If he did just that much then she would give him everything as long as he promised to be hers forever…
"Good luck on the test."
Good fucking luck?
That was all she got while Mitsune got everything she wanted? Okay. That was fine then. That was perfectly fine. If that was how he wanted to play it, then it was okay with her.
The door didn't move when she tried to slide it back so she kicked it as hard as she wanted to kick Mitsune in the face. The door buckled and broke into two, and the landlord silently watched her give it another kick to force it out into the hall. It gave way with ease and she stepped out and over what used to be the door to his room. She stomped on it, if only to make sure it laid flat, and, all at once, thought to tell him everything she forgot to say.
She wanted to tell him about how Motoko only wanted to sleep with him because she was too goddamn stuck up to say sorry, she wanted to tell him Shinobu was just an angry little bug that could only get back at people by doing petty stuff because she was too scared to face them, she wanted to tell him Su was nothing more than a backstabber just pretending to care, and, of course, she wanted to tell him every secret about Kitsune that she could care to remember.
Naru motioned to speak, but, before she could even get out a word, she realized that all she would be doing was hurting him again. Even if it was the truth, Keitaro wouldn't act on it. He wouldn't kick them out or stop being kind to them. She knew him. He'd just act like nothing happened at all, and, when they ultimately started treating him like they treated her, he'd quietly endure it thinking that it'd end someday.
The thing about it, though, was that there was nothing to say.
If she tried to tell him, tried to save him from the other girls, he'd give her the same look he did when he stopped her from slapping him. If she tried to tell him that she really loved him more than anyone else, instead of love she'd be met with the resistance.
It was over.
It was over for sure, but, to Naru, it was never over until she was done and she wouldn't be done until Keitaro was with her. She'd leave the landlord to think about what she said, and, when he came to his senses, then they'd be able to talk.
With one final stomp and a fleeting glance over her shoulder, Naru started on her way to the room above. Keitaro sighed once more as he stepped out of his room, his eyes quickly leaving Naru's back to take in the damage she left behind. The frame was something he could fix in a few minutes if he still had the materials on hand, but the door…
He bent over the broken wood and looked to see if he could still use the same latch, but it, too, was broken beyond repair. "All she had to do was unlock it…"
Fixing stuff was in his job description and, while replacing a door wasn't exactly his favorite thing to do, it wasn't something that took all that long. What really worried him was the way Naru walked away. It looked like she hurt herself, but he couldn't tell if she was hiding a limp or not.
Either way, it wasn't like she'd let him help her…
That was something he knew from the very beginning. As someone that took it upon himself to make sure all the girls could rely on him, it pained him that everything he tried to do for Naru only ended up with her getting angry. The best he could do was hope to catch his girlfriend before she started getting ready to leave and ask her to keep an eye on the brunette.
Finished inspected the damage, Keitaro straightened his back, took a long, deep breath, and let go of his troubles as he exhaled. Everything was going to be okay. Naru would be angry with him for a couple days and she'd probably stay in her room for a little while, but she'd feel much better after she passed the test.
Tomorrow, he'd plan something big for her. He'll have to ask the other girls for help, but, if they worked together, then everyone would have a good time for sure. Another party would be good considered that he missed out on the first one, but, unfortunately, the first thing he had to do was get a broom.
Kitsune hated riding the bus mostly because of memories of angry drivers pressing her for the fee she always conveniently forgot, but, on the way to their stop, her thoughts centered on the girl seated a few rows in front of her.
Naru, free of the mess that collected on her person, quietly sat beside the window with her head resting on the glass. Keitaro begged her to watch the brunette before they left for the exam, but, even with their differences, it was something she would have done regardless.
It wasn't the first time she joined Naru on the bus. Before Keitaro came, they frequently rode the bus to go places. Sometimes they went to ramen stands, sometimes she dragged the younger girl to a party, sometimes they went to the market, and sometimes they just wanted to get some fresh air. They used to go to a lot of places with each other so, as someone that knew Naru well, it wasn't a good thing that even the elderly people seated behind the girl could tell that she had seen better days.
"Are you okay, young lady?"
The grandma behind her waited for the response that never came and Kitsune watched the exchange, or the lack of thereof, from where she was seated. Instead of responding, Naru abruptly shot a hand up and yanked on the cord. The bus started to slow for their stop and Kitsune almost felt like laughing as she noticed she would have missed the stop if Naru fell asleep or just plain forgot.
"Excuse her," Kitsune stood from her seat and bowed in thanks to the woman that made the inquiry for her friend. "She's…" Both the grandma and Kitsune watched Naru stand and make her exit. "Well, she's just having a hard time right now."
"I hope she feels better… Such a pretty girl shouldn't go around making such a sad face."
Kitsune offered the woman a friendly wave to go along with her trademark smile before following Naru off the bus. As the doors folded close behind her, the first thing she noticed was that it was drizzling. The second was that Naru had long since started walking up the hill. The late autumn rain gave them no trouble as they walked, one faster than the other to catch up, but the dark clouds gathering in the night sky promised nothing good.
"Well…" The bus rumbled down the street and Kitsune tried her hand at conversation as she fell into step. "I think the test was pretty easy. I know it was just for practice, but is the real thing kind of like that?"
"Hmm, we probably need to hurry up…" Naru kept her mouth shut, but Kitsune didn't. She held out a hand as she spoke, catching the rain that collected in her hand for a second before letting it fall. "I didn't get the chance to see the news, but it looks like it's about to get pretty nasty."
Nothing at all.
Naru made her pace and stuck to it, her jacket wrapped tightly around her as she made it clear she wanted nothing to do with the person she felt stole her boyfriend. When the steps that led to their home finally came into sight, the brunette slowed and Kitsune passed her without a moment's hesitation to start her ascent.
She spoke to her for the first time since they left the kitchen.
Surprised, Kitsune turned to find that Naru didn't set foot on the steps. The younger girl looked up at her from the sidewalk, her eyes strained and expression mellowed only in appearance.
"Give Keitaro back to me…"
It wasn't a demand.
It wasn't until she saw the steps that she realized she couldn't even think to return to Hinata House with the way things were. She couldn't see herself going back unless it was something there for her so she asked Mitsune, someone that used to be her very best friend, to let her have the relationship she needed.
"I never asked you for anything. I never ever in my life asked you for anything, but this." Naru was adamant. There were no arguments she prepared. "Just…" It started to rain a little harder than before, the drizzle that teased them becoming heavier as she spoke. "Just do this for me and I'll do anything you want."
It wasn't some half-baked plan to swing Keitaro back into her graces or some sarcastic, self-deprecating joke she tried to use to poke fun at the situation. She was dead serious. If she promised to turn Keitaro over to her, she would probably do anything she asked.
A long time ago, she probably would have agreed just to make her do something stupid so she could sip on a beer and have material to laugh at for days if not weeks, but there was nothing funny about Naru's request.
"I did…" The truth was that she already did what she asked. "I was in love with him and I didn't say anything because I knew he liked you!" The truth was that she tried to do the very thing she asked on more than one occasion. "I didn't start anything with him until he gave up on you!"
She willingly stepped aside so her friend could be happy. It was something that she did more that once, but nothing except misery came from the sacrifices she made in vain. With Seta, she urged Naru on even though she found herself putting tears into her pillow at night. With Keitaro, she used every opportunity she could to kill her own desire for the sake of a friend that ended up playing a heavy-handed game of impossible-to-get.
It pissed her off.
Badmouthing her was one thing. People called her worse things than Naru ever did and none of her feathers were ever ruffled. The other girls were strong. They didn't need pity parties complete with gifts and pats on the back to feel better after they got down. The trouble, the reason why Kitsune felt like she was reaching boiling point, was because of the years of the emotional investment she put into a relationship that honestly only ended up with her boyfriend coming out on the short end of the stick.
She had to calm down.
Keitaro said he forgot all about what she did to his art. He said he was okay, so she was okay. He obviously lied about what happened to his door, but everything was going to be okay. She just had to take a deep breath and…
"He… didn't give up on me."
"He did!" Kitsune wasted no time marching down the steps to get in her face. "He got tired of your shit the same way everyone else did! He almost begged me to look out for you and I swore on fucking scout honor that I would, but goddamnit! I'm so sick of your 'I'm the only victim' bullshit that it makes me kill myself!"
She needed to calm down.
Keitaro asked her to help Naru.
She had to calm down.
"I thought—Gotdamnit…" Kitsune took the deep breath she needed to regain her composure and held it for five seconds before letting it go. "I knew you'd be mad at first, but…" She opened her eyes. "I thought you'd be happy for me. I thought you'd be happy that I got away from drinking and partying away all my free time and found someone that really cared about me. Happy that I found a relationship that had more going for it than just sex or going to the club too much." The same look she had in the kitchen returned with a vengeance. "You were the closest thing I had to a sister, the closest thing I had to family since I left my own, but you want to deny me the first real good thing that ever happened to me?"
"I'm not denying you anything!" She should have realized from the get go that she wouldn't be able to reason with someone like Mitsune. "I was trying to settle this, but you're having a misconception. Keitaro is mine. I'm-"
"I'm not misunderstanding anything." Kitsune looked her straight in the eye as she spoke, never looking away as she strived to make a point that would reach her former best friend. "Before anything else, I want to help you. I swore I was going to help the people important to me, but I love Keitaro, Naru… I'm not going to give him up just to make you feel better. I'm not going to give him up for anything."
Some best friend she was supposed to be…
"So you're just going to take my place?" The woman that always felt victimized focused instead on what she stood to lose. "You're just going to take away the only thing-"
"I'm not taking your place…" Kitsune was slow to say what was on her mind as thunder sounded off in the distance. "I never pretended to be you. I never tried to do things you do. I told you that all I did was tell him how I felt and let things fall into place."
The rain started to come down harder, but neither thought to move a step. "Is this how you want to get back at me, Mitsune?" They got drenched as the downpour continued, but Naru wasn't setting even one foot in Hinata House without knowing the truth. "Huh? Does it make you feel good doing this to me?"
"Don't you want to get over this?" She countered a question with another one. "Aren't you tired of-"
"You don't understand…" As someone that had everything she wanted, Mitsune would never be able to understand her. "I know I failed the exam… I couldn't concentrate. I wasted so much time I…" She trailed off, a feeling of complete and utter loss welling up inside her as she recalled getting to the point where she was randomly marking answers because she didn't have enough time to read the questions. "I know that party was really just for you and they hate me now… You saw how they looked at me…"
"I saw… the ring." Naru looked up towards the clouds that rained on her, her tears visible despite the rain. "He got a ring for you, Mitsune, and I… I don't have anything." She just felt empty. "I'm asking you… No," She killed her pride again. "I'm begging you. Please give Keitaro back to me."
"Don't do this." Kitsune took the few steps down she needed to meet Naru on even ground. "Let's get out of this storm and go-"
"No! Give him back to me!" Naru knew she was difficult. She knew she was a bitch that was extra hard to get along with sometimes, but it was just too unfair. It wasn't right that the very situation she found herself in was what she fought to prevent. "I won't mess up this time. Please… just give him back to me."
Keitaro wasn't the favorite pen she let people borrow on occasion or a good book she kept on her desk just to look smart. He wasn't a piece of meat or something she could just up and give to someone. He was a person, her boyfriend as a matter of fact, and she wasn't going to do anything to put their relationship in jeopardy.
That was why she said no before realizing she did.
"I…" Vengeful eyes were filled with nothing except the darkest intent. "I hate you, Mitsune. I swear to God I hope something happens to you."
"Ha… C'mon…" The same light chuckle she detested only made Naru's scowl deeper. "You're just saying that because-"
"No, I hope you get hit by a fucking car on your way to wherever the—No!" Kitsune tried to move closer to her and Naru flailed away from any attempt at contact. She didn't want a hug. She didn't want to be touched. She didn't want to be on friendly terms with someone that ruined her life. "Get the fuck away from me!" She cried as she toppled to the ground, the slip of her shoe on the slick sidewalk aiding in her descent.
Naru stayed were she was sprawled on the ground, but, even though she moved like she was hurt, her eyes were alive with nothing other than hate. She tried to be civil, but she couldn't stand looking at her anymore. If Mitsune wanted to be a selfish bitch, then she had no problem being just as nasty.
She could feel the tendrils of rage spreading, anger seeping into her as she thought to look up at her antagonist. It wasn't until she saw gray, until she looked under the bangs and into Mitsune's eyes, that she recalled how much she wanted to hurt her. She wanted to kick her face and stomp on her the same way she broke Keitaro's door. She wanted to rip her up the same way she tore his art to pieces, the same way she wanted to rip his acceptance letter in half.
Everything was her fault.
Kitsune was the one that started everything and ended up with what she wanted, but she wasn't going to let it be that easy. She didn't win, yet. "I told him you enjoyed the gangbang you had back in high school!" Naru laughed, the hate that masked how she really felt aiding in holding her misery at bay. "I told him about you spending three weeks at some guy's house, too!"
"I never did anything like that…"
"Haha!" She laughed as hard as she could to keep from crying again. "So!? I don't care if it's true or not! I hope he takes the ring back before you get a chance to see it! It'd be even better if he took it back tonight!" Nothing mattered anymore. "I hope he cheats on you the same way he—You tired of listening to me now, Mitsune!? You're tired of me now that I don't want your help!?" She screamed at the woman that slowly started to make her way up the steps. "Fine! Keep going! Keep on taking everything from me!!"
She didn't have anything else to say to Naru.
Everything that needed to be said was already said.
Everything she did for Naru wasn't in vain, because it was something she did for a friend. It didn't matter if the work she put in amounted to nothing. The value she took from trying to put them together paid off every time her friend was happy.
Naru was her friend.
The brunette that shyly met them in the kitchen with her favorite clothes on wasn't the same person that pushed Keitaro around just because she got angry. She ended up making a scene, but she saw with her own eyes that she was trying to grow in her own way.
Kitsune muted the feelings that urged her to leave and turned around. Without a word, she endured the hateful gaze that felt like it burned a hole through her chest and gave someone important to her another chance. She knew Naru wouldn't take kindly to a hand held out for her sake, so she merely stood in place and waited.
She just wanted Naru to know she was there.
The art she destroyed, the lies she told, the bridges she burned… All those things, all her mistakes, could put behind them if they worked at it. It wouldn't be easy, but it wasn't supposed to be. There was no doubt it'd be hard, but she'd welcome the opportunity.
"Thinking I'm going to ask for your help…" It was laughable, but she didn't feel like laughing anymore. "I don't need you." She wobbled, a tight grimace coming to her face as she used her hands to slowly get to her feet. She stood on a tender ankle and it hurt like hell, but she didn't need any help. "I don't need anything from you."
"I know you're taking this hard. I know you are, but it's not the end of-"
"Just leave me alone… Just…" She was tired. She didn't want to fight anymore. She just wanted to be happy, but she always ended up hurt. "Go away…"
That was how it ended.
There was no tearful reunion or heart to heart talk that led to a mutual understanding. Instead of opening her heart, Naru locked it even tighter than before. It was something she expected, but to actually have it happen didn't make her feel any better.
Kitsune once again turned around and made her way up the steps. She watched her like Keitaro asked and tried her best to help her. She'd be able to go to sleep with a clear conscience. It was grim, that much was for sure, but Naru would surely get over it. It'd be tough, but the test was just a practice exam and the other girls wouldn't stay mad at her forever.
And if Keitaro really already brought the ring…
Kitsune blinked and slowly to a stop when Hinata House came into sight. She couldn't help but break into a smile as she climbed the last few steps and looked up at her home. If there was an engagement ring waiting for her, then there was no doubt she'd be walking into a proposal.
It'd be nice, but, even though thoughts of marriage made her giggly, there was someone important to her that was feeling hurt and alone so Kitsune put off dreams of Keitaro getting down on one knee and opened the front door to fetch an umbrella.
Kitsune found what she was looking for on the floor not too far from the door and, without pause, walked back out into the storm. The thing about Naru was that she was stubborn to the point of being stupid about things, but she was good at being stupid about things, too. If Naru wanted to stay outside, then they'd stay outside until she decided she wanted to come in.
Heartbreak hurt, but, even if she wasn't trying to teach her a lesson, it was something to learn from. It was something she learned well, something that changed her into the woman she was, and it was the reason why she had no problem braving the storm to help someone experiencing it. She knew how it felt to be sad and alone with seemingly no one around that'd help.
That was why she was determined to be there regardless of everything that happened.
Kitsune raised the umbrella as thunder boomed, but, when the lightning finally struck, she saw no sight of the brunette she left at the bottom of the steps. Instantly, fear started to creep into her heart as she quickly looked around. "Hey! Naru!" She wasn't even gone for more than a few minutes! "Naru, where are you!?"
Kitsune recklessly flew down the steps without a thought paid to being cautious. She knew the best thing to do would be to go inside and get help to search for her, but, with her limp, she couldn't have gotten far.
"Naru!" She screamed, the umbrella thrown to the side and abandoned as she put her hands around her mouth. "Naru!"
Nothing at all.
Kitsune reached the bottom of the steps and went straight into the teahouse. She barged inside, a puddle collecting under her as she found the place just as clean as she last left it. One good, long look was all she needed to tell that nothing was disturbed so she left without looking back.
She checked the bus stop, the place they got dropped off at, and the bus stop before that one. She went up the hill and passed Hinata House to see if Naru went the other way. She checked the teahouse again before going back up to steps to see if she somehow missed the girl on the way up, but her shoes weren't there.
When she thought to call the police everyone tried to calm her down, but she did it anyway. It came as no surprise that the officer that arrived believed she was overreacting because, deep down, she knew she was. It wasn't exactly rare for people to take off from Hinata House on what seemed like a whim. All they'd do would just pack up and go after them, but Motoko completely refused to look for her and Shinobu outright laughed at the thought. Su avoided the topic and Keitaro did his best to convince her that Naru would come back eventually, but she didn't care about eventually.
The reason why she panicked had nothing to do with letting it happen on her watch. The reason why she was so desperate was because it reminded her of when she left her own family except worse. At the time, she felt like mother was just being a grandstanding bitch, but Naru felt like they all ganged up on her. She felt like they didn't want her around anymore, and nothing she could say could change how she felt. She had to make Naru see for herself and to make her see how things really were she had to find her.
Things gradually settled down.
Keitaro enrolled in school and she passed Tokyo University's entrance exam, but Naru didn't return to make an attempt on it. Her boyfriend proposed to her not long afterwards and everyone was happy for her, but Naru was still gone. She sent out wedding invitations to everyone she knew, and, even though she sent one to every known address Naru ever had, she never heard a word from her.
That didn't mean she wasn't happy, though. Every day was wonderful and filled with excitement. Su still wrecked the place with her creations from time to time, Motoko could still make any man within a certain radius wet themselves if she narrowed her eyes, Shinobu was still deserving of the highest praise for her culinary efforts, Keitaro still had fun sketching their antics, and she actually came to love going to class and managing the teahouse.
Life was good, but…
Naru was still gone.
"I love you."
Kitsune grinned at the woman in the mirror. She looked so… different dressed in something with so much lace and so much white. As someone that never really liked dresses, it did make her feel a little uncomfortable to be in something so big and fluffy, but, at the same time, the wedding dress felt like it was weaved out of dreams.
It felt surreal.
If Keitaro never became the landlord, if he never thought to seriously give her a chance, she'd probably be at some racetrack with a fistful of tickets and a pocket so empty that even nothing felt like something. Instead of being somewhere wasting money on bets that'd probably amount to nothing much, she somehow managed to sweet talk some people into letting her have her own column in a newspaper even though she was still a student.
She leaned closer to her reflection and watched herself pull a lock of gray to the side. It was funny to think that she originally wanted her regular haircut, but the stylist didn't even lift the scissors. It wasn't until she finally had a chance to really look at it herself that she decided she liked it a lot. The makeup, though, was something she thought she would have a problem with. As someone that didn't like using it on account of being lazy, she didn't really know much about it all, but the difference was marginal. It was kind of sad considering she did pay for it, but it did make her feel better and that accounted for a lot considering she felt like the happiest woman in the world.
"Haha…" The bride smiled as she straightened back up and struck a silly pose. "I love you, Kitsune!"
Keitaro laughed from where he sat, his sketchbook in lap and pencil in hand as he put what was in front of him on paper. "I should be the one saying that, you know."
"It's all good Keikei!" She awkwardly turned around and once again cursed the high heels she wore under her breath. "You're going to be saying it with your lips today!"
"S-So…" She loved the way he blushed as he tried to change the subject. "I met your family. Well, I met you father and your brother not too long ago." He put his pencil down and looked up at his future wife. "They're kind of… Hmm…"
"Yeah." That was a good word for it. "They seem really serious, but I guess anyone would get serious about their daughter or sister. I heard your brother already got his degree."
"Ha," Kitsune grinned as she walked over and took a seat next to him. "I told you he was pretty smart. He's going to get another degree in engineering before I even finish mine, but he's not just going to be my brother. He's going to be your brother, too."
"That's right…" They were all going to be family after the wedding. "Going to be my first time having a brother."
"Going to be my first time having a real sister, too."
"Oh yeah!" He was so nervous when he met her family that he forgot she met with some of his. "I hope Kanako didn't scare you too much. She kind of goes overboard with new people, but she's really nice when you get to know her."
"I got to admit that little sister caught me off guard with the disguises, but she's plenty cute. It was nice meeting everyone, but I have to say the best part was seeing that grandma made it." Keitaro stood as she spoke and, for the first time, she got a good look at him in his tuxedo. One of his secrets was that he liked to dress up, especially for big occasions, and few things were bigger than the event set to take place in less than a few hours. "I was a little worried she wouldn't make it back from her trip in time, but she actually got here relatively early."
"Yeah," Keitaro nodded in agreement as he placed his closed sketchbook on the coffee table. "You really never know with-"
"Ara ara…" Conversation came to halt as a familiar voice attracted their attention to the doors that parted. The familiar face of the watermelon lover arrived with a smile for the couple as she made her entrance. "Don't you two know it's bad luck for the bride and broom to be together before the wedding?"
"Mutsumi!" Kitsune shot out of her seat and met the older woman with a hug. "You said you had to watch all of your sisters and brothers!"
"I just wanted to surprise you." She extracted herself out of the embrace and turned her attention to the landlord. "You still look handsome, Keitaro."
"Ha, thanks." He, too, walked into the hug that was waiting on him. "How have you been, Mutsumi?"
"Pretty good." She let go of him, his smile something that matched her own as she spoke. "I didn't even fall on my way here."
"Ha…?" He scratched the back of his head, unable to think of a way to respond to something she voiced with a proud twinkle in her eyes. "T-That's good."
The woman that loved him longer than any other smiled at him as she walked over to the seat he vacated. "I'll love to talk longer, but, if you don't mind, I wanted to have a little girl talk with Kitsune and…" She locked eyes with him. "You know you're not supposed to be in here, right?"
Keitaro fixed his glasses on his face before motioning to leave and, before he took a step, she quickly caught him by the wrist. He looked down at her, the eyebrow he raised met only with the smile that was always there.
Again, he put on a grand smile that fit the occasion and…
She let go.
The smile that never died slipped as Keitaro took his leave and his fiancé wasn't at all slow to take note of the fact. She, more than anyone, knew what it felt like to long for someone so the look on Mutsumi's face was no stranger to her. It was a look that all the women in Keitaro's life approached her with in some form. It was a look that defined the mixed feelings made manifest in the forced smiled she found waiting on her.
"Take care of him, okay…?"
It was always the same sentiment, always worded differently, but always coming down to the same exact thing.
Hurt him and she'd regret it.
No one said as much.
Motoko didn't draw a sword on her, Kanako came close but couldn't quite get out what she wanted to say in the presence of grandma, her future mother-in-law gave her a few staring contests, and, right in front of her, Mutsumi timidly asked her to make sure nothing bad happened. None of them threatened her, though. All they asked was that she didn't mess up what she had. They, all in them in their own way, were just asking her to be careful, but she didn't need anyone to tell her not to take Keitaro for granted.
"I will." Kitsune responded with confidence as she walked over to Mutsumi and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry. I'll definitely take care of him."
She was tired of it, but she was grateful, too.
It was more than just idle affections that made them show sides of their characters that Keitaro never saw. It was because he was loved that even the best of friends and family doubted her, but the reason they could say such things and smile was because she became a woman capable and responsible enough to maintain a healthy relationship.
"How are the other girls?" Her smile returned, but it didn't quite reach her eyes until she thought to ask about the other tenants of Hinata House. "I didn't get a chance to see anyone, but Su and her new Mecha Keitaro."
"Ha, she said she wouldn't be the flower girl if she couldn't bring it along." Kitsune smiled as well before taking the same seat she sat in before. "Everyone is pretty much alright. Motoko learned a new move not too long ago. I remember how excited she was to show her sister. I told Shinobu that my father would pay for a caterer, but she insisted on putting in the work, and God knows I can't say no to her cooking. She's probably in the kitchen now as a matter of fact. You wouldn't mind doing me a favor and checking up on her, would you?"
"Ara ara," Mutsumi chuckled at the thought as she stood and smoothed out her dress. "Sure, but you know me. I'll only end up getting in the way."
"That's not true." Kitsune winked at her. "You're not in the way now, are you?"
"Suppose that's true." The older woman made her way towards the double doors, but spied the bribe over her shoulder before she parted them. "Kitsune, don't worry too much about Naru… She's a strong girl. She just needs some time, but we both know nothing will hold her down."
With that, she left and Kitsune couldn't help but feel like a little of wind was lost from her sails at the mention of Naru. There was no doubt it was going to come up, but, even though people tried to keep it to hushed whispered and backdoor talk, the subject of her missing was something that brought her down whenever she heard it.
She needed to think about something else.
Kitsune leaned her head back and rested it on the back of the chair. The brown eyes that looked through the gray of her hair took in the grand architecture of the church. Even though the room she was in was the smallest one they had, it was still a couple times larger than her bedroom. It was old, but pristine. It felt like more of a castle than a church thanks to the attention to detail, but the radiance of the stained glass was enough to remind her where she was.
When she first let her parents know she was getting married, they fully expected her to go with Shinto style arrangements, but, even though she wasn't a Christian, a church seemed much more fitting than some lobby to hold her wedding. It had a lot more space, but she loved the feel of the church more than anything. To her, it was perfect and, probably because she wanted it so much, Keitaro agreed on the spot.
For the third time since she woke up, Kitsune pinched herself.
Everything felt like a dream.
Getting in school, having a job that actually made her proud, getting married…
Life was wonderful.
"Kitsune, you in there?"
"Yeah, I'm in here." The bride sat back up and responded to the knocking that came with the question. "Is that Haruka?"
"Uh huh, I just got here, but everything looks good." She stayed on the other side of the door, no doubt because of the cigarette she was surely smoking. "Sarah and Seta ran off to see Keitaro, but I'll drag them over to see you at the reception."
"Haha, it's fine. I can already picture him getting slapped on the back and getting kicked in the shins all at the same time." Kitsune stood and walked over to the door if only to hear the familiar voice better. "You can come in, you know. Smoke-"
"I appreciate the offer, but today is big." She was close enough to hear her take a puff. "Can't have you going down the aisle smelling like smoke, plus you're probably tired of everyone getting in your face by now."
"Not really…" She leaned against the door with a smile. It wasn't too long ago that Haruka herself got married, but she was always so calm and cool that nothing seemed to faze her. It was a secret she guarded well, but, out of everyone in her entire life, Haruka was the closest thing she had to a role model. "You got any advice for me?"
"Not really." Another drag and a slow exhale came from the other side of the door. "You're going to be fine, Kitsune. Just take it easy. Don't get scared. If you start getting cold feet then just come and talk to me."
It was just like her.
Haruka was laid back, almost to the point of indifference, but, after one thought to speak with her, it was comically easy for her to make her feelings known. It was in Haruka and no one else that she saw flashes of both a mother away from home and the older sister she never had.
"Ha, I'll be fine." The memories of Haruka being so hard on her reminded her of the woman that tried her hand at tough love just once and was vehemently rejected. "I do want you to meet my mother when you get the chance, though." The back she rested against the door was lifted as she turned around with intentions of opening it, but, before she could, something slipped under the door. "Huh?"
"I'm sure I'll catch her somewhere in the crowd, but this note I picked up-"
"Ah… It's addressed to me." She knelled and picked it up. The characters on the front spelled out her given name, but had no mention of who or where it came from.
There was only one way to find out.
Kitsune tore open the envelope and extracted a single, folded up piece of notebook paper from inside. "Dear Mitsune," She started, her eyes narrowing as she scanned the contents of the letter. "I hate you…" Her breath caught in her throat, before she saw the next line of characters. "Just kidding…"
"I hope you have a good day and…" The bride rose to her full height, as she read, unable to deny the spark of hope that made her pulse quicken. "I'm sorry."
"Hey, what did it-"
The doors were pulled open and the cigarette fell free from the teahouse owner's mouth as Kitsune rushed by her without a moment spared to look back. The shock alone was enough to hold her in place as she watched the fleeing bride, but all it took was one notion to change everything.
Kitsune was becoming a runaway bride.
Just like the woman before her, Haruka took off and was the first person on the chase that attracted more and more people with every hall Kitsune ran down and with every corner she rounded.
The bride herself paid no heed to the commotion behind her. If Haruka picked up a note, it meant that it wasn't there when Mutsumi came. There was no doubt in her mind that the person that wrote it couldn't be too far away. It took more than a few minutes to get to the rooms towards the back of the church, and, with everyone looking to get in, it wasn't exactly easy to get out.
"Kitsune! Stop right where you are!"
"It's time, Mecha Keitaro!"
"Seta! Do something!"
"Damn these heels!" She couldn't afford to be caught so she wasn't going to let them catch her. It was a simple as that. The shrill sound of Motoko's warning had nothing on the sound of her sword being drawn, but she had nothing to worry about as long as the taller girl was behind her. What did promise some trouble were the little princess and the grown man waiting for her near the entrance.
Su, unable to flip off the top of Mecha Keitaro like she usually would because of her dress, had to settle with just climbing down as her creation got ready to dive on top of the runaway bribe. "I never thought you'd do something like this, Kitsune!"
"W-Wait Su!" Seta slid to a stop in front of the machine. "Surely she has her rea—Ahh!"
Kitsune laughed out loud as Mecha Keitaro ran and tripped over Seta. With the people behind her closing in, all it took to get to get to exit was a quick step on the robot's head and small hop over groaning man beneath it.
"Not so fast!"
Small hands latched onto the dress she dirtied with her running, but Su's feeble efforts to pull her back ceased when she pushed open the doors of the church and yelled for a person they thought they'd never see again.
"Naru!" The hustle and bustle of the city continued like nothing ever happened, but the crowd that chased after her came to a halt at the same time Su let go of her dress. Kitsune made her way down the steps until she stood near the busy street right in front of the church. "Naru! I know you're out here!"
Everyone looked around for sight of the brunette, but the chance that she changed her appearance was something that could have very well happened. Instead of looking for a girl with long, honey brown hair, they could have been searching for someone with short, jet-black hair. Instead of a girl that liked to wear nice clothes when she could, they could have been looking for someone that didn't give a damn how she looked anymore.
More than that, it was a pretty day. It was a fitting day for a wedding, but it was also a reason for a lot of people to be outside. It was far too many people to pick just one out of the crowd. It definitely had to be harder than picking a needle out-
In a sea of movement, a single person across the street stood almost perfectly still and looked directly at her. They stared at each other, both of them frozen in place thanks to the sight of each other. Kitsune wanted to saw something. She wanted to say anything to make Naru stay right where she was, but, when the brunette turned around and started to walk away, she lost the voice that wanted to say everything.
Kitsune lifted the head she lowered and found her fiancé rushing down the steps. Keitaro laughed, free of the feelings that plagued his future wife as he chased after another woman. They were both happy to see her, but he had no reservations about going and getting her. Just like her, he didn't mind postponing things for a few minutes to catch up with someone important and the timely red light felt like another gift on a special day.
More and more people gathered outside the church and watched the groom catch up with the girl that some of them didn't even know. It was suspicious enough to give way to whispering behind her, but Kitsune listened to none of it as she eyed Keitaro and Naru from afar.
"You could have just told me you thought she was in the area and you could have saved yourself from getting your dress dirty…" Haruka met Kitsune at the bottom of the steps and pulled another cigarette out of her purse before second thinking it. The cigarette was flicked back inside, but the circumstances still made her feel like lighting one up. "Probably could have kept that idiot in there from getting hurt, too."
"Huh…?" She saw what happened, but she didn't know it was serious. "Seta is-"
"Don't worry," Haruka watched her nephew try his hand at talking to someone that looked like she wanted to run away. "He'll have an interesting limp, but he'll be fine. More than that, I know you haven't seen her in a while, but you got to think about how things look."
"I know…" Kitsune turned her attention back to the two across the street. "I know it looked like I was running away, but I just really wanted to go see her. I wanted to talk to her. I wanted to tell her things I should have said before, but… when I saw the way she looked at me I…" She trailed off, but, before she realized it, all of her friends and all of her family surrounded her in front of the church.
Haruka sighed before she put a friendly arm around Kitsune's shoulders. "Don't be a dummy." The people that crowded around her, the same people that whispered questions behind her back just a minute ago, happily talked to each other like nothing happened. Discussion flowed over customary handshakes and timid hugs as people met each other, and friendships were made on the fly. It was a happy occasion, something that marked the beginning of a union between people that loved each other, so it looked silly for the woman at the center of the festivities to be sad. "This is your day. This is a day just for Kitsune and Keitaro so we all want you two to be happy. Yeah," She laughed a little, a rare show of amusement put on display as she, too, turned to look across the street. "Some of us thought you were on your way to get a taxi, but what happened already happened. You're not running away so everything is good. The main thing is that you're happy. If you're satisfied with just seeing her that's fine, but if you want to talk to her then…"
A tiny shove forward was all it took to send the bride a few steps forward.
Kitsune looked behind her and her clouded heart cleared upon seeing everyone in such high spirits. Her mother was happily playing with Su, Sarah and Shinobu caught up with each other for what had to be the first time in months, Shirai and Keitaro's father wiped tears of laughter out their eyes as Mecha Keitaro and Seta helped each other down the steps, Tsuruko shared a quiet conversation with her brother, and… everything just looked right.
The same warm feeling that welled up in her chest when she burst out of the room and started to chase down Naru returned as she set foot on the crosswalk and slowly, but surely made her way across the street.
What would she say?
She didn't know.
Keitaro looked right at home speaking to her, almost like she never left. He spoke with a smile plastered across his face, but it wasn't until she got close enough to hear the one sided conversation that she found out why.
"…not. Stuff like that is important, but just knowing you're alright is good enough for us." Keitaro was just happy to see her. He didn't need to think of anything to say or any point he needed to make. Just seeing her and knowing she was okay was reason enough to be glad. "Look." He nodded his towards his fiancé as she made it across the street. "There she is."
Naru stiffened before turning around. The long, silky brown that made up her hair twirled with her as she spun to face the woman she once believed ruined her life, but, even with the time that passed, she was unable to meet her with a smile.
"Naru, where…" Kitsune, too, couldn't meet her with something like a smile as a mix of feelings assaulted her all at once. She was angry, pissed in fact, that she took off without even saying goodbye, she was hurt that she didn't even think to say anything, but, more than anything else, she was happy to see her. "Where have you been!?"
"My aunt…" Her voice was quiet, far more subdued than it normally was. "She was letting me stay in her apartment for a few months until I found a job, but…" The most striking change about her was that ghostly look in her eyes. "I… never found a job. I didn't know what I should do, but she was kind enough to let me stay anyway." Naru's shoulders slumped as she spoke, the hard time she was having evident by the expression that barely changed as she spoke. "I just came to say that I was sorry for everything, but I… I didn't really expect to see you."
The last time she saw Mitsune was the worst day of her life.
The girls she thought would be her friends forever glared at her with anger that couldn't be anymore justified, her the favorite clothes, the ones she received from her mother as a gift, were ruined beyond repair, she failed a test she should have easily passed, she lost Keitaro, and, she ran away from it all.
It was laughable to think that the same girl that set her sights on the best school in Japan ended up limping away from her home and taking a ride in a taxi on credit called pity, but she thought nothing of it. She didn't think of anything except getting away.
Naru lifted her head and looked up into the expanse of blue dotted with puffs of white. It wasn't hard for her to say what she wanted to say anymore because, quite frankly, she didn't care how she sounded. She didn't have any appearances to keep up or a front to maintain. "I felt abandoned at first, but I was the one that ran away, huh?"
"Your room is still there, Naru." Keitaro spoke without turning to face her. He kept his smile as he watched the crowd across the street. "Everything is how you left-"
"I'm not going back…" The brunette followed his line of sight. "I'm not a part of that… I just came to say I'm sorry and probably see you if I was lucky. That's all."
"You're an idiot, Naru." Something that she wanted to say for as long as she could care to remember came out. "You always think you're the smartest person around, you always say stuff you don't really mean, you forget to give back the clothes you borrow, you pretend to be confident when you're really the shyest person I know, you-"
"I get it…" Two sets of brown eyes locked on each other before Naru brought a hand up and dragged it down her face. "You don't have to rub it-"
"You always interrupt people when they're talking." Kitsune couldn't help the smile that came to her face as she continued. "You do a lot of stuff. I don't know if you still do or not, but I'm not here because I want to see you apologize. I'm not here because you ran away on my watch. I'm not here to kick you while you're down… I'm your friend."
There was only so much that could be found in an apology…
Just saying sorry didn't take back things that happened. The satisfaction in an apology didn't just come from sincerity, but the fact that the offender understood the wrong and acknowledged as much. With time, Kitsune knew Naru would come to understand, but, even if that was good, it alone didn't fill in the rift made by the girl's absence.
"Coming back just to say sorry?" She stretched her arms out wide as she neared Naru for the hug they both needed. "What's the point of saying something like that without making up?"
"I thought you'd still be mad…" Tears were something Naru hated. She always detested crying because she was supposed to be strong, but the moisture that built in the corners of her eyes couldn't be denied. "I didn't want to meet you because… because I thought you wouldn't want to see me anymore."
"You idiot…" Kitsune said it affection as she abruptly closed the distance between them. "You didn't think I knew you had a temper? I…" She paused as she felt the wetness build on her shoulder, and she, too, started to cry as they tightened their hold on each other. "I started to think I wouldn't see you again…"
"I missed you…" The feelings obscured by desire were left in the loneliest taxi ride she ever took. She had long since opened her eyes and saw herself for the person she really was. "I missed everyone and…" She sobbed and Keitaro fished in his pocket for a handkerchief as the two slowly parted. "I saw the invitations, but I was so scared." The cloth was accepted, but the tears came too quickly for her to dry her eyes. "I didn't know how to act around you."
"You don't have to act around me, Naru." A quick swipe and rub with the back of her forearm cleared her vision. "I know things have been rough, but that doesn't mean we can't just start again right now."
"I don't know…" Naru bit down on her lip and hoped neither one of them noticed that she was trembling. It was hard for her to explain that she was always scared of new things without sounding stupid so she hesitated the same way she always did even though there was nothing she wanted to do more than make up with Kitsune. "Like I said, I just—W-Woah!" The bride took hold of her hand and moved without warning, half dragging the brunette that had to rush to keep from falling over. "W-Wait, Kitsune!"
Making up was one thing, but seeing everyone else, seeing the other girls, was too much!
Kitsune only looked as they crossed the street hand in hand. As friends and family welcomed them back, some appalled after a glance at the bottom of her dress, the bride only voiced a single question.
Something she learned was that there was no reason to be away from friends and family so she made sure to bring Naru over no matter what she said.
"Because I'm not ready for this!" Naru cried as she was pulled along. It felt like her heart was going to explode as both people she only heard of and people familiar to her started to come closer. "I'm not supposed to be here…" She caught sight of Motoko in the crowd and quickly turned away. "No one will want me here…"
"That's not true at all." Keitaro voiced from behind her. "I'm glad you're here."
Did he know how important it was for her to hear him say something like that?
When it came to Kitsune, she knew she said some foul things, but that was all she really did to her. That was bad, but the things she did to Keitaro were far worse. It made her sick to think about it, but the truth was that she slapped him around and played with his heart when he gave it to her.
She was happy, extremely so, when he said he loved her, but, when she realized that she was too scared to take things to the next level, she put off his advances by taking her anger out on him the same way she always did.
"Keitaro…" She was intensely bitter about the experience and about the way things turned out, but she still loved him. "Thank you…"
"Don't go around thinking that you don't belong here or something like that." Naru stopped looking over her shoulder and instead focused on the woman that tugged her along. "Haha," Kitsune laughed out loud at the thought as they weaved their way through the crowd and towards the doors that were opened for them. "If you're not supposed to be here, then who is? I know we met some hurdles and hit a lot of bumps along the way, but…"
The bride stopped at the top of the steps and faced not only the crowd, but Naru and her future husband as well. Even though her eyes were still watery, she met them all with the smile that defined the woman that she was. Kitsune winked at Naru as the other tenants made their way through the crowd to welcome her back.
"We never stopped being best…"
Author's note: Ah, it's finally over. I tried to think of what I wanted to say when I finished, but, to sum it up, I really just want to say thank you to everyone for the support. I really mean it when I say every bit of input helped. I kind of wish I could respond to everyone, but it'd be kind of crazy having a chapter full of review responses.
To talk a little about the story, it was originally going to be about three or four chapters long with Kitsune eventually talking Naru into making up her mind to build her relationship, but, as time went on, I started to wonder about the message I was sending so, a few chapters in, I flipped the script and started getting pretty far away from my original concept. Hmm, if there was a main point to this story, I'll have to say that it's to keep what friends you have when you can and not letting situations that can be resolved end up tearing people apart.
That said, I got to move on to the next story, but, once again, thanks for reading everyone.