Disclaimer: Love Hina is the property of Ken Akamatsu and Tokyo Pop. Because of that, I ain't gonna make so much as a nickel for writin' this…
C+C is always welcome, either in the review section, or at my email: hawker(underscore)748(at)hotmail(dot)com
"Sempai, shoo!" Shinobu scolded, waving her wooden spoon in a vaguely threatening manner belied by the faint blush on her face. "Dinner will be ready in twenty minutes, you don't need to pick at it."
"But I'm hungry…"
"Everyone is, but you don't see Naru picking at it, do you?" The little chef waved in the direction of the brunette sitting at the table.
"Well, that's true," Keitaro admitted.
"But that's because she waited until you went to the pantry…"
"Naru!" Shinobu gave a betrayed look, as Keitaro took the opportunity to escape, smiling at Naru despite the look that promised retribution.
Keitaro was still chuckling as he passed Kitsune, making the fox-eyed girl briefly consider asking him what he found amusing, but she decided not to. 'I'll just wheedle it out of him later,' she decided. She had more important things to think about. Like that hot tip she'd gotten about a mare in the fifth race this evening. "C'mon, Broken Wings," she murmured to herself as she flopped down onto the sofa, cracking a beer with one hand and flipping on the TV with the other. "Mama needs a new pair of shoes…"
Kitsune took a sip during the commercial, impatient for the few minutes before post time to pass. The horses were being lead to the starting gate when the doorbell rang. "There's someone at the door," she called out, not even glancing at the doorway.
"Can you get it?" Shinobu asked. "I'm busy with dinner."
"I'm studying. Put down the beer and the remote, and get your butt off the couch!" her friend shouted back. "You're closest!"
"Fine," Kitsune acquiesced in a huff. "Who's wasting my time, I've got 5,000 yen on this race…" Grumbling to herself, she stomped over to the door, knowing she was being petulant, but not really caring. She reached the entrance and yanked the door open. "Whatever you're selling, we don't want it."
"What is it? Avon? Brushes? Vacuums?" Kitsune demanded. "Or is this a delivery? Stripper-gram?"
"No!" the woman retorted, looking embarrassed. "I was just wondering if you could help me…"
The woman scratched the back of her head. "I'm kinda lost."
"Oh? What are you looking for?"
"I heard there was a day-care center around here, but I can't remember the address," the woman admitted.
"Day-care?" Kitsune chuckled. "Feels like it sometimes. But no, it's a couple of blocks that way." Keeping her ears peeled for the start of the race, Kitsune took a moment to give the visitor a once-over; she was a foreigner, with long blonde hair and blue eyes, probably closer to middle age than she liked, and a few inches taller than she was.
The stranger looked disappointed. "I must have walked right by it…"
Kitsune shrugged. "It happens."
"What is this place then?"
"It's a girls' dorm."
"A girl's' dorm?" the woman asked, her eyes focused on something behind Kitsune. "Then who's he?"
Knowing who she meant, Kitsune smirked. "That's our pervert landlord, Keitaro."
The woman recoiled. "Pervert?!"
"I'm kidding, I'm kidding," Kitsune reassured her, laughing out loud. "He's harmless. Mostly…"
The woman narrowed her eyes, intensely studying Keitaro's profile for a second, before she relaxed. "I'm sorry to have bothered you, thank you for your help." She bowed her head briefly and walked away.
"Anytime." Kitsune shut the door and returned to the sofa, forgetting about the woman as the horses made their way around the clubhouse turn.
Keitaro tightened his grip on the grocery bags, hoping that they'd survive the rest of the trip home. Shinobu had asked him to pick up a few things at the store, and a lot of them were in cans. He hadn't really wanted to, but he couldn't say no to the girl, especially when she used the puppy dog eyes on him. And now he found himself struggling with a load of groceries, the plastic bags straining ominously, clearly near their failure point, the cans just waiting to go scattering all over the sidewalk.
'It's a good thing she's not evil,' Keitaro thought in passing. 'She could walk into a bank, smile at the manager, and he'd personally carry all the money out for her…'
"Excuse me, would you like a hand, young man?"
Keitaro looked up and saw a blonde woman approaching. "Uh, thanks, but I'll be fine…"
"Please, I insist," the woman replied. She took hold of one of the bags and cradled it, supporting the cans and taking the stress off the overtaxed plastic.
"Thanks…" Keitaro was more relieved than he cared to admit; the straps had felt like wire, pulling painfully into his palms. Taking a moment to set the other bags down, Keitaro adjusted his grip and lifted them back up, his arms grateful for the reduced load. "You didn't have to do that ma'am, I've only got few blocks left."
The woman raised an eyebrow. "You're not secure enough to be helped by a girl?"
"No," Keitaro lied. "I just don't want to be a burden."
She shook her head dismissively. "It's no big deal; I'm going this way anyway." She started walking, forcing Keitaro to hurry his stride to catch up.
"Okay then." Keitaro said nothing else as he made his way towards Hinata House, smiling happily as the steps came into sight. "It's just up here, I'll carry them up the steps myself."
"Here? What's up there?" the woman asked.
"A rooming house," Keitaro told her. "I'm the landlord."
"A young man like you?"
"Yeah," Keitaro replied, scratching the back of his head, the gesture made harder by the groceries in his grasp.
The woman gave him an enigmatic smile. "You must really be a remarkable man."
"I don't think so," Keitaro murmured, uncomfortable at the stranger's praise. "My aunt helps me, she runs a teahouse as well…" He glanced up and saw Haruka making her way down the stairs. "There's Aunt Haruka now, she's the-"
Keitaro realized he was talking to himself; the woman had vanished, leaving the bag of groceries on the ground at his feet. He looked around wildly, but she'd disappeared like mist in the morning sun. He was wondering if he'd been hallucinating when Haruka reached him. "You're looking confused, even more than usual," she deadpanned.
"Aunt Haruka, did you see someone?"
As she stashed her harisen away, and Keitaro picked himself up from the sidewalk, Haruka lit a fresh cigarette. "I didn't see anyone. Why?"
Keitaro briefly considered explaining what had happened, but he decided it wasn't worth the trouble. "Never mind, it's not important… Would you mind carrying that?" He gestured to the bag on the sidewalk. Haruka shrugged and picked it up, the two of them heading up the stairs.
"Auntie, who's this?"
"Keitaro, this is Catherine."
"Call me 'Cat-chan,' Kei-kun."
"Catherine's a friend of mine, she's going to look after you today."
"I'm busy today. You'll be good for her, Kei-kun?"
"What do you like to do, Kei-kun?"
"I like playing in the sandbox."
"Can we go play there?"
Naru stepped off the bottom of the stairs and turned toward the city, smiling at the clear blue sky above her; it was a gorgeous day, warm, without being scorching, and bright. Days like this made it almost bearable to go to the dentist. Naru had always hated and feared the dentist; the high pitched whine of the drill, the feeling of a stranger's hands and sharp metal tools poking inside her mouth. If it was up to her she'd never go, but she hadn't had a cavity yet, and enduring a cleaning was better than facing the drill, so she was on her way to the office to endure a miserable morning.
She'd walked about half a block when an accented voice called out to her. "Excuse me!"
Pausing in her stride Naru looked over her shoulder; a tall foreigner was walking quickly to catch up with her. "Yes?"
The woman reached her side, pausing to get her wind back before speaking. "You-you're a resident of Hinata House, right?"
"Yeah, why do you ask?" Naru wondered, some suspicion in her voice.
"Well, I'm looking for a place for my daughter –she'll be going to school near here- and your residence seemed like the best choice."
"It's a nice place to live," Naru admitted. "But why don't you just go up there and see for yourself?" She gestured up the hill with her head.
"I wanted to talk to someone on their own," the woman confessed. "I figured you'd be more honest without witnesses."
"Makes sense," Naru decided, though she didn't like the sneakiness. "Do you mind if we walk and talk? I've got an appointment…"
"Oh, am I keeping you from something?"
Naru shook her head. "Just an encounter with a dentist." She chuckled when the woman shuddered faintly. "Anything you wanna discuss?"
"Why's there a guy running it?"
"His grandma gave him the job," Naru told her matter-of-factly.
"Is it true he's a pervert?"
Going beet red, and nearly falling ass over teakettle, Naru took a few moments before she was able to respond. "W-why would you say that?!"
"He's the only guy there, you'd think…"
"Look, Keitaro's not a pervert. He's clumsy, and he occasionally sticks his foot in his mouth, but he's not a pervert." Naru wondered why she was defending Keitaro's reputation to a complete stranger.
The woman took a long look at Naru. "You really feel strongly about that, don't you…?"
"Thank you, that's all I really needed to know."
"No, but it's what's really important." Without so much as a nod the woman turned around and walked away, leaving a perplexed Naru behind her.
Naru watched the stranger walk away for a moment, debating whether or not to go after her, demand some sort of explanation, but in the end she just shook her head. "What a fruitcake…" she muttered to herself, before resuming the voyage to the dentist.
"Kei-kun, did you have fun with Catherine?"
"Yes Auntie, we played all day!"
"Do you want to see her again?"
"Okay. She said she like playing with you too."
"When can we play again?"
"Yay! Cat-chan said we'd get ice cream next time!"
"I'm glad you like her Kei-kun."
"Can you play with us Auntie Haruka?"
"Maybe another day. Auntie Haruka's kind of busy."
"Okay, Kei-kun. One day…"
"You're the best Auntie Haruka!"
"You've barely touched your dinner Naru."
"Sorry Shinobu, but this damn filling is still sore." Naru winced and touched the left side of her jaw. "I can barely speak, never mind chew…"
"Well, you should have gone to see the dentist sooner," Kitsune pointed out cheerfully. "And all those sweets don't help either… Never mind what they're doing to your waistline."
Naru tried to glare at her friend but ended up wincing again, much to the amusement of all. When the throbbing finally began to ebb away, she turned to Keitaro, wanting to change the subject of conversation. "So, when's the new girl moving in?"
Keitaro paused, his chopsticks an inch from his mouth. "What new girl?"
"Don't be coy Keitaro, I know all about it."
"What are you talking about?" Haruka inquired.
"That woman I met today, she said her daughter would be staying here," Naru insisted.
"I have no idea what you're talking about," Keitaro replied.
"Then why'd that foreigner-"
"Foreigner?" Kitsune interrupted. "Blonde, about thirtyish?"
Naru blinked. "How'd you know?"
"A woman like that came here looking for a day-care."
"Now that you mention it," Keitaro added, "a blonde foreigner helped me carry some groceries the other day."
"And I think I may have been followed for a block or two yesterday," Motoko chipped in. "It was only for a bit, so I thought it was a coincidence, but if it was the same one…"
"What was her name?" Kitsune asked.
"She didn't give it," Naru told her, pursing her lips as she tried to figure out if there was something sinister at work.
Everyone turned to look at Keitaro, the word had barely been over a whisper. "Her name was Catherine?" Naru pressed.
"Huh? Err, no, she didn't tell me, I don't know where that came from…"
"You probably saw it on TV, or in a movie," Haruka remarked.
"You're probably right," Keitaro replied, seemingly lost in thought.
"Keitaro? Is something wrong?" Naru wondered.
He shook his head. "No, I just…"
"I just feel like I've seen her before."
"Not likely," Haruka reminded him. "All foreigners look the same anyway."
"Yeah, you're right."
"This surprises you?"
"Not really Haruka, not really…"
"Well, if you do see her again, I'd say avoid her." Haruka crushed out her cigarette and stood up. "I have to get back to the teahouse. Thanks for dinner Shinobu." She walked out of the dorm and down the stairs, reaching the entrance to her shop. She marched in and locked the door behind her, not bothering to flip the sign to "Open." Taking out her cell phone, Haruka punched in a number, waiting impatiently as the long distance call was routed through, absently lighting a cigarette. After a few rings the call went to voicemail, earning a scowl from the former house mother, but she decided that she didn't have any choice.
"Yeah, it's me. Just drop what you're doing, and get back here, NOW. I think she's back, that she's been skulking around here. So skip the absent minded professor bullshit and get back here." Haruka disconnected the call and then closed the blinds, not wanting any prying eyes to see her next move. Stepping behind the counter, she pulled out the pistol she kept there –just in case- pulling back the slide to chamber a round before she lowered the hammer. She slipped the handgun into her front waistband, making sure it was concealed by her apron. Satisfied, she opened her blinds and unlocked the door, opening the shop for business. But as she went about her routine, she kept a wary eye out for anyone with blonde hair.
A few days went by, and the topic of a foreign stranger faded from the collective consciences of the residents; there'd been no additional sightings, and the whole experience was simply passed off as a minor oddity, nothing more. Keitaro and the others eventually dropped the guard they'd subconsciously raised, and the stranger had long since been pushed aside as a topic of conversation. 'The blonde,' as she'd been dubbed, had seemingly dropped off the face of the earth, as if she'd never existed in the first place.
Keitaro was going over the ledger book, trying to figure out what repairs he could afford to make now, and what he'd have to defer until later. His contemplating was interrupted by a knock on the front door; since no one else was home, he put down his pencil and scratch pad and went to answer it. "Welcome to Hinata Hou… It's you…"
"Hello again," the blonde woman responded with a polite bow. "I hope I'm not disturbing you."
"No, it's okay," Keitaro replied guardedly. "Who are you? What do you want?"
"I'm sorry, I should have been more honest," she apologized. "I have a daughter, and I'm looking for a place for her to stay. Do you have any rooms to rent?"
"Yeah, there's room for more," Keitaro admitted. "When would she-"
"You can? Great! I've been looking for a while." The woman walked inside, casually kicking her shoes off as she came in. "This place is beautiful, she'll love it!" Walking in her stocking feet and carrying her shoes, the stranger looked into the kitchen, making pleased noises as she ran a finger on the counter and it came away clean. "Can I see one of the rooms?"
"…I guess so, but who-"
Without bothering to listen to the rest of the question, the woman strode down the hall and walked into a random room. "Very nice! But isn't it furnished rather, well, manly?"
"This is my room."
"It is? I'm sorry, I couldn't read the kanji on the door, my mistake." She continued to look his room over, in no apparent hurry to leave it. "Futons, how nice." She sat down on Keitaro's unmade bed, making him blush. "Are the other rooms equipped with futons? What if my daughter wants a bed?"
"S-she'll have to provide her own bedding, I'm sorry…" Keitaro felt a rock forming in the pit of his stomach; he was having the strangest sense of deja-vu, and the woman's behavior was making him uneasy. "I-if you want your daughter to stay here, c-come with me to the living room, and-and we'll start the paperwork." He had no idea why, but at that moment he would have agreed to anything to get her out of his room.
"She can? You mean it? That's terrific!" The woman sprang up from the futon and hugged him fiercely, Keitaro going rigid, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up. After what felt like an eternity, she let him go, and Keitaro thought he saw a wistful look in her eyes. She then happened to glance out his window and promptly blanched. "I'm sorry, but I've got a meeting with my lawyer about custody coming up. I'll be back to do the paperwork later," she murmured. "I have to go now, I'll see myself out. Thank you!" Without giving Keitaro a chance to get a word in edgewise, she scrambled out of his room, and he heard her footfalls as she made her way to the rear exit.
"What the hell?" Keitaro walked to the window and saw Naru, Kitsune, Su, and Haruka walking to the front door. He made his way to the living room, his mind still trying to make sense of the odd encounter, and wondering why he'd swear he knew her.
"Keitaro? You alright?" Naru asked. "You look a little out of it."
"Did something happen Keitaro?" Haruka added, her eyes constantly looking around, her hand absently stroking the front of her apron.
"No, nothing happened," Keitaro reassured them, then wondering what had made him lie. "Just dozed off."
"You sure?" Haruka pressed.
Keitaro forced a grin. "I'm good." Without giving anyone else the chance to interrogate him, Keitaro went back to his room, puzzled over why it felt almost… wrong.
"Did you have fun yesterday, Kei-kun?"
"Yes Cat-chan. You're so much fun!"
"Do you… like me, Kei-kun?"
"Yes Cat-chan, I love you!"
"I love you too, Kei-kun. And, I want to do something with you…"
"It's like a game, Kei-kun. A special game. A secret game."
"Yes, just between us, Kei-kun. Do you want to try it?"
"You promise to never tell anyone, Kei-kun? Ever?"
"Cross my heart, Cat-chan."
"That's a good boy Kei-kun. Now, come with me, and we'll play our game, just you and I."
Haruka used the lit end of a cigarette to light a new one and then savagely crushed out the butt, drawing deeply on the new nicotine delivery system. She scowled as she listened to the ringing on her cell phone, suppressing an urge to throw it in sheer frustration when she heard her intended quarry finally answer. "Where the hell have you been?" she demanded without giving the other speaker a chance to say a word. "Don't you ever check your goddamn messages?!"
"It's good to hear your voice again," Seta replied cheerfully, completely ignoring her tone.
"Have you even listened to my messages?" Haruka snarled.
"I've been busy excavating a new site," Seta replied casually. "I haven't had time to do anything but dig, eat, and sleep."
"Oh, really? Who?"
"Who do you think?"
There was silence on the line for a few seconds before Seta spoke again. "Are-are you sure?"
"No," Haruka admitted. "Just a hunch, but it feels like her."
"I see… I can be there in three days."
"No choice, the next flight isn't till then," Seta explained.
"You won't do anything rash, will you?"
"You're asking me that? After what she did?"
"What are you going to do?"
"If she tries anything, what I should have done ten years ago. I'll kill her."
"I'm serious. After what she did, she'd be getting off easy."
"Maybe she isn't planning anything," Seta suggested hopefully.
"People like her never change," Haruka countered. "Everyone said that."
"…I hope they were wrong…"
"I wouldn't bet on it."
"Just keep an eye out okay? Don't do anything till I get there," Seta insisted.
"That's up to her."
Seta didn't reply, and Haruka listened to the static on the line for about a minute before he finally spoke again. "I'll see you soon." He hung up and Haruka coolly crushed out her cigarette, absently patting her apron over her pistol.
"You better stay away from him, you bitch," she growled to herself. "You did enough damage the last time…"
Keitaro sat in his room, sipping tea, and flipping through an old photo album; he was dimly aware of the enveloping silence that blanketed the empty residence. All the tenants had gone off to see the latest 'chick-flick,' and while Keitaro enjoyed spending time with them, especially Naru, he did have his pride. Haruka had mentioned giving her shop a bit of a cleaning, so that had left him all alone, looking over old pictures, trying to figure out why he couldn't shake the feeling that he'd seen the strange woman before.
His lips turned up in a gentle smile as he saw photos of a younger him with both his grandma and Aunt Haruka, but despite going through the album twice he still hadn't seen the blonde woman. "Maybe it was just a woman on the TV," he mumbled to himself. "Great… Now I can't tell fantasy from reality" The sound of his door opening made him glance up, wondering if Haruka had decided to drop in, when he nearly jumped out of his skin. "You!"
"Hello Keitaro," the blonde stranger all but purred at him.
"What-what are you doing here?"
"The lights were on, but no one answered when I knocked, so I let myself in. I figured you were here."
"You just decided to walk in" Keitaro asked incredulously, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up when he noticed how she was looking at him. "Hey, how'd you know my name? I-I never told you, did I?"
"Of course I know you Kei-chan" the woman replied demurely. "I'll always remember you… Don't you know me?"
The woman sighed wistfully. "They said you might forget me, but I'd hoped you wouldn't."
"Who-who are you?" Keitaro whispered.
"My name's Catherine. Catherine McDougall," she told him, taking a few steps toward Keitaro. "But, you used to call me-"
The woman's eyes lit up in delight. "You remembered! I'm so happy!" Catherine ran up to Keitaro and embraced him tightly, peppering his face with kisses. "You're so handsome, but still so cute! I'm sure you aged much better than Seta did…" She started running her hands over him, exploring all his contours, not caring that he'd gone rigid, all the color draining from his face.
"I-I-I thought you were dead…" Keitaro rasped.
"Dead?" Catherine remarked in astonishment, before her expression hardened. "Damn Haruka, lying to you like that… She was always so jealous of me, of what I had."
"W-what are you doing here?"
"Isn't it obvious Kei-chan?" Catherine asked him with a hungry look. "We still love each other, and now that I'm out, we can see each other again I was so lonely while I was locked up, only remembering you made it bearable, all the fun we had."
"When we made love, don't you remember? It was wonderful, until your aunt stopped us. She never understood what we had. No one ever did…"
Keitaro felt his head start spinning, a dull roar growing in his ears as long repressed memories forced their way into his consciousness. Frantic, grasping touches all over his body, a sense of desperation in the woman's' urgency, just like what was happening now, combining in his mind to the point he couldn't tell memory from reality. He thought he could hear himself whimper, but he wasn't sure it had happened, or was happening now.
Keitaro was only dimly aware of Catherine's hands undoing his pants as he felt his knees buckle, his body being supported by her before she laid him on his futon. Keitaro had a sudden feeling that he was only a boy again, and he felt himself shrink in on himself, Catherine seeming to get bigger. When her warm breath caressed his cheeks before she pressed her lips against his and pushed her tongue into his mouth, Keitaro's mind mercifully stopped operating, and he fell into the comforting arms of oblivion.
"What are we doing?"
"We're playing our game, Kei-kun."
"I-I don't like this game…"
"It's special, just like you Kei-kun. You're such a special boy…"
"But-but why are we doing this Cat-chan?"
"Don't you love me?"
"Don't you want to make me happy?"
"I-I don't understand…"
"Just trust me Kei-kun."
"Why are you touching me like that?"
"It's part of the game."
"It feels funny…"
"It'll get better."
"Why did you take off my clothes?"
"I wanted to look at you. You love me, I love you, so it's okay, right?"
"But-but no one's ever done this to me before… Auntie loves me…"
"It's not the same as our love Kei-chan. Am I too heavy?"
"No, but why are you on top of me? It's weird…"
"Mmm… Ohhh… Part of the game Kei-chan…"
"Huh? What are you doing now? I don't understand."
"Doesn't it feel nice?"
"I-I… What's happening? I feel funny…"
"Just relax Kei-chan, it'll get better."
"Cat-chan, something's happening!"
"That's good Kei-chan, you're so good at this game…"
"I-I-I… I can't stop…"
"C-Catherine!? What the hell are you DOING?!"
"So, how was the movie?" Haruka asked.
"It was soooo romantic," Naru gushed. "The male lead chose the girl with the inner beauty, instead of the rich, beautiful heiress. It was a great film."
"I wonder if the guys watching it felt the same."
"Doubt it," Kitsune replied, nodding in thanks as Haruka refilled her mug. "I saw one guy listening to his iPod, and a few others had to be dragged into the theater."
"Men can't appreciate romance," Naru sniffed haughtily.
"I don't know," Kitsune drawled. "I wouldn't have minded some gun play either. It was kinda slow."
"Keitaro was probably glad he missed it," Haruka mused.
"He probably went out on his own," Motoko remarked.
"Oh? Why do you say that?"
"I tried calling him earlier, but all I got was his voicemail," Naru explained.
"I didn't see him leave," Haruka replied.
"And all the lights are on," Shinobu added. "I noticed before we came in."
"If he's home, why didn't he answer?"
The quiet in the teahouse was shattered when Haruka's mug hit the table, the woman already on her feet and bolting for the door. "Haruka?" Naru inquired.
Haruka ignored her, shouldering the door open and running for the stairs. After a second or two of shocked silence, the residents got up and chased after her, all of them concerned, and startled to notice that the older woman had her gun out as she ran. She pounded up the stairs, a grim look on her face, her thumb absently flipping off the weapon's safety.
"What are you doing? What's wrong?"
Haruka didn't even acknowledge the cries from behind her as she burst through the front door of the residence, feeling sick when she saw a strange pair of shoes by the entrance. With speed born of desperation she surged up the stairs to the landlord's room; she threw the door open and a gasp was ripped from her throat. Keitaro was laying on his futon, his shirt torn open, his pants and underwear bunched down around his knees, his head turned towards her, his eyes open, but rolled back so that all she could see was white. And straddling him, a woman she hadn't seen in over a decade, and it still wasn't long enough; Catherine McDougall, her romantic rival for Seta, and Sarah's mother. As she took in the sight of the blonde writhing on top of an unresponsive Keitaro, Haruka had a brief flashback to a similar scene ten years earlier.
Some things, and some people, apparently never changed.
Then a strangled groan rattled from Keitaro's throat, and Haruka was knocked out of her stupor as Catherine glanced over and their eyes met. "Dammit Haruka," she panted, her eyes unfocused. "You're always interrupting us…"
Haruka brought the gun up and gripped it with both hands, glaring down the sights and targeting the center of the blonde's head. "Get the fuck off of him!" she snarled.
"Why can't you leave us alone…?"
"I said, get off!"
"You never understood our love, no one ever did," Catherine pouted, continuing to grind against Keitaro. "Not the police, the judge, the doctors, no one…"
"Move or I'll blow your fucking head off," Haruka hissed, cocking back the hammer of her gun with an ominous click.
Catherine complied sullenly, pouting as she stood up, slipping her panties and dress back into place. She then reached down and pulled a blanket over Keitaro, affectionately ruffling his hair before she faced Haruka, her arms by her head. "You always were jealous of my men," she fumed.
"My God…" Naru's horrified whisper briefly drew Haruka's attention as the residents finally caught up with her, the sight of her holding someone at gunpoint almost as unnerving as Keitaro's condition.
"Who the hell is she?" Kitsune wondered in disbelief.
"An old friend," Haruka spat. "One that developed a taste for little boys…" She stepped towards Catherine, her gun unmoving from between her blue eyes.
"He was so mature acting, but so innocent, like a young Seta," Catherine gushed. "Seta was a man-child, but Kei-kun was a child-man. There were so alike I couldn't resist…"
"He was ten years old," Haruka seethed. "A CHILD…"
"He was a younger Seta," Catherine insisted, a dreamy expression coming over her. "I'm surprised you didn't think-" Her comment was broken off when Haruka took another step and swung the butt of her pistol against Catherine's jaw. The blonde dropped to the floor, blood dripping from her mouth, as Haruka's eyes flashed dangerously, her finger tightening on the trigger.
"Haruka!" Motoko cried out. She wanted to do something, but the murderous look in the older woman's eyes made her pause.
"You bitch," Haruka rasped. "I'm not like you, you FREAK!"
Haruka looked over at the deeper voice and saw Seta standing behind the residents, not looking at her but at the woman at her feet, sadness etching lines onto his face. "I thought you'd get here tomorrow…"
"Managed to get on a charter," he murmured. "Don't-don't do anything rash…"
"Like kill her? I should have done that the first time… You begged me not to." Haruka turned to look at her nephew laying catatonically on his futon. "I won't let her do this again." Her expression hardened, and her finger began to squeeze the trigger.
"Dad? What's going on?"
"S-Sarah…?" Catherine murmured through a bloody mouth.
"I told you to wait in the van!"
Sarah recoiled in surprise, not expecting her father to be so abrupt. "Sorry poppa, I was curious…" she replied guiltily. "What's happening? Who's she?"
"It's no one!" Seta snapped. "Go back to the van!"
"Sarah? Sarah! It's you!"
"Who-who are you?"
"M-mom…?" Sarah whispered. "Y-you can't be, my mom's dead…" By now, her eyes were as wide as dinner plates; since all the other residents were the same, no one pointed it out.
Catherine glared at Seta, hate tightening her features. "You bastard," she hissed. "Just because of what Kei-kun and I had-" The barrel of Haruka's pistol cut her off.
"Get her out of here!" Haruka screamed at Seta before locking her gaze back onto Catherine. "One more fucking word, just one, and I'll kill you… One of you, stop staring and call the police, NOW." Naru instantly pulled out her cell and dialed 911.
Haruka looked over and made sure that Seta had taken Sarah away before speaking again. "Listen bitch," she growled, pushing the gun into Catherine's mouth. "The cops'll be here soon. If I ever see you again, I'll kill you. Understand?" Catherine nodded faintly. "You better pray Keitaro's okay after this…"
"Haruka?" Kitsune spoke up. "What's going on…?"
"I'll explain later, once this filth's gone…"
"Is she Sarah's mom?"
"I said later!"
"Sorry…" Kitsune made calming gestures, afraid of the murderous look in Haruka's eyes.
Keeping a steady watch over the blonde, Haruka pulled out her own cell phone and dialed a number. "Hello Dr. Matsuda, it's Haruka Urashima… Yes, it's been a while… Yeah, it's that, she came back… It's bad. Can you get over here? It's an emergency…"
At the dinner table Haruka smoked non-stop, lighting a new cigarette as she crushed out an old one. The pile of butts in the ashtray had been growing steadily after the police had taken Catherine away, and a serious looking man with a balding pate, who called himself Dr. Matsuda, had arrived. He was up in Keitaro's room, ministering to the unresponsive man while the residents watched Haruka chain-smoking, trying to comprehend the sordid tale she had told them.
"She-she molested Keitaro when he was a boy…?" Naru murmured.
"Yeah, she did," Haruka replied matter-of-factly. "And just now, too…"
"How come he didn't know her?" Motoko asked.
"Victims sometimes forget, Dr. Matsuda told us." Haruka savagely crushed out a cigarette and lit a new one. "Keitaro didn't seem to recall it, so we pretended it never happened."
"Did you know her?" Kitsune inquired.
"We used to be friends…"
"How'd you know her?"
"Classmates. We were interested in Seta," she admitted before her expression hardened. "Then she found someone else… Dammit! It was all my fault!"
"…I-I introduced her to Keitaro…" Haruka confessed shamefully.
"How could you?" Shinobu gasped.
"I didn't know she was into little boys!" Haruka retorted. "Who would have guessed….?"
"No one knew," Seta confirmed, walking slowly into the dining room.
"How's Sarah?" Su asked.
"She's resting. We had a long talk, it wasn't easy for her…"
"Think Keitaro had it easy?" scoffed Haruka.
"I never said that," Seta said placatingly. "It wasn't easy for anyone."
"Yeah, today's sucked all around… How'd she take it?"
"How would you? Finding out your supposedly dead mother was alive? And a pedophile?"
"So why'd you lie to her?" Naru wondered.
"…Seemed like a good idea at the time…"
"That's a bad joke," Kitsune growled.
"I'm not kidding, there weren't many choices," Seta explained. "She couldn't raise a child in prison, and her family disowned her. I took Sarah after she was born and raised her. It seemed like the best choice…"
"What about when she got out of jail?"
Seta let out a shuddering sigh. "She-she promised me she'd get better, that she was just sick…"
"They never get better," Haruka fired back. "Everyone said that."
"I know," Seta whispered. "But, I-I loved her, I wanted to believe her… She swore that we could be a family one day…"
"She lied." Haruka took a deep breath and tried to force herself to calm down. Getting mad at Seta wouldn't help Keitaro, and it wasn't his fault anyway. "Will Sarah be okay?"
"I hope so, but-but I decided to tell her the truth," he admitted. "All of it… I hope she forgives me…"
"What do you mean?" Naru demanded. "You're her father, she'll-"
"No, I'm not."
A shocked silence hung over the room at Seta's admission, the residents trying to comprehend what he'd meant. With an almost audible click they all reached the same conclusion.
Keitaro slowly opened his eyes, squinting at the brightness of the room; his head felt foggy and he was disoriented. 'What happened?' he asked himself, trying to remember. 'I was in my room… then she came in an-'
With a panicked cry, Keitaro lurched upright, nearly butting heads with the man leaning over him. His heart rate skyrocketed and he felt an intense urge to bolt. "Calm down! It's over, you're safe, she's gone…"
Realizing that the man was holding onto his shoulders, Keitaro looked up into his face, a feeling of recognition washing over him. A name came floating to the surface of his consciousness. "D-Dr. Matsuda…?"
Letting go of the young man, the doctor gave him a small smile. "That's right Keitaro. It's been a long time…"
"What happened, why are you here…?" Keitaro stammered briefly, before the memories of what had occurred earlier came flooding back in a rush. He started trembling. "Cat-chan… She-she came back…"
"She did," the doctor confirmed sadly. "I'm sorry… Do you remember what happened the first time…?"
"First time…? What do… I-I do… She-she said we would play a game, but then she-" Keitaro felt himself go cold as long-buried recollections came back to him.
Cat-chan, I don't like this…
I don't want to do this…
Please Auntie, help me…
He felt a sudden rush of warmth between his legs and he realized with shame and disgust that he'd lost control of his bladder.
"It's okay Keitaro," the doctor tried to reassure him, seeing the stricken look and noticing the sudden foul stench and dampness of the blanket. "It wasn't your fault, you couldn't have stopped her…"
"Oh god…" Keitaro felt tears run down his cheeks, shame and sadness crashing over him like breakers at a beach. "H-how…?"
"It's not important," the psychiatrist assured him soothingly. "We can talk about it later, the important part is that you're okay…"
"Why-why didn't I recognize her?"
"It was a traumatic thing, you tried to lock it away. That's common…"
"But I'll remember it now, won't I…?"
Keitaro buried his face in his hands for a moment, then decided he didn't want to lay in his own piss anymore. With a shuddering breath he got off the futon before realizing he was naked from the waist down. Using a pillow to preserve the last fragments of his dignity, he looked at the doctor. "Could-could I have a bath? I'd like to clean up, be alone for a bit…"
"Are you sure you're okay?" Dr. Matsuda asked.
Keitaro gave him a grim smile. "I won't do anything stupid," he promised.
"Are you sure? You've had a hell of a jolt."
"I-I just need a little time alone, that's all. And I'm covered in piss…"
"Okay. But if you need to talk about something, ANYTHING, I'll be right downstairs," the doctor assured him as he got up and walked out, giving Keitaro one last clinical look before finally closing the door.
"T-thank you," Keitaro told the empty room as he all but ripped off his shirt and tossed all his clothes in the trash, feeling repulsed to have them near him. Taking his robe from his closet he strode quickly to his bathroom and immersed himself in the tub, scrubbing frantically. He washed until the bar of soap was used up, then using his fingernails to scratch at his skin, desperate to rid himself of the tainted feeling. He sobbed noiselessly as he struggled to feel clean, tears streaming down his cheeks until he had none left.
After nearly an hour his fingers and toes were wrinkled and the water had cooled to lukewarm. Furiously drying himself with a towel, he slowly made his way back to his room, finding Haruka waiting for him with a steaming mug of tea, a new futon and sheets on his floor. "You-you said she was dead," he murmured.
Haruka winced; she'd been expecting this, but she still hadn't been looking forward to it. "You didn't remember what she had done, and I never thought she'd be back. It was easier to say that she'd died."
"Be easier if she had."
Keitaro accepted the offered mug and took a sip. "Where's Dr. Matsuda?"
"He's downstairs. Do you want to talk to him?"
"Not right now. Maybe later, but not now…"
"Whenever you're ready, he'll listen."
"Does everyone else know?"
Haruka looked crestfallen. "Yes. I'm sorry…"
"They must think I'm a freak…"
"No one does Keitaro, no one does… If any of them did, I'd toss 'em out."
"You would, wouldn't you…?"
"Damn right," Haruka told him with a grim smile. It faded when she recalled what else she had to tell him. "But something has changed…"
"I-I never told you –no one did- but, there was a little… complication… from the last time she did this…"
"She gave me herpes, right? Or AIDS? Figures…" Keitaro muttered bitterly
"Nothing like that," Haruka hastily added, hoping sincerely that she was right, and making a mental note to have Catherine tested. "But after the last time, she… got pregnant…"
Keitaro stared at his aunt in blank incomprehension of what she meant, when it suddenly struck him like a thunderbolt. "Sarah's my…"
"Daughter," Haruka finished.
"But-but I can't be!" Keitaro stammered. "I was like, ten!"
"I know, but sometimes…" Haruka broke off. 'Lucky shot' didn't seem to be an appropriate phase at the moment.
"My god," Keitaro blanched. "What if I'd slept with her?!"
Haruka stopped cold. "You were thinking about it?"
"No! But-but you never know… Someday…" He looked nauseous.
Haruka didn't blame him. "I wanted to tell you, sort of, but, I didn't want to have you remember…"
"Too late now… Hey, did Seta know who I was?"
"Not at first," Haruka replied. "He never expected you'd end up working for him. But when he realized who you were, we talked, and he decided to keep quiet. For Sarah's sake too."
"Why'd she think her mom was dead?"
"We figured it was better than saying she was a sick freak serving time," Haruka told him frankly. "Would you want her as a mom?"
"Does she want me as a dad?"
"I don't know… She didn't even believe it, but Seta convinced her. I don't know how she took it. You want to talk to her?"
"I guess… Will she?"
"I'll go ask. You should get dressed." Haruka turned and left the room and Keitaro numbly put on some clothes, not caring what they looked like. Then came a knocking at the door.
"Come in," Keitaro called out with little enthusiasm.
Sarah McDougall listlessly shuffled into the room and closed the door behind her. She didn't meet Keitaro's eyes but she wasn't avoiding him either; he found this a little encouraging at least. "Are you okay?" she asked abruptly.
"I'm alright, I suppose," he murmured. "I've been better though… You?"
Sarah let out a harsh chuckle. "Fine. I found out everyone's lied to me, and my dork landlord's my dad…"
"I never knew…" Keitaro replied after a long silence.
"Me neither dor- …Dad…" Sarah had to force the word out before she shook her head. "I can't believe I just called you that… Seta's my dad, he raised me!"
"He did a good job…"
"Yeah, he did! You think you could have?"
"I was your age…"
"How could mom prefer you?!" Sarah raged. "How could she do this to me…?" Her small hands were tightly clenched in fury, and she looked she could chew nails.
"I don't know… I'm sorry…"
"Yeah," Sarah replied as she angrily wiped at her eyes. "Sorry doesn't help me now, does it."
As he watched his daughter try to keep her composure, Keitaro realized that he couldn't see any resemblance at all. 'Catherine's genes must have been dominant. No surprise really…' He shuddered despite the warm room. "Sarah…"
"If you want to stay with Seta, I understand."
"Good, cuz I plan to."
"But, I-I have to say…"
"What is it?"
Keitaro took a deep breath before he could continue. "I-I'm proud of you, d-daughter."
Tears rolled down Sarah's cheeks, and she threw herself at Keitaro and gave him a forced hug. "You're still a dork, you'll always be a dork, but-but I'll try to be nicer now…"
"Thank you," Keitaro whispered as father and daughter comforted each other for a while. They both hoped that they'd never see Sarah's mother ever again.
Rihoko Takeda walked down the hallway, idly counting the number of cells as she passed them. She'd once been an idealist, but years of working as a prison guard in a maximum security prison for women had squeezed all that out of her. There'd been too much violence, degradation and human filth around her to preserve her younger opinions. The seven years it had taken to reach the rank of watch commander had made her a die hard cynic about everyone who passed through the gates, and not just the prisoners.
She'd been amused when the warden had asked her if she'd like to speak at a school to try to recruit some future guards. 'I'd make a good presentation, all right,' she thought wryly. 'Do well on your university exams or you'll end up like me…' She was paid pretty well, but her job had no respect or glamour, and she had spent too much time with the rejects from polite society.
The major perk of her job, gained through long experience, was the ability to decide where she wanted to work each day. She'd decided early on that the isolation ward was the best place in the prison. True, it was where the worst offenders were kept, but it was also the safest; the cells were enclosed with Lexan, so the inmates couldn't toss shit or burning toilet paper at the guards or each other. They were also virtually soundproof, so even the loudest screamers were barely audible, which made it as quiet as a cathedral, a welcome change from the chaos of general population.
Rihoko walked past cell after cell, giving a cursory glance to insure that each inhabitant hadn't tried to commit suicide, or was acting unruly. Either case would result in the Emergency Response Team storming into the cell to restrain and subdue the occupant. She'd long since stopped noticing faces, or caring what the inhabitants had done to earn a stay, but the cell at the end was different. This person was somewhat notorious; child molester, now a rapist as well, who also happened to be a foreigner. She'd become a Japanese citizen before her initial arrest. Deportation wasn't an option, so the Japanese taxpayers had to pick up the tab for her care and feeding.
As was usual, there were a few guards outside the cell, watching the prisoner in open curiosity. Rihoko scowled and increased the pace of her walk. "Move along dammit, this isn't a zoo…" The other guards had the sense to look guilty as they resumed their rounds, but Rihoko found herself looking in despite her feigned disinterest.
Catherine McDougall was sitting on her bed, as she had usually done in the months since she'd been incarcerated. She was gently rubbing her swollen belly, and her lips were moving as she murmured indistinctly to her unborn child. The walls of her cell were covered with hand-drawn images of a young man with glasses, his face always surrounded by hearts. Catherine then stopped moving, and locked eyes with Rihoko and smiled lovingly, the disturbing visage chilling the guard down to the marrow in her bones.
End of Reunion.
I feel unclean for even thinking about this, never mind writing it…
The genesis of this fic was a chat with Fatuous One, during which I consumed several chilled malt and barley beverages. We talked about it for so long that by the time the next morning had arrived, the buzz was gone, but not the idea.
After thoroughly repulsing Random with this idea, he (reluctantly) agreed to pre-read it, and I thank him for that.
Fatuous One also gets thanks for making a compelling enough argument that I decided to proceed with it.
If you've read this far, I pity you.
Now, I need to go shower.
Where's that bleach…?