Date written: 28/11/11 – 21/12/11
Posted on FanFiction: 22/12/11
A/N: I had been formulating this little idea about a week before the release of Episode 9, where this story takes place midway, and so I used most of my reference material from the original light novel chapter. The differences between the anime and light novel are miniscule and somewhat insignificant (e.g. Kodaka drinking grape juice in the anime because having a highschooler doing underaged drinking on national television raises plenty of red flags, even for Japan's standards; Sena running out of the mansion, while in the light novel she dashed upstairs to her room), but I wish to stick to the original material (light novel). It makes things more interesting that way.
I'm also partially inspired by a doujinshi by Digital Lover, who interpreted the events a little differently (and also merged one particular scene from Kodaka's second visit to the abode), but I'm not one to have the two main characters bed each other in the first chapter. This story will have romantic moments, fluff moments, and maybe even some mild citrus moments, but a full-on lemon is still being considered. Considered, readers, considered. I'm just not making any promises, lest I disappoint those who wish for this to happen. If it ever would happen, and I wish to forego writing that scene, I'd just mention it as if it already occurred. The muse speaks, I write. Simple formula, simple act.
One last thing to mention, I rarely do first-person narrative, and because of that I don't have a clear grasp of what I should and should not write. I might have made Kodaka's thoughts a bit too jumbled in some regards, but what might be my biggest offense would be the super detailed narrative, a far cry from the style of the light novels. I couldn't help it. I was inspired by gabrielblessing too much to stick to simple sentences. That, and I have word diarrhea.
Enough talk, on with the story.
–– CHAPTER 1 ––
I let out a long sigh, feeling a bit of the alcohol dull my senses and realizing in hindsight that I should've urged the chairman to slow down on the drinking. Because of my inaction, in both ignoring the warning signs of Chairman Kashiwazaki's impending drunken trip to unconsciousness and my slow sips of the high quality wine the two of us had been drinking, I wasn't the least bit drunk—a little tipsy but my brain functions were still going strong and conscious, like I had just rolled out of bed recently, groggy and in a slight urge to go to the bathroom.
"Great," I murmured, staring at the last spoonful of wine swirling inside my glass, almost enticing me to down it all since I had nothing to lose, "just great." I gave a half-hearted shrug and chugged the liquid down. It reminded me of drinking cough syrup when I was younger, since this wine had the same texture, color, and volume as those times when I needed medicine. The only difference had to be the taste. And the presence of alcohol, which was still insufficient to punch me out cold. Ah well, it wasn't as if I expected much from a spoonful. With my natural tolerance, I might've needed another bottle or so, but inspecting the vintage year of this wine reinforced my decision to let things go as they were. Expensive stuff, that wine.
"I need to get out."
Fresh air seemed like a good idea, but more than that, I had to find Stella and tell her Chairman Kashiwazaki was out cold. She'd know what to do with him, I was certain, though I hoped she would deem it inappropriate for a guest to carry the drunken man to his chambers and tuck him into bed.
I didn't mind helping, but . . . you know how alcohol could loosen the tongue of any man? Well, after learning so many dirty secrets from him like that one where it involved him, my dad, my mom, Sena's mom, some yarn, a foot of nylon rope, kerchiefs, a chess set, a blank VHS, and a ping pong paddle, I thought it best that I keep my distance. At least until my tainted mind brushed the forefront clean as if it hadn't been spilled with a salvo of parental information I'd rather live without knowing at all.
Ah, now I seemed to have gotten confused over how all those listed things come together. That was a good sign; I was in the process of forgetting that scarring conversation.
I stepped out in the hall and chose a random direction. Between my navigation skills inside this unfamiliar abode and my overachieving attempts to lock away some Memories-That-Must-Not-See-The-Light-Of-Day-Ever-Again that I included unrelated, recent stuff as well, I might have gotten a little lost. I didn't know if this was the alcohol taking effect somehow or it was just me going through shellshock from the disturbing revelations between Sena's and my parents and how they—
NO! GET AWAY FROM THOSE THOUGHTS! GET AWAY! GET AWAY! KEEP THE LID ON THAT BOX!
. . . ah, much better. What were we talking about again?
That was when my bladder increased its urge to deflate and prompted me to find the bathroom. It shouldn't be too hard, I told myself, but walking through the hallways without any idea of my location made that earlier remark wishful thinking. I was unsure if it was because of the architecture or the disappear-into-the-distance feel of the hallways adorning this floor, but the longer I walked within these halls, the more my agitation grew. No, agitation was not quite the right word for the emotion I felt. It was akin to that sixth sense feel—a sort of reverse déjà vu, wherein you have a feeling that something your mind just thought out was going to happen in the near future. I didn't have that kind of feeling until that moment, and what made this more . . . unique, you could say, was the divergence of it. No confusion of adjectives here, because that was what I really meant. Divergence.
As if this feeling forked somewhere in the middle, splitting into two paths of two futures.
I didn't understand the significance of this feeling until years later when I experienced the exact same thing just before my wife announced that she was expecting. Twins, one path told me, identical too. The other path offered the same, but the twins were to be different-gendered. I told my wife this, but she scoffed at it. She was only two months along; it was too early to either learn the baby's gender or that she was carrying two lives with two separate heartbeats inside her womb. As the pregnancy progressed right up to the moment of birth, we got our answer—for me, in more ways than one.
But at this time, I was ignorant of a lot of things, mostly about social interactions that should be common knowledge to those who have friends. Guess why I was lacking in that department. And so, because I didn't pay much heed to this odd feeling other than giving it a quick once over like a passing superstitious belief, I was left unprepared to the first step that marked my approximation with the metaphorical fork of the road.
"NOOO! GET AWAY!"
"Come back, Kobato-chan~! I still have to shampoo your hair and wash your front~!"
"NO! Save me, An-chan!"
My little sister, Kobato, hugged me as tight as she could, naked as the day she was born, wet, covered in suds, but crying strongly as if she were harassed by a pervert in a train. Which, if I looked at it in hindsight, wasn't really far from the truth. It was strange, to say the least—my little sister, running inside Dad's old friend's home in the nude—but the strangeness ended there along with most of my mind's thought processes as I gazed at the person following Kobato.
That was the only word processing inside my head. Leg meat, chest meat, thigh meat, stomach meat, chest meat, arm meat, shoulder meat, chest meat, mammary meat, breasts, bosoms, bust, boobs, boobies, tits, hooters, melons, knockers, jugs—
Ah, I think my brain just exploded.
"Ko-Ko-Ko-Kodaka," Sena screamed, finally realizing that I was there and she was as naked and wet as my sister. I knew that she and Kobato went to take a bath, but I did not account for her moe attraction to my little sister could force Kobato to get away from her, even if it meant streaking in the school chairman's mansion. I underestimated both Sena's lezzy-pedo tendency and Kobato's tolerance of said tendency. Knowing her current state of dress, she quickly covered herself, although it didn't calm down my rising libido, as this action in itself just accentuated the fact that she was 'loaded,' and I was not referring to her financial status. "W-w-w-w-why are you here? Stupid! Idiot! Pervert! Ero-Yankee! Eroge protagonist!"
I quickly looked away from Sena, feeling the blood rush to my cheeks and my . . . you know. God, I hope she wouldn't notice. But it was also her fault for chasing after my sister like that; I shouldn't be blamed for having my eyes feast on a moist meat buffet made all the better by two succulent pink nip—
I shook my head violently, wanting to rid myself of unclean thoughts lest I end up getting more aroused than I was now. "That should be my line!"
Sena was at a loss for words. A retort never came out of her stuttering mouth except for one last word she shrieked just before dashing away. "UNIVERSE!"
And there I was, left to console my naked sister in the middle of a hallway. My shirt was getting soaked as Kobato relayed to me all the touching and groping Sena had done to her since they entered the bathroom, but my mind was still in the middle of rebooting after the explosive eye-candy. It was because my mind was a quarter elsewhere that Stella, the silent stoic maid, crept up from somewhere to my right, scaring the hell out of me.
Stella stood still, panning her head to the stairwell at the end of the hall, where Sena disappeared to, and back to my face, which was turning paler as the implication of that simple gesture came to me. She saw. She knew. I was dead, not through Stella but through Pegasus once he learned of this, accident or not. I wanted to give my excuses quickly, but I was left into a stuttering mess not unlike how Sena ended up in moments before. Stella stared at me, those unrelenting cerulean orbs boring into me, making me feel small like the towering presence of a tsunami was before me. Her eyes closed and opened again. Closed and opened again. Closed and opened again. All deliberately slow, as if she were a hunter letting prey percolate its fear before pouncing in for the kill.
Even Kobato turned quiet when she realized I wasn't listening to her anymore and my attention was fixated on the butler-dressed servant girl of the Kashiwazakis.
At last, Stella raised one hand and planted it on her cheek, which reddened for some odd reason. "Iya, Kodaka-sama, you're such a pervert." It would've been a normal enough response if it hadn't been delivered in a monotonous tone that it left me feeling like I was being mocked by the obvious.
"No, you got it all wrong," I said immediately, without thinking. "I—I—"
"I understand the situation, Kodaka-sama," Stella cut in. "I was only joking before. Just joking. I believe I had delivered it quite well."
Your voice was too flat to consider itself joke material, Stella-san. Please refrain doing jokes again in the future.
"I make no promises, Kodaka-sama," she said, scaring the bejesus out of me, making me wonder if she had the ability to read minds. Or maybe I was just unconsciously voicing out my thoughts. She turned to my sister. "It's better we get you clothed right away, Kobata-sama. I fear for you catching a cold."
Later that night, I was faced with a tough choice. This was Stella's act of revenge, I just knew it. She might've placated me after saying she understood the situation, but I had no idea how her mind worked. She had a right to punish me since I'd seen her mistress naked, but I had no fault in that. Me being witness to a sight that could envy any male in our school was more of a consequence to Sena's rash action. She was definitely angry, definitely in the mood to make me to suffer. I did not buy her explanation that each and every room of this mansion was used for storage. How much junk did the Kashiwazaki have to let this occur?
Needless to say, I was not keen on having to share a bed with Pegasus Kashiwazaki. But what choice did I have? The only other option was to sleep on the floor, and I probably wouldn't mind doing so, at least to save myself from the horror of waking up with a clubmate's old man right next to me.
I sighed. "I need to pee."
I also didn't have the chance to get that fresh air I needed. So after doing my business in the bathroom just down the hall, I went back into the bedroom and stepped onto the balcony. The night summer breeze greeted my face. And in the corner of my eye, I noticed the silent flutter of blonde hair flowing along with the direction of the wind. I could think of only two people in this mansion who had long blonde hair, but sadly the younger one should already be fast asleep since it was way past her curfew. That left the older one, my clubmate, Sena.
Sena? Shit, this was bad. I had only taken a glance of it from outside, but I should've thought that there might be a chance to bump into Sena again. The balcony itself covered most of the mansion's rear, spanning from one end to the other, and the bedrooms built to this side were connected to this bridging structure. Sena's room just happened to be next door from mine (and Pegasus's, I unfortunately corrected myself). She was leaning on the railing, watching the sky glitter with the countless stars above. The moon was halved, but there was sufficient light for me to make out the thoughtful expression on her face. She looked cute.
My mind immediately recalled the nude show she accidentally did, and I had more than half a mind to turn around and leave her undisturbed. Talking to her with that image completely burned inside my head was as possible as lighting fire while submerged in water. I needed to get back in and prolong our meeting at least for another few hours. Maybe by then she had calmed down enough and I thought up a plausible excuse to forget what just transpired. Unlike with Pegasus's loose tongue (la dida dida dida, I have no idea what he talked about, la dida dida dida), erasing the voluptuous image of her . . . well, it was just hard okay. Thinking about it would just make it even harder, er, I mean difficult. Damn it, keep it together.
I took a step back, grabbing the door knob and pulling it back to place, but it seemed some deity from above enjoyed screwing with me like it was going out of style, because while the balcony door's hinges were quiet when I pushed the door open, they were as loud as serenading cats when I began to close it. Sena, startled by the noise, whipped her head around, cutting some strands of her blonde hair off from the gentle flow of the nightly breeze. One particular strand stuck to the left edge of her lip, and the sexy images I tried so hard to block returned with vengeance.
I just couldn't get a break, could I?
"Kodaka . . ." she whispered, the wind carrying her voice to my ears. Her eyes were wide with surprise before they widened even more as the shape of her lips moved to initiate an inevitable scream. But none came. She covered her mouth with both hands in time and dashed to the safety of her room.
"Se—" I wanted to call out to her, but two things held me back. One was that I didn't know what to say after calling her. And I doubt she was in the mood for talking, not with the 'incident' still so fresh in both of our minds. The other was much more profound and it resonated in my very being. They were tears. Tears were cascading from her eyes. It was only a glimpse, but their glint via the illuminating moon managed to bring my attention to them. And the fact of the matter was that I was the cause of those tears. The shame she put herself through was too much to bear all at once, and if I were to confront her with this awkwardness now, there was a big chance this could all blow up in my face. The quiet, joyful days of our time in the clubroom might also come to an end, and that, more than anything, was unacceptable for me.
Sena slammed her bedroom door behind her, leaving me to contemplate by my lonesome.
Sure, I didn't take this whole Neighbors Club idea seriously at first, but it was through this club that I had been able to meet Sena, Yukimura, Maria, and Rika. Kobato would've stayed friendless if it hadn't been for this club, too, and though she seemed more incline to fight with Maria than to befriend her, I could see there was a slight similarity of their arguments with how Yozora and Sena interact. They were arguments—pure and simple—but looking deep enough, there was a certain level of camaraderie in between, as if arguing were the only way for them to express their friendship. There was a word good enough to describe this odd behavior, something Rika had said in passing but I couldn't recall it right now. Tsun-something or other.
The incident could very well be the instrument in driving a wedge between me and Sena for a time, and although I believed it was better to let things go as they were and hope for the best, my mind reeled back to those tears and I soon felt nothing but self-loathing. I just made a girl cry and all I could think about was myself? My parents would be ashamed of me if they were here to see this.
"But what to do?"
The answer to that should be obvious, but I was still afraid. Stepping into her room uninvited, placating her, and settling this matter once and for all . . . it was like a suicide mission, and the death rate would eventually end up with just me. Instead of repairing the wound, I might end up aggravating it, worsening it till it became permanent. It seemed a little exaggerated now, but for the me back then, it made sense and that rouse my hesitation. Yet despite that, I at least wanted to make amends, to try to make things right because ignoring the problem was ten times worse than trying to fix the problem and failing.
I approached the door, white and adorned with little square see-through glass panels that made it easy for me to gaze into the bedroom before entering it. The moon was bright tonight, but the roof of the balcony shaded what light I needed to see where Sena was within. With a tiny feeling of fear that fuelled my hesitation—if only for a notch, because I was still dedicated to right whatever wrong that got between us—I stood in front of the door, one hand raised to gently knock it and call her out.
"Sena," I said, my voice sounding a little too gruff, even to my own ears. I cleared my throat and called her name again, but there was still no response.
I knocked harder, called louder. Still no response from my clubmate. I sighed. Who thought this would be easy? I sure as hell didn't . . . although I wished it were so.
My hand clamped onto the lever-styled door handle, fully expecting it be locked, but felt no resistance when I pushed it down. As I inched the door inward, a stray thought came to me. What if Sena screamed when I ventured further into her room? How would the rest of the people in the household react to that? Granted, there was only Chairman Pegasus, who was out cold from drinking; Stella the steward, who slept in the nude and would no doubt come to her mistress's aid; and the cook, whom I never met. But it was just the principle of the matter. I wanted to settle this with Sena alone and keep it all to ourselves if I could help it.
Entering Sena's room was akin to entering a warp hole transporting me to an alien universe shrouded in the darkness of space. Dark as it was, I could still make out a few silhouettes of furniture four or five feet away from where I stood. It would be wise to wait awhile and let my eyes attune to the pitch black darkness, but Sena's soft, muffled sobs detracted me from caution.
A cold feeling came to my heart, making it heavy, making it sink, making it painful. I didn't fully understand the extent of this feeling at the time, but later on it was all made clear just like that reverse déjà vu. "Sena?" I called and the sobs quieted. I was about to call her again when she uttered her reply.
"Wo wah way." It was muffled like her sobs, but I expected such a response so it was easy to translate: Go away. I smiled, despite the seriousness of the situation. Her actions just reminded me so much of when Kobato got really upset with me and pursued this same course of action, so that the only way for her to forgive me would be to do the Big Brother Comfort Little Sister Routine.
It also made me wonder if the same method could be used for Sena. They were both girls, yes, but when Kobato had been at an age where receiving comfort from her older brother made her happy. She rarely got upset with me now; the last time she did was two years ago.
If you were to remove us being clubmates, Sena and I were essentially strangers. Sure, our fathers were friends but could we say the same with ourselves? Kobato lets me comfort her because she trusts me unconditionally as her caring brother. Sena and I formed no such strong trust, and after that 'incident' I doubted she'd leave that all behind us. Still, these would not change the simple fact that I made her cry.
And I didn't want her to cry.
I sat at the edge of her bed, which was in a size befitting actual royalty, complete with canopy and curtains and drapes, and I marveled a little on how soft the mattress was before I directed my gaze solely on the large bump under those equally soft sheets. I made out the location of her head, her arms, her legs. She was assuming fetal position, no doubt hugging a pillow under the sheets, staining it with her tears. Her shoulders shook in response to her sobs, hicks, and sniffs (oddly enough, she actually pulled off sniffing her phlegm-filled nose without sound like a snort). I scooted inches towards the head of the bed and planted my hand on her shoulder.
She shook it away violently and said, temporarily removing her face from her crying pillow, "Get out of my room!"
I winced, instinctually in the process of extracting from my comfortable seat to do as she had ordered, but with willpower I did not believe myself capable of possessing, I sat back down, depressing the bed's edge and informing Sena that I wasn't about to leave her in peace. I did this, but I still had half of a mind to resume her order—this situation prodded too many dangerous points for my survival instinct's liking. But would I be able to look at myself in the mirror and say I did my best? I had to soldier on. Turning back now felt too cowardly for me.
I grabbed Sena's shoulder again, harder, firmer. "We need to talk." Yeesh, maybe I should lay off from the TV dramas awhile. I was sounding like a boyfriend telling his girlfriend that they were through.
I expected many reactions from Sena, so she didn't at all surprise me when she shook away my hand once more and shouted, "No!" in that cute, muffled voice again.
Yes, you read it right: I found that cute. Don't ask me why.
Touching her shoulder a third time could lead to dire consequences, so I refrained from doing so. I didn't need physical contact to discuss with her. All I need were my voice and my mind. "I . . . uh . . . that is . . ."
And they were betraying me. Bad.
I cleared my throat and got my thoughts in order. My God, I was a mess. "Sena, we have to talk about this."
She didn't reply, resorting to ignoring my presence, but her ears were still open to my voice, so if I could get her to listen to me then all the better. But I believe just letting her listen would not matter—we had to have this discussion done face-to-face. Anything else would just be wasted effort.
"Sena, please," I said pleadingly, "talk to me."
She remained silent.
"I won't say I understand what you're going through," I said, believing that her shame was the driving force of her behavior, "but avoiding me forever solves nothing. Can you at least just hear me out?"
Sena remained still, silent, but as she weighed the pros and cons in her head, she removed the blanket from her head and faced me, her eyes streaming with cascading tears. "All right," she whispered, sounding almost disembodied. She might have decided to have me get this very personal talk moving, but maybe expecting her to face this with confidence—as she usually did in everything else, including galge—was stretching to overestimation. She didn't take embarrassment well, I figured, so I understood that while she was willing to hear me out, she was unwilling to look me in the eye.
This was going to be a long night.
"Again, thank you for letting us stay here for the night."
"No, no, it has been a pleasure." He said that, but he was still rubbing his forehead, courtesy of a hangover that could rival a hundred drills penetrating his skull. He looked that way to me, anyway, and although I and Stella-san advised that he should forego seeing me and Kobato off, he insisted that he should.
"Kobato-chan, let's take another bath next time, ne?"
"IYAAAAH!" Kobato's scream caught us all by surprise that I didn't even stop her when she dashed towards the mansion's gates with unrelenting speed. Forget swimming, she should take up track and field!
Still, her departure left a question to linger. I asked Sena, who stood next to me, "Just what did you do?"
"I-I-I didn't do anything," she stammered, cheeks a healthy pink, hands into fists and raised in front of her chest. "Anyway, Kodaka, you better deliver on your promise."
"Ah." Her words caught me by surprise, but it only lingered awhile before I smiled assuringly at her. "I will. Count on it."
Sena smiled back, cheeks pink and hands clasped behind her. "You're definitely unlike other guys." Before I could say something, she turned towards the gates and shouted, "Kobato-chan, wait!"
You're unlike other guys. She said this to me last night as well. A simple remark stemming from her true thoughts of me. I was unsure whether she meant it as an insult or a compliment, mostly because it was too vague of a statement for me to fill in the implications. But if I were to gauge her intent through her tone of voice, which I noted to contain admiration, then she thought positively of me, even though the 'how' and 'why' escape me somewhat.
"You seem to be getting along fine with my daughter," Pegasus-san said behind me. "I've never seen her this upbeat in a long time."
"It's probably because of Kobato," I replied. I wasn't trying to be modest. At the time, I honestly believed she was happier because my sister visited her home. "She's . . . quite smitten with my sister." That was a general way of putting it, if you were to ignore the lezzy-pedo tendencies, which I still find a little disturbing.
The Chairman looked at me, with eyes as calculating as a hawk locking on its prey, before his lips cracked an easy-going smile, and that was a feat deserving true praise because he managed to pull off the smile of easy-goingness with his stoic face.
"Too early, I suppose," he said mysteriously. He crossed his arms. "I know it may be bad to implore this on you, but please, take care of Sena."
At the time, I did not know what the Chairman was asking of me when he said that.
A parting good night was all that left his mouth as well as her own when there was nothing left to be said and when both realized that it was best they get to sleep right away. While having a boy inside her room made her feel embarrassed—no, that was not exactly right. She should feel embarrassed, more so when she was wearing one of her more provocative negligee but thankfully he either missed it due to her bathrobe or ignored it in favor of righting some of the wrongs that occurred tonight.
Sena was faced with shame, relief, and bewilderment. Shame because while Kodaka's apology and effort to make it up to her was sincere, she still could not forgive him for seeing all there was to see about her and didn't even offer to even the odds, you could say. It was the latter part that got her; such thoughts shouldn't even be contemplated, yet there it was, bare and strange. But other than that, what followed was relief because the sudden rift that rose after the 'Incident' had been torn down in a matter of hours. She doubted she'd be able to face Kodaka at all if not for this, much less attend the clubroom even with thoughts of never seeing Kobato-chan again if she began her avoidance. And these two emotions led to the final one, which was bewilderment.
Why exactly did Kodaka matter to her?
Sure, he was a club member and the son of Papa's friend (and Kobato-chan's big An-chan, she secretly giggled to herself), but what more was there about him that made her say those words: You're unlike other guys, Kodaka. It came out of her mouth, true, but the meaning behind it eluded her. Maybe she didn't think her words through when she said them, maybe it was something she just felt like saying, maybe it meant nothing at all, she could create a hundred theories but none would come close to providing her with a clear answer.
She snaked herself into bed, wrapping herself with the blanket and gazing out at the balcony door from where Kodaka had come and gone. She turned her gaze away and it landed on her bedside clock which shone out the four numbers telling her that it was fifteen minutes past two.
"Over an hour," she murmured to her room, needing neither a reply nor a reiteration. It was amazing how time flew over their talk. It seemed whatever that sparked Kodaka's spirit to apologize also brought him some confidence to actually talk with her. And she was more amazed with herself, who instead of asking him to leave and let her get her beauty sleep, she listened to him and he likewise to her. From childhood memories to middle school dilemmas, likes to dislikes, praises to criticisms, they had a lot to talk about and she found herself wishing that Kodaka hadn't left so soon. Slowly but surely, she began to admit to herself that she liked Kodaka's company and maybe that was why she said he wasn't like the other guys. Instead of a doormat she would walk on, she found herself a male who would walk beside her. Whether or not he would offer his arm to her was a question left hanging, and she contemplated no further than that, afraid of letting her mind wander to dangerous roads.
Despite that, she already caught a glimpse of what it would be like if her arm were wrapped in his, as if they were showing to everyone that they were an official couple. And her bewilderment just got bigger when she realized she was not against such a thing. Surely she wasn't . . . that he was . . . and they'd be . . .
"Go to sleep already," she told herself, wishing oblivion to come take her from these dangerous thoughts. "It's all your fault, Kodaka, acting so considerate." She never realized she had been smiling.
It was not easy postponing her ponderings at a later date when she'd be more prepared for them, when she'd be more clearheaded to analyze the depths of her feelings, but she managed just as the Sandman came to take her away to the land of dreams.
Her last thoughts before her eyes shut and never to open until the first rays of sunlight shone through her window were of Kodaka, his promise, and their interlocked arms, beautified by the vane mindset of her imagination.