The Morning After

She is gone. It is not his first thought when he rouses himself, but it is the one that lingers on his tongue like a bitter candy. She is gone, and it is his fault. The dull throb between his eyes makes it difficult for coherent thought, but he does know that her absence falls upon his shoulders. He wants to know why, but the ache only worsens when he presses himself to recollect the previous night. Kenshi Inagaki is in no state to do more than see to his primitive needs only worsened by his headache.

With a grunt, he sits himself up. He is naked. One hand cradles his tender head against the excruciating pain that beats against his skull like a drum while the other seeks out the nearest article of clothing that he can find. His movements are awkward and slow, unbefitting of a man whose livelihood depends on his ability to act in a moment's notice, but after several minutes of struggling he is trudging into the kitchen fully clothed. A glass of water for his dry throat is his first priority.

The thickness of his tongue does not seem as prominent as he slowly drains the glass of water with a painkiller clumsily snatched from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom. Relief touches his parched throat and he finds that he can focus upon his thoughts without the interference of a much regretted hangover. For the first time that morning he notes the eerie silence of the inn compared to the din that has become his morning routine. It does not take more than a moment to recall the reason why.

His mother is in the hospital. That thought alone is enough to make his empty stomach churn. Concern and guilt bite at his conscious as one as he moves to rest his forehead against the cool kitchen counters. He should be at the hospital instead of nursing a hangover. Better than any of the Black Foxes, Kenshi realizes how easily a man can lose those closest to him if he is not vigilant. Look at how he lost his father, his hero and his mentor, in the blink of an eye.

Kenshi rushes towards the kitchen sink as the memories creep back, his body dry heaving though his empty stomach has nothing to give. Only the sound of his retching breaks the silence of the room. He remembers now why he had picked up the bottle last night in the first place. It had dulled his senses and deadened his mind to the onslaught of moments that he was not prepared to face in light of his mother's mortality. In his memories, his parents are shaped by the vitality they wear like a second skin. No man in his position would like to think of them any other way.

Without the alcohol to hide behind, he finds himself standing before his father's casket once more. A body has been laid out before him. The face is that of his father, but it is not his father. His father is a man that has trouble holding still; he would never have possessed the patience it would have taken to lie still for more than a minute. When his father laughs, it is boisterous and loud. Kenshi is hard pressed to believe that the husk before him could utter even a sound. The man that he has looked up to his whole life has eyes that always hint at a joke he does not understand.

It is not his father, but it is his father.

Fumbling with the sink, he sets the water to the coldest temperature it will go to before shoving his head under it. The sharp and painful shock breaks him from his memories better than any beer might. His clothes are now thoroughly soaked, but at least his head is clear. As it is, he needed a shower anyways and there is no time like the present. He first shakes off as much water as he can into the sink before making his way to the bathroom with little concern as to how insane he must look at the moment.

The night begins to return to him in small steps as he sheds his clothes and steps into the shower. It had started as only one drink to calm his nerves. The first drink had done nothing for him though and one drink soon became one more and then one more until he had gone through nearly six bottles in only two hours. Kenshi was not a heavy drinker; his body and mind had only an average tolerance for alcohol. The last time he had gotten this drunk had been the night the news of his father's death had been delivered.

He remembers the sound of his bedroom door opening and soft footsteps. A sweet and familiar voice calls to him, whispers his name in a gentle tone, and the sound of it makes him want to cry. Kenshi wants her to be there, but he does not want her to be there either. He does not want her to witness him in such a vulnerable state, but his drunken stupor has lightened his heart, and she is the only person that he wants there at the moment. She is a good memory and a sad one pressed into a single person, and he doesn't want her to leave him.

There are no words to describe the feeling that settles in the pit of his stomach as he remembers taking her into his arms. The following hours are a blur of emotions, a state that he suspects has little to do with the alcohol in his system, but there are pristine moments of clarity. He remembers the warmth of her skin pressed flush against his own. Her eyes are glazed and it is his name that forms on her lips as she digs her nails into his back. It is her body that arches beneath his own as ecstasy takes a hold of them both.

What has he done?

The moment that he is out of the shower he makes a lunge for his phone. She was not here when he woke up this morning, an action that leaves him a nervous wreck, but he knows where she is regardless. There are very few places that she would have gone to in the first place. She is a smart girl by her own rights; she would know better than to wander the town without one of them at her side. This leaves only Boss' place as the logical answer. The other Black Foxes haven't told her where they live, and she is too concerned about the safety of her friends to have gone to their houses.

He is such an idiot. What had he been thinking when he had kissed her? He hadn't been. No, that is a lie. His mind had been racing with thoughts, but none of the right ones. Even in his sobering state he can still taste her upon his tongue. Her scent lingers in this room and it floods his senses as the phone continues to ring torturously. Last night, his thoughts had been of how bad his need for this woman was and how desperate he was to never watch her walk out of his life, of how perfectly she had fit against him.

The ensuing conversation leaves him more broken and nervous than the news of his mother's hospitalization had. Kenshi knows that she was there when Boss had picked up the phone. It had been hard, but he had caught her voice in the background and though he hadn't been able to discern any words, he had heard the tone of her voice. She had been hesitant, remorse had colored her words, but more than anything else she had sounded broken. There are tears stinging at the back of his eyes as he begins to pace the room.

What has he done? This woman that is tied to their lives was his responsibility and his friend. She has seen sides to him that he never dared to share with any past girlfriend. He has allowed her to see sides to him that no woman, not even his mother, has seen, and she had accepted him regardless of it all. He and his friends had inadvertently terrorized her, subsequently kidnapped her, and then held her hostage, and through that all she had still chosen to help them. She had chosen to put her faith and trust in him.

When he was an old man with grey hairs, some of his most cherished moments, the memories which he would remember his life by, would have been because of her. She was not like the women that he typically associated with. The serving girls that worked at the inn were friendly, beautiful females that looked as if they were as fragile as glass. His past girlfriends had been sweet and delicate women that needed someone like him to be their knight. Even his mother had a certain degree of femininity to her.

She was very few of those things. She was strong and independent that stood strong by her morals. The last thing that she would have needed was someone to save her. What future and choices she made, she shaped with her own two hands. She was fierce and proud, and did not stand for something that she was uncomfortable with. He could still remember the shock he felt when he had burst into the yard only to catch her decking the man in the face. She had saved herself before he could.

Kenshi had never seen a woman like her before, but it had somehow made him more comfortable with her. She had already known that he was a thief so he had felt little need to hide anything unnecessary from her, and in her he had seen the reflection of old and dear friends. When he had spent time with her, he found that he genuinely enjoyed it. She could be so sweet despite her independence, and she had faithfully stood by his side without judgments. They had known each other for a relatively short time, but he was comfortable with her.

He thought of her as one of the reminders of the good in life. She was the great granddaughter of the artist whose very works they worked to restore to their rightful owners. When he looked at her he would think of the artist that had wanted to do good for the world by his own hands, and he would remember why they did what they did. It was for her that her great grandfather had tried to bring the emotions that he did to the world with his pieces. He had wanted to build a good world for her, and, as Kenshi spent more time with her, he could see why.

Somewhere along the way he had begun to separate her from the group that he would call friends. It was easy to forget that she was a female sometimes, but there had been moments where it was impossible to miss. Those moments took him by surprise, but he had easily laughed them off when they had come because at the end of the day she was still herself. With each day he had spent with her, his considerations of what he thought of as beautiful and female hadn't changed, but somehow she had become a part of that definition. When he considered the people important his life he had stopped thinking of it as his friends, and instead as his friends and her.

Kenshi was not a fool. Perhaps he hadn't noticed when he had begun to fall, but once he had fallen he recognized it for what it was. He would not argue that he hadn't been taken by surprise by his own emotions, that he had seen it coming, but he accepted them all the same. It was almost better, in fact, that he hadn't thought of her as someone he could fall in love with in the first place. There was the proof that she was more special than any of the girls he had dated in the past.

Given time, he would have taken action. He was not one to lock his feelings up for the sake of propriety. True, she was his friend, but who said that she couldn't be both his best friend and his lover? No female could be close to him like she was, and they understood one another in more ways than he could count. There was no stronger foundation that they could have built a relationship upon. He would have told her, but then he had gotten caught up in everything that was happening around him and then this had happened.

Whatever chances he may have had, he had just ruined, and he had no one to blame but himself. Perhaps if she had stayed instead of leaving before he woke they could have worked something out. Kenshi would never have done anything to hurt her if he had the power to do anything about it. He would have held her in his arms and opened himself to her. He would have made her see past his drunken actions. They would have talked, but, more importantly, they would have been together. He would have seen to it that she was happiest with him.

And who was to say that he still couldn't do that? Sure, they hadn't exactly gone a traditional path and certain steps had come before other steps, but why couldn't they still have a future together? He was her friend; she had to listen to him. They were not going to ignore what had happened between them last night. How could they when the memory of her was still ingrained in his mind? There had to be some chance, because he knew for a fact that she had held onto him and when she had looked at him it had been with affection.

Kenshi does not know why she left in the morning, but she is one of few good things that he knows he still has in his life, and he will not allow her to walk out of it. The moment that he sees her, he is going to sweep her up in his arms with a kiss and speech that is going to leave her breathless. He is sober now, and he will give her all the words that she needs to see that he loves her. If she just gives him the time, he knows that he stands a fighting chance.

She just has to put a little faith in him.