Recap: It was time for her to fess up.
"Maia, what's going on?" he asked. The woman walked silently, avoiding the question. His prodding was making her heart race. He pushed on.
"Something tells me that the reason you needed to leave wasn't just a simple headache. Do you want to tell me what's wrong?" Maia shook her head.
"No, I'm fine."
"You don't look fine, Maia. I know you well enough to tell if something's troubling you." The idea that Kakashi wanted to be there for her to provide support, but was helpless to do anything made her heart sink. And the last thing she wanted to do was to needlessly worry him.
"I just really can't talk about it right now. Please can we just go home?" He pressed on.
"It might feel better just to get it off of your shoulders. It's not like I'll tell anyone else. Let me help you," his voice stayed calm and neutral even with his concern. He was met only with her desperate, serious, blue eyes staring into him.
"Trust me; the most helpful thing you could do for me right now is to just forget about it, and let me get over it myself. I'm fine; you have nothing to worry about." She tried to soften her voice at the end, making herself seem more lighthearted than she felt. He looked into her for another moment, but finally made up his mind. Kakashi scratched the back of his head and shrugged.
"Alright. Let's just go home." Maia inwardly gave a sigh of relief for being off the hook. But she remembered how the man in her mind had told her a piece of advice. Tonight was not the night to take any risks.
"Kakashi," she asked.
"Can you stay with me tonight?" Kakashi smiled and rubbed her shoulder.
"Of course." He held her hand and lead her home, where she comfortably fell asleep safely on his chest.
-One Week Later-
The alarm rang at 10:00 am. The blonde haired kunoichi sat up and threw off her covers in excitement.
"We're going on a trip!" She exclaimed. The grey haired jounin boyfriend squinted one of his eyes open.
"Hm?" He managed to get out. Maia grinned, rolling over to lay against him. She kissed him good morning on the forehead.
"We're going on a trip with Gai and Anko and Kurenai and Asuma to the hot springs, remember?" He blinked at her a couple times before stretching his arms. Her blue eyes beaming with excitement were matched by his tired and unphased dark ones.
"Oh yeah..." His voice was groggy from the six hours of sleep they were able to get the night before. Maia's expression turned flat.
"Don't tell me you forgot, did you?" Her boyfriend yawned and slowly sat himself up. The way he hunched over made his hair tilt down.
"No, I didn't forget. I just didn't expect to be so tired. It feels so early." The woman got out of bed to grab a suitcase, then started piling their clothes inside.
"We got back from our mission late last night. We'll make up for the lost energy at the hot springs this weekend, I'm certain. It will be worth it." The man scratched the back of his head, looking at his girlfriend happily packing up their clothes. Tsunade had given them each a mission when they announced that they would be taking a small vacation over the weekend. And her assignments had been as brutal as usual.
"I'm not so sure…." He mumble to himself, though the still almost fully unclothed woman easily picked it up. She turned to him.
"What do you mean?" He shrugged.
"I mean, it just doesn't seem practical. We could get plenty of rest here in the village this weekend and still have time to get other things done." The woman shook her head. It was only a few days ago she learned that in all of his years working as a shinobi, he had rarely ever taken a vacation that wasn't spent in the hospital.
"I told you before, a weekend at the hot springs will be productive. Really taking the time to sit in the water will revitalize and replenish us so that we can do better on missions without expending as much energy. Healing is important.
"Right," he answered, getting out of bed. "Still, it's not like I'm in bad shape. You make me sound old." Maia smirked as he came over to her, wrapping his arms around her waist lazily.
"You're not old, you just need to take some time off. You deserve it! Besides, wouldn't you like to see me in my new suit? Kurenai insisted we wear them under our towels." She raised her voice mock flirtatiously as she playfully held out the top half as if for him to admire. He smirked back and kissed her.
"I'm coming, don't worry." Kakashi left the room to take a shower while Maia finished packing the rest of the clothes. Afterwards, she got back into bed to wait her turn. She knew he took longer than most people to finish washing himself because of his hair and his near paranoia with keeping good hygiene. The woman snuggled back into his covers, and then out of the corner of her eye she noticed an orange glimmer on the side table. Kakashi had left his book unattended in her room.
For a moment, Maia stared at it, thinking about what Anko had said. Curiosity overtook her and she reached over to take it. Sitting up, she looked at the front cover.
There was just a picture of a woman in a red dress running from a man with her arms outstretched. Maia had unassumingly never paid any attention to the details of the book aside from its color, indicating which one he was reading.
Make out Paradise? That's a pretty tacky title for a romance novel, isn't it? She thought to herself. Then she flipped it over to the back. It had a large red 'no' sign on it. Well if it's a romance novel, it probably has make out scenes that aren't appropriate for children. Right? The innocent and unassuming woman stared at the book and thought back to the time Anko had told her about it.
"Why do you make him sound so scandalous? He's six years older than me. I assume he's had other girlfriends, but he's private about his love life. It's not like he goes showing off his sexuality in public. Anko raised an eyebrow. Her mouth turned into a sneer.
"Doesn't he? Wait a minute... don't tell me you don't know." Maia looked at her plainly, indicating she had no idea what her friend was talking about.
"Oh my goodness, you have no idea do you?"
Should she read it? If it had something bad in it, would her view of her boyfriend be changed and corrupted forever? Or had Anko merely been playing mind games with her for fun? Then again, if he's my boyfriend, I should be informed about what kinds of romance novels he reads. If he loves them so much, what's the worst that could happen if I took a peak?
Slowly, she opened the front cover and began to read the first chapter. Then she turned the page. And another page after that.
"This is… this is….."
Kakashi finished his shower and turned off the water, drying himself off with a towel and stepping out in front of the mirror.
The fortune of being a lightning type… he thought to himself as he ran his fingers through his spikey slanted hair. Then he ran his finger over a the tiny birthmark on his face under his mouth. He shook his head and opened the door. When he stepped out of the bathroom to re-enter the bedroom, his heart stopped.
There was his girlfriend, Icha Icha opened on her lap to the third page, gaping at him with a blush on her cheeks. Oh no.
"Not the third page!"
After they made their reservations, Asuma and Kurenai headed into the private bathing area, closing the screen door behind them. Gai and Anko were still getting ready. Maia's silence made the guilty party uneasy.
"Maia…." He said with a slight teasing whine to it. She closed her eyes and shook her head.
"I still can't believe it. Under my nose, all the time, whenever I'm not with you? In public?!" She crossed her arms over her chest, securing her towel tightly to her. Kakashi tucked in his own at his waist.
"It's not that bad, I promise. If you would just read the first chapter you would see that the first few pages were designed to catch the attention of men. It's actually a very well written novel with a complex plot." For the first time in at least a week, the tone of his voice told her that he was talking about something that he genuinely loved. It was embarrassing.
"But you fell for the third page, didn't you? You kept reading."
"Well, yes but-" She shook her head again.
"What is that supposed to tell me about what's constantly going through your brain other than what I now think it is? How am I not supposed to feel a little weird now?" Suddenly, he gave an almost childish, sappy, adoring smile.
"You're my Juko." Maia's eyes flatlined. Had he just compared her to the woman on the third page who had been completely objectified? Was she just a body to him after all? He immediately read the offense on her face.
"Well, not the Juko you know. I'll let you read my book, and then you'll see what I mean." The woman was still skeptical, though the fact he was offering to surrender one of his beloved books for a time was certainly a meaningful gesture coming from him. "We'll talk about this later. For now, can you not be mad at me?" She looked at him intensely, trying to figure out what he saw in her and if temporarily forgiving him was worth it. He tilted his head slightly and made the cutest face through his white towel mask. "I love you?" He said as if it was a question. It made her heart melt.
"Okay." He smiled with his eyes and exited the changing area. As he shut the door, Anko came up to her and pinched her waist.
"Ow!" The blonde woman winced. Anko looked at her with an evil smile.
"I overheard what you were talking about." She cackled evilly, and Maia blushed scarlet, making a face behind her, both entering the hot springs area.
"If it isn't the new couple," Asuma said as the two arrived at the private spring. Maia noticed that Kurenai was sipping on a glass of sake lazily. Kakashi held her hand as she stepped down into the water, settling next to him. Even with co ed private hot springs becoming more popular, it did feel sort of strange to be in a towel in front of someone other than her boyfriend. She held onto his arm and leaned against him as they enjoyed the warmth. Anko and Gai entered right behind them.
"Kurenai, it isn't safe to drink alcohol in the hotsprings. You'll get too dizzy," Gai warned in a worried tone. The woman seemed not to care. She stretched.
"It's only one drink, Gai. I'll be fine." Maia had heard that Kurenai enjoyed casual drinking, but she had never seen the woman so completely relaxed before. The brown haired woman smiled at the youngest, across from her.
"Nothing like a good soak in the springs to soothe your bones!" Anko said, raising a glass of a similar drink. Gai had invited her after realizing that she had been the only one in their group not to have came to the dinner the week prior. It also saved him the awkwardness of being the fifth wheel. They all sat peacefully enjoying the first break they had had in a while.
"Maia, you were right. This was a good idea and we needed this. But let's all make a pact right now not to tell any of our students that we did it," Kurenai looked at her for the first time without a hint of judgement.
"Amen," Gai and Kakashi answered.
"I can imagine the look on Neji's face if he learned that non-separated hot springs even existed. My whole team would be suspicious." Asuma nodded.
"I'm sure Ino would make a huge deal of it too." The conversation ebbed and flowed easily, as the blonde haired woman listened intently. There was still so much she didn't know, being only a chuunin, making it hard to insert herself into any conversation. Despite their reassurance, she felt as if they were leagues ahead of her. Apparently, everyone's students were making progress. They took turns bragging about their own. Kakashi and Maia, both somewhat withdrawn, listened more than they spoke. She calmly ran her fingers over his abdomen near his belly under the steamy water, still resting against him under his arm. He stroked her arm with his free right hand and gave her a sweet smile. For the first time in a long time, she felt calm and unworried about the secret ties she held, simply because she knew her place was here, in the village, with her friends. Kakashi whispered into her ear
"I love you." And she truly believed that she was safe.
Disgusting. The voice said.
Maia's heart leapt in surprise. Just when she had told herself that everything was safe and alright, the man in her mind had to shatter that sense of security. This was really wearing down on her. The woman feigned a smile and gently pulled away from her lover so that they were simply sitting next to each other.
What do you want now? Why did you have to come in to my head right when I was having a good time?
I didn't want his unclean hand on you. That hand is very impure. Also, you were getting too comfortable in your life. You don't belong here, and you know that.
Maia turned her face away so no one would see her, but she was scowling.
What are you talking about? What makes his right hand more impure than the left one? Stop trying to mess with my head. You might know my past, but you can't feel my present feelings. This is my home and I don't care what you say. The man chuckled and she felt his hand run up and down her arm just as Kakashi had done.
You're growing more confident than you were when you came here. Big mistake. His touch grew hard, and it hurt like she was being scratched. Maia felt like crying. It was so unfair.
"Hey guys, I think I'm going to go inside for a bit. It's hot in here, and I'm getting dizzy." Kakashi looked at her concerned.
"You should never stay in any longer than you feel comfortable. Go get a cool drink of water." Maia nodded to him and got up out of the spring, desperate to be out of their sight. Anko chuckled.
"You're so teeny, it's only been ten minutes. They say that children under the age of twelve should get out after fifteen minutes and you can't even make that?" The younger never bothered replying; she simply walked out as fast as she could, ignoring the advice of the man in her head. It didn't matter that it was unsafe for her to be alone with him. Right now, all that was important was that she didn't give herself away and worry them. Maia was made of sterner stuff, and she could handle the pain on her own.
The minute she shut the door behind her, she went to the sink and splashed water on her face from the heat. The man gave a low, rumbling, evil chuckle.
Let's take a walk. To her horror, her legs began to move of their own accord, one after another.
Something wasn't right. It was the same thing as a week before. Something had happened that made his girlfriend feel the need to leave. He debated with himself over whether or not he should follow her to see what was wrong, but after what had happened this morning he decided not to anger her more by intruding. She was a big girl, and she would come back when she was ready. Gai was talking about how Neji had just learned a new exceptional jutsu and was far beyond the skill level of any other of their students. Kakashi retorted that Jiraya had recently written to inform him that Naruto had learned the rasengan. That seemed to put his rival in his place. A few minutes later, his girlfriend returned, but she did not return in the state that anyone could have expected.
Her head was lowered, long hair spilling over and leaving her face in shadow. He noticed that her movements were unnaturally stiff.
"Maia, what's wrong?" Kurenai asked, concerned. The blonde didn't answer. Instead, she simply got in the water, and stood there motionless. His eyebrows furrowed. She might not be feeling well, but there was no need for such unnecisary dramatics. If this was how she wanted to draw attention to herself, she was being unusually immature.
"Maia, if there's something wrong, you and I need to go inside and have a talk." But they were all wrong.
The small, blonde haired young woman slowly drew a kunai knife out from her towel and held it out at her friends. Looking up at them, her hair exposed her face… and her eyes were nothing but gaping white orbs.
"Woah, what the hell!" Anko voiced the thoughts of everyone.
Then she lunged.
But not for a second were they going to let her pull a move like that. In a hot springs filled with highly skilled jounin, it took a single second for them to jump into action, disarm her, and pin her to the ground at the spring's entrance. Maia struggled for a minute, then her muscles went limp. Kakashi, Gai and Asuma stood over her and watched the blue color return to her eyes. The woman seemed to be slowly coming back to full consciousness and full realization of the predicament she was in. She blinked.
"Asuma, Gai, Kakashi? What happened? Why are you all standing over me?" Asuma looked tough and slightly hostile.
"What do you mean what happened? You just pulled a kunai on us!" She looked at them with surprise and sadness, guessing what had happened.
"You mean to say you weren't conscious? Was it some type of genjutsu?" Gai's eyes were almost as wide as his favorite pupil's. Kurenai appeared behind her lover.
"I've never seen a genjutsu effect someone's eyes like that. I'd guess it was doujutsu if anything else." Maia felt her heart breaking as they discussed the improbabilities that something like that would happen. She saw their growing distrust in their eyes. Not only had she caused them worry, but she had almost hurt them in the process. Finally, they deemed her conscious and able to get up, though out of caution, she felt Kakashi's hand hold her in place. The woman finally met the eyes of the man she loved most. Certainly, he had put two and two together, fully understanding that the dinner a week ago and this incident were linked. His gaze bore into her like daggers.
"Whatever the case, she's not safe to stay here. We should return to the village. I'll take her home with me." Gai objected.
"If she was under a jutsu, shouldn't we look for the caster nearby?" The grey haired jounin's never left the eyes of his target.
"No. I'm confident that there are no enemies here. I have this under control." His voice only vaguely masked the accusation he felt. Reluctantly, the other four agreed and began to leave the spring. Maia was left alone with the man staring into her, tears brimming at her eyes. He got up and stood over her, speaking in a stern, teacher-like voice. "We need to talk."
Kakashi sat calmly on the couch across from her as his girlfriend's frantic cries subsided. There was no chance he was leaving her out of his sight until she finally surrendered and told him the truth. Maia knew it was the end of the line and she had no choice, but she was holding off on starting her story, savoring the time with him before he would inevitably break up with her and probably send her to an institution. Finally she spoke.
"I'm so terrified. I feel like if I tell you the truth, my entire life will change forever. I know you have every right to know, but I can't help but feel like if I tell you, I'll be putting your life in jeopardy as well. I won't hurt you." Kakashi was still stern.
"You're hurting us more by keeping it inside. If I have no idea what the problem is, how will I be able to help you sort it out?" She sniffled.
"There's nothing you can do. It's a reality I have to face alone. I can't imagine a way anyone else would be able to help me when it's something no one can understand."
"Maia if you love me, that means you have to trust me. You can't know if there isn't a solution if you don't open up to someone that might know more options than you do. Just tell me." His voice wasn't harsh, but serious and understanding.
"I promise, this is something you know nothing about. No one we know knows anything about this. Any of the solutions you might think of aren't solutions that I will like, and they will just cause more trouble for people in the long run."
"You pulled a knife on all of your best friends while you were unconscious. You really think that I'm going to just let you continue keeping quiet? If you're in danger, or anyone else is being put in danger, I have to know." So finally, the woman surrendered. Feeling numb, she told her entire story if the man in her mind, from beginning to end. And she had to admit, after living a life where everything that was important was kept a secret and lied about, telling the truth just once felt great. He calmly listened the whole way through. Finally, when she finished, they sat in silence. He looked at the ground in thought.
"So you're telling me that there's a man connected to your mind who can control your movements and inflict physical pain onto you and others? And you think he's coming for you and that he knows the past you have forgotten."
"Do you think I'm crazy?" Maia asked, nervously clenching her hands together. He sighed.
"Well, at first, I had thought that it might be schitzophrenia or some other mental illness, and that I should take you to the hospital or to see a therapist. But people that hallucinate usually experience more than one thing that others can't perceive, and no one that experiences hallucinations have eyes that go white and act while unconscious. It seems pretty clear after hearing your story that whatever's happening isn't just in your head. You were right, someone is probably linked to you." Maia exhaled loudly in relief. So he wouldn't send her away.
"So… do you have any idea what I should do? Do you think anyone else might know?" He scratched his head near his hairline.
"Not off the bat. But that doesn't mean I won't continue looking. As you know from a while ago, Konoha has a hidden jutsu library. There might be something in there that could give us a lead." Maia's heart sank that they would have to wait to find a solution, but she was comforted that he was going to try.
"I'm worried that if you look, he'll get angry and come after you. I don't want to rock the boat any more than it's already moving." He gave a small chuckle.
"I've never met someone so determined to tough out their problem instead of giving into their pain and fixing it no matter the risk. The boat will be rocked, no matter what. If you stay still, things don't get better. We just have to make sure it rocks in our favor. There might be a chance we can sever this tie of yours, but if there isn't, we'll just have to eliminate the other end of that tie." She raised her eyebrows in confusion.
"Maia. If a man comes for you because they want to take you away and hurt you, I can and will protect you. I might not know exactly how to solve this, and I might not know how it feels, but I'm not completely useless. I'm here for you." The woman began to tear up again, and she curled her legs tightly into her chest. Kakashi scooted forward to hold her hands as she cried. "Everything is going to be alright. I can't believe that all this time, ever since the first day I met you, you had been hiding this." She gave a small smile.
"I was afraid you were going to leave me! I wanted to be accepted. I felt like this should be my home. And when I started forming bonds with people, I wanted to tell those people even less. I value you the most in this village and I was terrified of losing you and everything." He planted a wet kiss on her forehead.
"I've never told any girl I loved her until I met you, and normally I'd have taken more time. But when I told you, I meant it. I'm not going to let anything get to us. When you share a bond with someone like this, you can trust in their strengths. As much as you want to keep your pain to yourself, no one is perfect. People need other people to make up for the things we lack. We have friends so we don't have to go through things alone. You're a smart girl. You should have already known this stuff by now." Maia looked at him and thanked him for the lecture. As much as he wasn't his student, he still had the personality of a teacher sometimes. She smiled and kissed him, more grateful than any time in the past for his existence. "Let's get some sleep. We traveled there and back all in one day and I'm sure you're tired." The woman nodded and lead him into her room.
In bed, for the first time, Kakashi curled up behind her, wrapping his arms tightly around her. The woman felt safer than she had in weeks with him pulling her close. Maybe, just maybe, it would be alright in the end.
"I love you, Ishi," she whispered.
"I love you too, Mai."
Above them, viewing the couple from far away, the man linked to her mind growled in disgust.