Disclaimer:

I do not own Kokoro Connect. This is a work of fan fiction.


Chapter 1: A Wedding of the Heart

It had started as the happiest day in Himeko Inaba's life. It ended as one of her darkest.

Now, the reason her heart turned dark on that warm sunny day in June was not readily apparent. It was not due to the joyousness of the occasion, nor indeed was it due to any particular event that happened on that beautiful day. Rather, the cause of her descent into darkness on that fateful afternoon was a seed, a seed that that was planted in her heart from years before.

She had started the day in deliriously high spirits. It was because she was getting married to the love of her life, Taichi Yaegashi. Per tradition she had not seen him before the ceremony. As she waited in her dressing room she wondered why she was so nervous with anticipation. I need to relax. This is just a ceremony, a formality. The happy couple had become inseparable since high school, and now that college was over they agreed it was time to make it official.

The ceremony had started. Standing in front of the shrine with their friends and family in attendance, she and Taichi faced the Shinto priest. Taichi looked rather dashing in his black western-style tux and beamed at his bride, while Inaba looked radiant in her white western-style wedding gown and smiled back at him.

She hid the fact that she was a little irritated with the elaborate gown she was wearing. I can't believe I'm wearing this big wedding dress, she thought. I look like a stupid princess or something.

It was because Taichi's parents had wanted a western style wedding. His parents were agnostic, her family was Buddhist. After much inter-family wrangling they compromised: The couple would dress western style, with a Shinto priest performing the main ceremony. The ceremony would wrap up with a homily spoken by a Buddhist priest named Baso, an old friend of Inaba's wealthy father, followed by a western-style exchange of rings and a kiss, and end with the traditional Shinto offering of the tamagushi branch.

Inaba had initially balked at wearing a white wedding gown. She wanted instead to go with a formal white and red wedding kimono. To avoid family strife Taichi had begged her to wear a gown; he said he liked the western look as well. So she picked the most expensive white gown she could find in a fancy bridal boutique in Kyosho and wore it, but only because of him. Then she made sure his parents got the bill. Have fun trying to take this contraption off me tonight, you idiot. I'm not gonna help. She grinned inwardly at the hilarity that would probably ensue tonight as he fumbled around in frustration trying to undo all the fasteners.

She turned briefly to look at her friends and family behind them. Not all their friends were there to witness the blessed union that day. She knew that Yui, Aoki, and Iori - their best friends from back in high school - the other three former members of the School Cultural Society club, were not present. For Yui and Aoki, it was not because they were unwilling to attend the ceremony, it was because they were unable. I will never forgive Heartseed for what he did to them, thought Inaba. Iori, of course, had her own reasons.

Following Shinto tradition, the couple took three sips of sake each from three cups poured by the miko. The shrine maiden looked resplendent in her white and red gown as she finished serving the couple. Per the families arrangement, Baso, the Buddhist priest, then came forward and addressed the young couple directly, to give them words of encouragement as they began their new life together. "Taichi Yaegashi, Himeko Inaba, you are standing here today to join in marriage, to declare your lifelong commitment to love one another. But what is love? The answer might be found in the Taijitu, the symbol of yin and yang, the interconnectedness of the two, of two persons, of two souls, united as one. For the yin and the yang are opposing forces, each is the other's opposite. And yet they are one."

That was certainly true of Taichi and Inaba. Their personalities and temperament could not be more dissimilar. Indeed in many ways they were polar opposites of each other.

Taichi was self-sacrificing to a fault. He was always willing to jump in without hesitation to help someone in need, regardless of the cost to himself. Inaba thought he was a reckless fool, and she called him a 'selfless freak' to his face more than once. It created tension between them since high school, and it was a tension that was still not fully resolved even now.

Meanwhile Inaba's personality was abrasive, defensive, isolated, rational and rationalizing. She was someone who accepted her lot in life and did not try to fight fate. And so she never felt obligated to simply rush out and save others from theirs. C'est la vie. She felt that there was no point in trying to save everyone in the world, a hopeless task in any case, for it cannot be done without one's own self-destruction. Indeed, it had almost happened to Taichi more than once, and she upbraided him for it many times.

What brought them together was the honest recognition of each other's faults and strengths, and the willingness for each of them to try to sincerely change themselves for the sake of the other.

For his part Taichi tried to be less self-sacrificing of himself, to set priorities, and to think before leaping in to rescue somebody. He resolved to become more like her, to not be so reckless in his disregard for himself when helping others. Inaba for her part tried to open up, to not be so closed off and defensive, to not overthink and obsess about every little thing to the point of paralysis. She tried hard to become more like him, to be more self-giving as her fiancée was.

She finally understood that her continual self-imposed isolation was basically just another form of her own selfishness, of a fear of being hurt, or of hurting others. She admitted she was a selfish person, full of wants and needs that she tried to suppress, often unsuccessfully. That included her longing desire for Taichi. She grinned inwardly as she recalled the first big confession that they shared together: That they each had private sexual fantasies about the other.

She recalled how he was so mortified that she also sometimes had those thoughts. What, girls are never allowed to ever have any dirty thoughts, only boys? I told you a dozen times, Taichi, I am not a princess! The fact that Inaba's given name, Himeko, meant 'princess' had irked her since childhood. She always hated that name. And so although officially as of today her formal name would be Himeko Yaegashi, she insisted that her husband and friends still call her Inaba.

Together they overcame each other's faults and grew stronger. Their complementary personalities canceled out each other's weaknesses and reinforced their strengths, counterbalancing their own flaws, creating a whole that was greater than the sum of its parts. And so, together, they felt they could face any hardship that life could throw at them.

Taichi had to admit to himself that if it wasn't for Heartseed and that strange entity's so-called 'tests' back in high school, that this wedding would not have happened. Each of the five club members were tested several times: They had swapped bodies against their will, or were forced to decide which one would die, or had their innermost desires unleashed, or were forced to reveal their most personal faults and weaknesses to each other in the most embarrassing ways. All of this was done ostensibly for Heartseed's entertainment, which he continued to do as long as he found his victims 'interesting', or so he claimed.

Inaba never understood that name, Heartseed, for it seemed to her that he was merely a sadist with no heart whatsoever. She refused to believe Taichi's theory that Heartseed was only trying to help them by revealing their deep seated emotional baggage to each other, to help them recognize their faults, to change each other, to become better persons. No, it was just for his sadistic entertainment, she thought, it had to be. He even admitted it. It was just another example of Taichi's ridiculous tendency to forgive others of anything, no matter the injury. No, she did not believe that Heartseed had any heart at all.

The Buddhist priest was still speaking his words of wisdom, but Inaba wasn't listening. She was still thinking about her absent friends. Again, Inaba swore to herself she would never forgive Heartseed for what he did.

Meanwhile Taichi was attending closely to the priest's words: "Love in Japanese has two names: koi, and ai. But there is a third name for love in our language, and I believe that it is the best name: kokoro. It literally means the heart. I do not mean the body part, but rather love expressed as a certain feeling or an action.

"The kanji for kokoro contains the brushstrokes for both koi and ai. Now, koi is romantic love, or passionate love. In western society it is called eros, a greek word, which means intimate or romantic love. It is not necessary sexual, though it often is. Ai, on the other hand, refers to a kind of selfless or self-sacrificing love. The closest corresponding word that westerners use is the greek word agape (ah-gah-pay), which refers to selfless or unconditional love.

"In a marriage you will have, and experience, both kinds of love, both koi and ai: desire and sacrifice, wanting and giving. Both are needed if you are to flourish and grow emotionally and spiritually. You see, always sacrificing yourself to feed someone's selfish desire is just as wrong as someone's selfish desire to always take advantage of your loving self-sacrifice. You must give sacrifice to each other as much as you receive it. You must do both."

Taichi understood. He turned and smiled at his bride. Then he noticed that she was staring straight ahead. Odd..

As Baso continued to instruct them Taichi quickly turned his attention back.

"It is your loving support of each other that defines kokoro, and it is universal to all successful marriages. For example, in the West the idea of mutual submission is central to the concept of marriage in the Christian Bible, which instructs the husband and wife to submit to each other*. The husband is instructed to love his family sacrificially as Christ does**, and so the husband must make any request to his wife and children solely out of his love for them. In return the wife is instructed to submit to her husband as the head of the family***. She must not hen-peck him or try to dominate him. Again, this is most important where children are involved, where the father and mother must give a united front and avoid displaying ceaseless conflict. And so we see that marriage is a harmony of balance, with each respecting their differences in support of each other in mutual submission. For love, true love, is both give and take, both yin and yang."

Taichi idly noted that the bald man, in those timeless orange priestly robes, had that ageless look that so many of them had. He could have been 55 years old, or 90, there was no way to tell.

Baso went on. "Kokoro, the combination of both koi and ai, is embodied in the symbol of the Taijitu, the great circle of the universe, the yin and yang, which also means harmony and balance. For you see, kokoro is an endless circle, a cycle, that feeds upon itself and makes you grow stronger in your love for each other. Love is both giving and taking. It is kokoro, the heart, that connects you to each other. The heart connection. In it, and through it, you build up each other in a kind of maturity, not only emotionally, but spiritually as well. For I will now reveal to you a deep truth: that kokoro, as embodied in the Taijitu, is the first step towards understanding what true love really means in this universe. For there is more, so much more. Indeed, the Buddhist masters spend a lifetime trying to understand it. The second step is..."

Inaba wasn't listening at all. She was thinking about her absent friends, Yui, Aoki, and Iori. She wished they were here. She then recalled what had happened to Yui and Aoki after graduation, and she grew cold. Heartseed must have done it, that bastard, or perhaps another of his manifestations, maybe the so-called 'Number Two' that had inhabited Taichi's sister at one point. He had claimed that Number Two was a separate entity, or was it? It didn't matter. In her mind they were one and the same: tormentors. He was responsible. There was no other possible explanation for what had happened.

Inaba remembered Aoki and Yui after graduation. Aoki was still madly in love with Yui, but she continued to turn down his marriage proposals, although she did feel touched by them. She even admitted that she might have feelings for the hopelessly lovesick man. The problem was that Yui was nearly raped by a stranger back in middle school, and so she had developed a strong case of clinical androphobia - a psychological fear of men. And despite her black belt training in karate she still could not bear to be touched by any man. Yui explained that she did not hate Aoki, indeed she called him a dear friend, but those emotional scars remained in her heart. Heartseed had arranged for Yui to reveal to the others her secret fear of men, but that did not dissuade Aoki. At first she seemed to improve.. But then.

But then.. something happened after high school, after the five club members had gradually lost contact with each other. Nobody knew how it started, or exactly how the dénouement happened. The police report omitted too many details. Of course now it was too late. All Inaba knew for certain was that Yui was gone, and Aoki was destroyed. Then there was Iori..

Baso was still speaking. By now Inaba had completely tuned him out. She was still thinking about her absent friends. Inaba swore she would never forgive Heartseed for what he did, ever. She wondered if there was a way to hurt him, to punish him.

And then someone stepped on her foot. Then pressed harder. She felt the pain. She reacted and yelled, "Ouch!"

There was a chorus of scattered and embarrassed titters coming from the audience. Taichi hissed, "Wake up! He's done! We're supposed to kiss now!" Inaba blinked her eyes in confusion.

Taichi finally gave up and gave her a perfunctory kiss, one that she realized she completely failed to participate in.

She came back to reality. She couldn't believe that she was spacing out at her own wedding. She felt mortified.

No, there was no way she could have spaced out like that on her own, or so she thought. It must have been that bastard Heartseed. She whirled and searched the audience. Yes, there he is, in the back.

Her stare was deadly, for she had spotted her former homeroom teacher at Yamaboshi Private Academy, Ryuuzen Gotou, whom the students had often called 'Mr. Go'. He was the poor hapless soul that Heartseed had most often borrowed to observe his victims. Gotou was never aware of it, but as a precaution he was specifically not invited to the wedding, so Inaba knew that it had to be Heartseed.

As Baso raised an eyebrow at her odd behavior, she watched Heartseed begin to get up and leave quietly. She clenched her fists as she determined to find a way, some how, some future day, to get revenge on him, no matter what it took, no matter the cost.

She neglected to notice that her left hand still had no ring on it. It was because Taichi was forced to skip over that little part of the ceremony due to Inaba's vacation from reality. He was completely embarrassed. Baso then quietly stepped back to allow the Shinto priest to finish the service.

Meanwhile the delay in the ceremony continued to lengthen due to Inaba's weird staring at the audience, and so the commotion in the aisles grew louder. Her father then stood up. Taichi tried to plead with his new wife in vain. "Inaba! C'mon, turn back around. We need to offer the tamagushi and finish this!"

But she ignored him, and she continued to look at her retreating hidden enemy.

And so the kernel of hate in her heart grew.


Sitting in the back row, Heartseed watched the wedding disaster slowly unfold. He wondered about the catatonic bride, Inaba. He shook his head slowly, for he had done nothing to her that day, nor indeed in quite a long time.

At that moment he could feel that a barrier had dropped down around Inaba's heart, a barrier he knew was of her own making, separating her from her husband, in a marriage where so far less than 45 seconds had elapsed.

A new record, he thought.

He saw that Inaba had spotted him and was now creating a ruckus with her behavior. He sighed, then he got up and left the grounds quietly. Sitting alone in the far back there were no other witnesses to his presence. Except for the bride's weird behavior, there would be no evidence that he was ever there. Everyone else would think he was nothing but a figment of her imagination.

Once outside he began to think about what he had seen and felt. Then he smiled inwardly to himself, for Inaba had become interesting again. Yes, very interesting. Taichi too. He began to reflect on the possibilities.

Yes, very interesting indeed.

He began to formulate a plan. He would arrange to test both of them almost to the breaking point, or beyond it. Whether they would survive the test would be up to them. But if they managed to overcome the challenges they would face - a big if - then Inaba's heart would be free again.

It was a risky plan, but risk was inherent in all things worth having.

He walked away into the late afternoon sun.


A/N:

Please give me reviews! I have two trajectories in mind for this story: one skews very dark, the other rather bright. Let me know your preference in a review.

This story has some thematic overlap with my novel-length fics The Fifth Kind of Love and After Ragnarök, both of which are based on the Ah! My Goddess! animes and the Oh! My Goddess! mangas. You can find them by clicking on my handle at the top (HuuskerDu).

My kanji research in this chapter is my own. If one of you native speakers or otakus out there think I biffed it, please PM me with your suggested corrections and I will be grateful.

I am a high speed touch typist, but I am a little bit dyslexic at the sentence level. I do spellcheck, but if you spot any word omissions, transpositions, or wrong homonyms, etc, please PM me so I can fix them. Thank you!

-HuuskerDu

(* Eph 5:21, ** Eph 5:25-29, *** Eph 5:22)