The Heroes of Sakakino

Chapter 11 Icarus

'Chie, you've gotta' get down here. Looks like things have sparked off ahead of schedule.'

It was after school as evening rays were just beginning to set in through the clouds. As soon as classes had ended, Eiichi found Yuuki, where he figured would be the last place he left him, with no sight of Roka on his way to pick him up. Even after sending a couple, still unanswered messages, and one phone call where the only answer had been a message machine of what must've been a favorite anime theme of hers, Eiichi became concerned that Roka had dipped out for the day, too ashamed to face Yuuki. If she liked anime, maybe she and Yuuki had more in common than imagined.

After finding Yuuki, Eiichi walked him outside to the path leading off campus. He found a bench for him to sit on so he could pace calmly, trying to sort things out. Yuuki needed it more than him, his output had been causing Eiichi pain, but not to a crippling degree. It actually had him feeling more like he didn't know which way was up anymore.

Yuuki's depression had done an immediate flip over to complete confusion. With this reigning above all; as dysfunctional sub-folders there was also hope, fear, excitement, passion, compassion, clairvoyance, telekinesis, flying, Vulcan mind melds, breathing fire, teleporting…

Messages zig-zagged and mingled from behind Yuuki's vacant stare, positives mixing with negatives, memories, fantasies, things he thought he had forgotten, things he thought he remembered, making Eiichi even begin to wonder 'why is air?' 'where do birds go when they fly South?' 'do I have nanobots in my bloodstream?' Hence his need to remain on his toes and pacing at a distance.

At present, Yuuki didn't really move much. His hands hung limp between his legs while he stared at the path with no longer dim eyes, instead, rather alert ones that broadened occasionally with a silent intake of air through the mouth or nose, sometimes both, as his mind returned to the realization of what exactly happened a few hours ago, and then it was back to lively, confusing contemplation.

Trying to ignore his output, Eiichi wondered if Yuuki was even conscious of where he was, if he knew that there was someone right here to talk to, or if he even realized school was over. He half expected him to raise his hand, stand up and start listing the molecular compounds of glucose. It was apparent, in Yuuki's own terms, he was suffering a series of system errors.

Eiichi took a look around before he began talking, "I suppose I can be completely honest with you now…" seeing no one nearby that might cause a fuss, he reached into his coat pocket and produced his ecig, taking a long drag from it.

He kept his voice level and stern, "Yuuki, I'm a secret agent working for an undocumented organization that deals in the discovery and maintaining of rare blood types, because we believe they possess the cure for cancer. During our time together, I have managed to collect samples of your blood, and you made the cut…"

This had little effect, but he thought it was worth a try.

After exhaling more sweet vapors, he held his ecig up near his chest, with one hand in his pocket, continuing to pace in front of him, "Roka and I have been talking for a while, and…" he stopped and faced Yuuki with a bold shake of his head "…she's crazy about you man."

Talking to Yuuki now only created more whirs in the vapors of his output. The messages were getting through, but not without some complications.

Eiichi continued pacing, "While you were going around, working on tearing me down, I was talking with her, and she could not stop talking about you."

Truthfully, Eiichi had not brought up Roka often enough to Yuuki to get a good fix on what his true emotions were. Only the few times he did, he noticed a tension that was not all dislike, but Yuuki had his fixations, which did a bang up job of muddling things.

"I was pushing you to confess to Koto because this is what I had in store for you. Well I guess I should say we," though now it seemed all the available help was a little late, but he wasn't taking for granted the other three being available in times like this. There had been a kiss, but there was still help to be offered, "Your sister and I have been working to try and pull you two together. I know you and Roka were against the idea of becoming close, but Chie sold me on it."

Eiichi peered down at Yuuki's petrified astonishment. With lips parted and unresponsive, it didn't look like a single word was getting through.

"Over time, Roka began to develop feelings for you, and she started coming to me for advice. I wonder, if you were not so fixated on Koto, the same might have happened for you, and none of this would have been nearly as difficult, but I have to tell you, we weren't expecting things to get set off this early. I guess I waited too long, but you didn't make things any easier. But don't blame yourself," he gestured to the vegetated Yuuki, "I mean, how were you supposed to know?"

He turned to see Chie stepping out of the front doors and heading up the path to them.

"So what's with the red alert?" she approached.

"Seems we have ourselves a kiss n' run," Eiichi took another drag.

"Oh…" Chie looked rather surprised, and paced in front of Eiichi to survey her brother.

"Well, like I said before, Roka was the only one wanting to make advances."

"She just couldn't hold it in any longer I guess…"

"Yeah, she's crazy about him. Man…" Eiichi stressed, "I leave those two alone for a few minutes, and this happens. I only wanted him to apologize to her."

"Don't beat yourself up, this is a good thing," Chie looked, "I wonder if we should've just locked them in the broom closet for a few hours. Where is she now?"

"I have no idea, she just ran off. She might've gone straight home. I sent her a text, but she hasn't said anything."

"Well, that would be Roka. She's always tough and obedient, but she's a big softy on the inside."

"If you want to continue with the planning, we're gonna' have to tighten things up. It could get bumpy from here…"

"Yeah, working on these two is like herding cats," Chie leaned in front of Yuuki, "Yuuki, you okay?"

"I think it was just a little too much for him, he's been through a lot. After everything else, he gets his first kiss from a girl he thought hated him."

Chie, in her joy, decided to have a little fun.

She leaned closer, in front of Yuuki's face, "Sir, do you remember what the perp looked like? Can you tell me the make and model of the lips? When she ran, did you get a look at the license plate?"

A corner of Yuuki's parted mouth twitched.

"You can try if you want, he's been like that ever since lunch, dead to the world. I don't think he even left his seat between classes. When I found him, he was in the same place where Koto and I left him."

"I know how to get him outta' that," Chie stood up straight.

"Oh yeah?"

"You just need to apply a little force…" she flexed her hand while rolling up her sleeve.

Eiichi watched, "Force?"

Chie flattened her hand with the fingers together, extended straight with the thumb curved in. Yuuki must have really been catatonic, because during this entire display, he made no indication that he was aware of what was about to transpire. Even classical conditioning seemed to fail him here.

Pivoting at the elbow, Chie brought her hand up, and quickly swung down, creating a pulverizing collision with the crown of Yuuki's head, causing his eyes to pop open. His entire frame jolted in its seat as if hit with an electric shock.

Eiichi could swear he heard the XP reboot jingle playing behind Yuuki's consciousness, 'Where the fuck did that come from…'

"Ow!" Yuuki's hands instinctively reached up and rubbed the top of his head, "What'd you do that for!?"

"Welcome back!" Chie smiled.

"You didn't have to hit me!" Yuuki continued rubbing his head.

"Wow, pretty effective," Eiichi marveled.

Chie unrolled her sleeve, "Works every time. If he gets like that, just give him a good thump and he should be fine."

"I'm not an appliance!"

"Hm, I'll have to remember that," Eiichi pondered.

"Don't join her!"

Chie looked at Eiichi, "You'll get the hang of it. From what you've told me, you've been a pretty good senpai."

Eiichi stepped over and leaned in next to her, "You were gone for quite a while there. Do you remember what day it is?"

"I know what day it is!" Yuuki irked, tired from the two upperclassman picking at him, "It's just that…everything is just so…" he huffed and turned his gaze back down.

"Yeah, it must have been a lot to take in," said Chie.

"Yuuki, you don't have to bother telling Chie anything, I gave her a full update."

"That's wonderful…" Yuuki said in bland sarcasm and cradled his head, "I don't even know what's going on anymore…"

While Eiichi stood and stepped away, Chie laid a hand on Yuuki's shoulder.

"You'll be fine. Once Koto-chan gets here, we can take a walk and discuss it more. Eiichi, when does she get out of her meetings usually?"

"I texted her earlier to let her know where we are," Eiichi checked his phone, "I don't know what's taking her so long, she should be out by now."

"Let's give it a few more minutes and then we can go bother her."

Eiichi's phone began ringing while he had been looking at it, and it was both a relief and an alarm to see Roka's name appear on the screen. Chie had turned her head from consoling Yuuki, and Eiichi did the same. His phone continued to make a ruckus as they stared at each other.

Eiichi pressed the accept button and gradually raising the phone to his ear, "Hello…"

'I screwed up! I screwed up! I screwed up! I screwed up! I just know it! He hates me now! I just know it! He didn't say anything! That's why I ran and now I don't know what to do!…' a high pitched, panicky ranting resounded from his speaker and Eiichi had to pull the phone away.

"Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! C-Calm…Calm down!" he began walking off the path, not sure that Yuuki should hear this.

Despite his protest, the ranting continued, 'What was I thinking!? Eiichi, what do I do-what do I do!?'

"What you need to do is take a breath," thankful she wasn't in front of him right now.

'I can't! I can't Eiichi! I'm trying, but I can't calm down!'

Eiichi spoke slowly, "If you just stop yourself a moment, you'll be fine. You're just having a panic attack, it'll go away. You really didn't do anything wrong, he's just really shaken up. I have to say, you really knocked his socks off with that. I'm happy for you, he needed a wakeup call, and that…just about did it."

'But this is moving things too fast, I just wanted to talk with him,' her voice whimpered.

Eiichi dragged on his ecig once she began talking slower, "Don't deny yourself those affections, you did what you felt necessary. You expressed yourself the only way you could to get it across."

'I'm so freaked out and I don't even know why…'

"That's love, you're just concerned for him. It doesn't matter what you do from here, you're going to feel off about everything because you haven't heard from him yet."

'What is he saying?' she gasped.

"He hasn't really said anything, he's still processing it, which isn't a bad sign really."

'Eiichi…if he says no, I don't know if I could handle it…'

"I'm not saying that's his answer, but if it turns out to be, you will handle it."

There was really no way for him to put it so she wouldn't create more questions for herself, her voice shuddered over the line.

"It's only your first time confessing, so if that turns out to be the case, it's going to hurt, but Chie and I are right here for you. Listen, we're out by the path in front of the school. We're waiting on Koto to get here, but when she does, we're all going someplace to eat, you should come."

'No…no I don't know if I could do that.'

"I know you're scared, and you might feel very awkward around him, but you two should talk, and with us around it will make things easier. I'm going to talk with Chie and Koto about creating some time for you two."

'No, no, I—'

"Okay, are you still on campus? I'm going to come get you, where can I find you?"

The voice on the other end was silent and Eiichi became concerned she might hang up.

"Roka, you can do this. It's going to come eventually, please don't run."

There was more shuttered breathing on the other end of the line.

'I'm by the courtyard, around the main building…'

"Okay, I'll be there in—" Eiichi's text tone went off.

He looked at his screen and saw it was from an unknown number.

Giving it some consideration, he pressed receive…

Eiichi burst into a fit of panic, "Roka! Stay where you are! I'll meet you in a few minutes!"

'Wh-What!?'

"I promise, I'll call you back!" he clapped his phone shut.

"What's going on!?" Chie looked over at him.

He had no time to explain.

He pointed at Chie, "Stay with Yuuki!" and bolted off toward the building at a full sprint.

He could hear her shouting behind him, "Where are you going!?"


'I'm out by the main path with Yuuki, he's still pretty dazed and confused. I let Chie know what happened and she's on her way. No idea where Roka is, but I'm waiting to hear back from her. When you get done with your meeting, let's all go someplace to eat. All this excitement has been a real pain in my head and has made me hungry. Hopefully Roka can join us, I'm worried about her.'

Kotonoha had received the message during her meeting.

An evening out with everyone would be a delightful thing to look forward to, even though it was a Monday. Coming up to the end of the year meant more studying, but everyone felt like celebrating a little early from time to time, especially Eiichi and Chie, she imagined. It would also be reason for them to celebrate Roka and Yuuki's progress. She had no doubt things would work out between them, and only the best wishes for hopeful, little Roka. She only wished she could be beside Eiichi, helping them along, but it seemed while he had his work, she had hers.

Discussions had been long and monotonous. The year was wrapping up and there were ending ceremonies for teams and clubs to arrange, as well as the graduation ceremony as a grand finale.

Every time the subject of graduation came up, it sent Kotonoha off into wistful daydreams of symbolic endings and new beginnings. She couldn't wait to see Eiichi actually wearing his uniform properly, and how handsome he would look. She could see him receiving his diploma, and then the thought swayed her over to pining their school flower on his lapel, and she had to fight back tears every time. She kept telling herself he just wouldn't be on campus anymore. He was moving on to bigger and better things, and in only two years, she'd be joining him. It was such a beautiful thing and…despite her efforts, she knew she'd be a sentimental mess on that day.

She understood his reasons for not liking school, but despite his complaining, he had worked so hard under her tutoring, and deserved every reward in return, and more. She was so happy for him, she wanted to do something special, besides the trip to Onna. She had been contemplating getting a gift for him, and in addition, had planned a special night for just the two of them, to reward him in an extra special way for his efforts and gratitude.

After discussions, there had not been much left for the council. With forms submitted, but a lot of work ahead of them in ceremony preparations, the meeting ended ahead of schedule and the girls briskly began grabbing their things while Otome remained at the main table, with only a few more forms to finish.

During the entire meeting, Kotonoha had been paying close attention to her. Eiichi's information had been disturbing to a degree. She could respect that other girls had their fantasies, as long as they kept those to themselves, but what Eiichi explained about Otome had set her on edge.

It had been difficult for her to grasp at first, but she understood Otome had undergone some kind of bizarre, immediate change.

What had she been looking for when she approached him? Did she really want to just have sex with him? And the fact that she would even outrightly approach him that way, knowing they were devoted to each other. Did she even have an understanding of the promises and boundaries within a relationship?

She really wanted to confront Otome, but other than asking why she was following Eiichi around, there was not much else she could ask. And when she thought about it, this would make her sound just like everyone else, when she had been suffering through her own persecution. Not only that, the information Eiichi had disclosed to her was not something just anyone would know. It wasn't even something an everyday human being would know. Kotonoha would just end up sounding like she didn't want Otome to talk to Eiichi, period. Considering the risks, it was not something far from her wishes, but unreasonable none the less.

Otome had submitted her prior forms in time, and all she had left was a small stack of assessments to fill out. She had definitely been behaving differently.

First of all, the council meetings had again, become a time in Kotonoha's day she didn't look forward to, because Otome continued to make things difficult. Before Kotonoha met Eiichi, she had dreaded this sort of thing. Now she simply dealt with it, but it was no less tiring. Second, Otome's complaining and lack of efforts had become routine for Kotonoha now. In the respect of being the council executive, she didn't care if Otome liked her or not, just that she did what was required of her. Though her complaints had never been consistent, her general mood had been crass toward Kotonoha. However, today the difference in Otome's behavior had been out of the ordinary. She didn't argue, she seemed less moody, and even a little animate with her speech.

As the girls were leaving, Kotonoha had just stood from her seat to grab her bag when Otome approached her.

"Katsura-san, a sensei brought a few boxes of unused text books to me that they wanted us to put away until next year. I was thinking we could place them in the storage room down the hall. They're pretty heavy and I wanted to ask if you could help me."

Otome didn't bother to indicate where they were, but when Kotonoha had entered, she noticed an arrangement of four, moderately sized boxes that had not been there before, sitting near the door.

"Are these from the library rental records?" she stepped over to the boxes.

"Um, yeah. They said they'll be getting some new editions in pretty soon, and so they don't know where to put these for now."

Another strange outcome, Otome was asking her for help. Despite what Eiichi had said, maybe she was just going through a phase. Kotonoha could try being more understanding towards her situation. She knew Otome had been close to Makoto.

The two deaths had shaken the school pretty hard and students who knew them personally were still recovering. Events in people's lives could make some extreme changes, and being around Eiichi had exposed Kotonoha to an unseen world going on behind the faces of people she saw every day. People were always expressing the opposite of what they felt.

She and Eiichi had their own views, based on their own experiences. However, they could only sympathize with the emotional sufferings of others, even if the choices of those had only aided in the demise of the departed.

Otome had obviously been stressed about something for the past couple weeks, or else she wouldn't have created such a fuss. Kotonoha was hopeful this change in her attitude, versus whatever she was feeling inside, did not mean she had suffered any severe trauma recently. She could be reacting in a very negative way to what was bothering her. If that was the case, she wondered if maybe they could still help her.

"Okay," Kotonoha nodded, "I can help."

"Thank you! I even brought the dolly, it's right here," Otome went to grab it, right next to the boxes.

She actually sounded relieved, and Kotonoha couldn't help feeling remorse for her rash thinking. Maybe Otome really was suffering with some kind of emotional instability, and only needed a kind hand.

Otome pushed the dolly over and held it while Kotonoha tugged on a stack of two boxes to slide onto its base.

"Otome, has anything been troubling you lately?" she stood.

"Um, w-what gave you that thought?" Otome kicked the dolly forward hastily.

Kotonoha held the door for her, "Well, Eiichi told me you approached him earlier today, wanting to apologize about what happened between you and him last year."

"Oh…he…told you about that, didn't he?"

It was a Monday, after school, close to the end of the year and the halls were vacant. Most students were either home studying, or in the library.

Kotonoha was silent a moment, contemplating her next question, "I was very much aware of what you and the other girls were doing, but it was Eiichi who told me of your actual plans, the one's you failed to inform me of, because you knew I would say something."

This time Otome was silent.

"Otome, why would you do something like that? Do you realize how traumatizing that could have been for people?"

Otome was looking away now as she pushed the dolly closer to the storage room.

And then she turned to Kotonoha, her voice sounding a little perky, "I guess I realized where we went wrong with that. I thought it was all harmless fun, just a prank. But talking about it with you has helped me to realize just how wrong it really was. I promise I'll never do it again, and I hope we can learn to put that behind us," she finished with a smile.

Kotonoha considered this while she slowly looked forward at their stop. If she could get Otome to open up about it, she could help her learn that she is not as judgmental as Otome might think she is. She might even be able to help her with her infatuation with Eiichi, like he did with Yuuki. It was possible they could become good friends.

"Do you have the keys?" she asked.

"Right here. You take that and I'll hold the door."

Otome produced the storage keys from her skirt pocket, while Kotonoha stepped behind to man the dolly.

"If that's what's been bothering you lately, you can talk with me about it. I know we've been arguing a lot, but I'm willing to listen to you, if you're okay with it."

There was no response to Kotonoha's offer. Otome had inserted the keys, but looked like she was having problems. She had to shake them vigorously a couple times.

"Oh my gosh," her perky voice sounded, "I think the lock on this door is old. It's giving me some trouble…there we go."

Otome twisted the knob and pushed the door forward, stepping into the storage room.

Inside it was cramped and dark, with a left turn from the doorway. Otome flipped a switch, and a dim, yellow light unveiled more, the left turn leading to a dead end in a space that was roughly ten feet long and six feet wide, but constrained with boxes on all sides. Boxes stacked all the way up to the ceiling, along with tin shelving that only supported more dusty boxes. There were a few other miscellaneous items lying about, a forgotten pen on one of the shelves, brooms and a mob leaned in a corner across from the entrance.

Otome leaned her back against the door with her hand on the knob, allowing Kotonoha enough space to push the dolly through.

She pushed it right up to one of the tin shelving arrangements and maneuvered it facing sideways so they could grab the boxes easier. She looked up and down and along the dusty space.

"I'm not sure why you thought to put them in here, I can't see any place where they will fit."

The light from the hall vanished behind her, leaving her with nothing but the glow from the dim bulb overhead, and she heard a sharp clank as the door behind her slammed shut.

Kotonoha whipped around immediately, expecting to see just a blank door and an empty space. Had this been the case, she would have knocked and called out to Otome, that she might have stepped out and the door accidental shut itself, but it was not.

A tall masculine figure stood under the yellow glow, his eyes shaded under his slicked, brown hair. He must have been hiding in the corner behind the door when Otome opened it. His arms were not quite at their sides, as if ready to move quick, and in the light, his stature looked bigger than she had remembered. Had it been any other student, it would not have been as terrifying to her, but the knowledge of this person, what he was capable of, struck a familiar fear into her heart.

"You two have fun in there!" Otome's voice sounded from outside the door.

Instinct pulled Kotonoha's back up against the tin shelving behind her.

"What're you doing!?" she yelped.

Taisuke took a step forward.

She didn't have a lot of time, the room was too cramped. She slid away, into the available space, backing up, her shoe just grazing a set of boxes on the floor that would have tripped her.

"No…" her narrowed vision remained on him.

Taisuke didn't lunge just yet, but turned and continued to pace toward her, probably aware she had nowhere to run this time.

Her frame shook, fear sapped all the blood from her members, making her hands and feet tingle. She kept backing away, disbelief and horror following and clawing after her.

In her panic, she reached to her side and pulled a set of boxes off one of the shelves on to the floor between them. As Taisuke slowly stepped over them, Kotonoha continued to back away from the yellow light, into the shadows of the only available space left.

Her back bumped up against another set of shelves, she had nowhere else to go.

Images of a similar dark place rushed through her head, when she had been pinned against a wall by the very same person, too lost in her own thoughts to know what was going to transpire, until she had been awakened, by a pair of yellow eyes…

There was no time to use her phone, if she reached for it, Taisuke would just move in.

She looked around, she had to find something, anything! A pen would do. If she had taken a moment to think before moving, she could have grabbed one of the broom handles in the corner. If she had to, she'd use one of the boxes to keep Taisuke from getting too close, or just try throwing things at him. If it came down to it, Eiichi had been training her for a while now, and he placed a lot of focus on a close quarters uppercut for her. Her assailant was tall, which only meant her arm had more space to develop momentum. And if that didn't work, she'd kick, claw, bite and scream, and make things as hard for him as possible, she didn't care if he hit her.

And then she saw it. Just in the dim light, on one of the shelves, lay a worn, box cutter. It had a dirty metal grip, not like the cheap, plastic ones you could get at the hundred-yen stores. It must have been left here, long forgotten by a maintenance crewman.

Without a moment's hesitation, she reached out and grabbed it, making sure Taisuke saw.

"What was that?" his voice croaked and he froze in place, he sounded more nervous than he looked.

"Want to find out?"

One shoulder turned toward him in a defensive stance, the box cutter hung behind her leg, out of his sight. She flicked the mechanism and touched it against her thy, to make sure the blade was extended all the way. All her Iaido years came back. Boxing was what she enjoying doing with Eiichi, but Iaido was what she knew.

Even with her weapon, there was no guarantee she would make it out untouched. Her opponent was bigger than her, and he had tried this before.

She felt something wash over her. It wasn't exactly fear, but it wasn't bliss either. Suddenly, she just felt like she didn't care anymore.

"Well, isn't this interesting. I'm suddenly getting déjà vu…" she smiled from the shadows, her voice now cold and smooth, but her words were serrated, "What's the matter Sawanaga? After a good look at me, do I suddenly bore you?" her head swayed a little to the right, keeping her eyes on his towering figure, "Is it because I left you last time? Did you need a reminder? Or would you prefer I still be a virgin, so you can take that from me as well?"

Taisuke didn't move, but made no indication of wanting to continue.

Behind her thy, she rotated the handle so the blade faced up. He was only a few feet from her, but if he advanced, she'd use one hand to grab his coat, and when the blade was in, it would take only a firm upward stroke, and she would open him up like a slaughterhouse pig. He would only have time to try and keep from spilling on to the floor.

"You can try if you want, and you might even have your way with me…" she temped him, "…but after that, you'll be all mine…Don't worry, Eiichi doesn't have to know…it'll be our little secret…Everywhere you go, you won't be alone. You may finish with me and get away…for a while…but when I finish with you, well…" she chuckled, "…you won't have to worry about satisfying your urges anymore. Seems like a bad way to waste a few seconds of pleasure…"

She didn't really care that Taisuke was shaking now, chest heaving, beads of sweat rolling down from his eyebrows.

She stepped forward and he jumped, taking a step back.

Something about this excited her. She couldn't settle this strange rush of amusement, making her form words that weren't her own, "Do you like butterflies? I love them very much…Let me paint a pretty butterfly on your face…with big, red, wings…"

"No! No please!" he crumbled before her, kowtowing and pleading. "Please don't kill me! It was all her idea! I was just supposed to kiss you!"

She couldn't stop herself, "You were? Well that's awful strange, are you sure you still don't want to try?"

"Ah!" Taisuke scrambled off his feet and made for the door, but tripped over the spilled boxes behind him.

She followed after him at a smooth gait.

He crawled up to the door and tugged on the knob, then began pounding on it while on his knees.

"Otome! Otome, let me out! Let me outta' here!"

"Better hurry up, or she may not answer in time~" she sang from behind him.

The metallic pounding became more violent, the door jarred on its hinges.

"Louder~ I'm not sure she heard you…"

Taisuke's screams became hoarse, "Help me! Help me, please!"

Over his noise, Kotonoha thought she could hear muffled, conflicting voices from outside the door.

'Let her out!'

'What are you talking about!?'

'I saw the whole thing! You locked her in there! Gimme' the keys!'

'No!'

Taisuke pounded on the door with more intensity, "Give her the keys! Give her the keys! Please God, give her the keys!"

Moments later, the knob jiggled, and the door swung open, colliding with his face.

Kotonoha backed away and watched placidly as he fell on his butt, but seeing his window, immediately scurried to his feet. The person that had opened the door was pushed to the side as he rampantly made his way out. Kotonoha retracted, and pocketed the box cutter, unnoticed.

"You coward! She's just a girl!" she could hear Otome's frustrated shouting.

The girl who had been pushed aside stepped further into the storage room, and Kotonoha found herself looking upon a familiar face. The last time she saw this person, she had been crying by a roadside. Kotonoha could still remember her red face squished between her hands.

"Umi-san!?" Kotonoha gasped.

"Katsura-sama!" Umi's youthful face lit up and she rushed forward, embracing Kotonoha.

"U-Umi, what are you doing here?" Umi's small ponytail flapped near her cheek.

Umi held her by the arms, glimmering at her, "I was on my way to meet with my friends when I saw you, and then that girl locked you in here!"

The fear came back, for some reason, she had forgotten all about it. Maybe it had been from excepting her fate, or finding herself gazing upon this precious face she never thought she'd see here. Whatever the reasons, Kotonoha couldn't stop herself from embracing Umi even tighter, this innocent girl had become her unforeseen savior.

"Thank you…thank you so much for saving me," she muttered.

"I sent Eiichi-sama a text when I saw what happened, but I knew I couldn't wait for him. K…Katsura-sama, why did she do that to you?"

The mocking laughter, the jeering, the manipulation, the lies, the cold looks, it all came back.

Kotonoha gripped Umi, "She's a mean person Umi…Don't believe anything she tells you…" and released her.

She turned and stepped out of the storage room toward Otome at her still calm gait, while Umi stayed behind. Otome was looking furiously down the hall where Taisuke had ran, but as soon as she turned and saw Kotonoha, panic spread on her face.

"It…It was just a joke…" Otome staggered back.

Kotonoha steadily paced toward her, her hand slipped into her skirt pocket.

"L-Like I said before…it was all in good fun…"

"You locked me in there, with him…" all she could see was Otome.

"C-Can't you take a joke?"

She was lying, even now, she was boldly lying, even when the truth stared her in the face. She needed to be taught a lesson.

Kotonoha picked up her pace and withdrew her hand.

She felt a pressure around her wrist that pulled her back and made her feet skid forward. She turned.

Eiichi was standing right behind her, panting heavily, his hand wrapped in a firm grip around her wrist, preventing her from revealing the box cutter.

His eyes had a familiar terror in them, "What were you about to do?"

She didn't even know herself. Suddenly, she couldn't recognize where she was. She had been grabbed and pulled away to that dark place. Everything felt wrong, like before, when she left him, when she jumped. She wanted to tell him she was sorry, she just wanted to make sense of everything, at any cost. Just like before, she felt she didn't even know herself.

'She locked me in there, Eiichi! She locked me in there with him!' she cried out to him, not even sure if he would hear.

The pressure on her wrist pulled her to him, she felt his hand behind her head, and her vision darkened against his expanding chest. His smell engulfed her senses. It was kind, protective, but scared. She could feel his heart beating fast.

"Come back to me…" she felt his breath on her ear.

She wanted to, but something wouldn't let go of her, 'She was laughing at me Eiichi…she wanted to hurt me…'

"She didn't know…she didn't know…" she felt him smoothing her hair.

His fingers adjusted themselves on her wrist.

"Let it go…"

She forgot the box cutter was still in her hand. She wanted to use it, and she could remember why now. She wanted to make her stop, she wanted to make them all stop, and leave her alone, for good.

She gripped it tighter, but his hand remained firm.

"Let it go…"

She was so close to him, and felt so far away. Something fought inside her, it snarled and spat at both of them, while holding her back. It wanted her to do it. It made her want to do it.

It wouldn't let go of her, and she was afraid of it, it would take her away from him. She reached out in the dark and felt a hand grasp hers. He pulled on her, and the anger let go. The closer he pulled her, the laughter went away, the quieter the noises became, and the world around her began to take shape again.

She felt the box cutter fall to the bottom of her pocket. Her arms hung limp as he removed his grip and pressed her close to him. She couldn't cry, but she wanted to.

"Oh, isn't that just enchanting," Otome's voice met her ears.

She felt his head lift from her shoulder.

Otome spoke slowly, every word burning with her scorn, "The two lovers are reunited at last. I'm feeling all warm n' fuzzy now."

'Please, make her stop…' she pleaded.

She could hear Eiichi's tensed voice next to her ear, "Otome, you'll be feeling the back of my hand if you continue any further. Or maybe I should just unleash her on you." She could feel his fingertips against her head, but they softened. She knew he never wanted to hurt her.

"Oh no, did the Hero of Sakakino just threaten a girl? That's very unbecoming, though he's been seen doing more unbecoming things than that."

Eiichi's hand loosened a moment, and she felt his heart slow down.

"What're you talking about…"

"It would be completely understandable. You've been getting so much attention lately, it must be exhausting, and every man has his weakness. Katsura-san, would you like to hear what I have to say?"

She shuddered at her spite. She didn't want to hear anything she had to say. She just wanted to leave, she just wanted them to go home.

She felt Otome's words directed right at her, "I saw him taking in a lively evening with one of my basketball members, alone, in a storage room. I believe it was Kitsuregawa, if you want to ask her yourself. They were getting pretty physical with each other. I didn't know you were into petit girls, Eiichi-'sama'…"

Roka? And Eiichi? But why? He would never do something like that. He had told her all about Roka. She was in love! How could this person holding her have ever betrayed her trust? Though it wouldn't have been the first time someone did that.

'Eiichi, is it true?' she had always trusted him, but her doubts were beginning to nip at her.

His hand loosed, and she looked up into his rigid, kind face, his piercing blue eyes with a lock of his black hair between them. She loved this face, and all the good things it entailed.

He was smiling at her, "You remember what I told you. Do you believe her?"

Otome had already lied to her, and committed an awful crime against her, why should she give her anymore trust? And now she was trying to destroy something that was hers, something that was more precious to her than anything, something that Otome had no concept of.

Kotonoha gently pushed on his chest and moved so that she was standing next to him. Her hand slid into his.

She faced Otome and spoke with the reserve that she was best known for, "You shouldn't speak so ill of Kitsuregawa Roka if she is a teammate of yours. She has become a good friend of mine recently."

Otome returned simply, "Isn't that a little suspicious, her just showing up out of the blue?"

"If Eiichi ever did anything wrong, he would have told me by now. He has always been honest with me, even when it hurt. What I want to know is how you know this? What motivated such a discovery?"

"What does it matter, I'm not lying."

"You may not be lying, but what you discovered may have only been what you led yourself to believe," she looked at Eiichi and then back to Otome, "Eiichi introduced me to Roka. She is deeply in love with another friend of mine, and it has been a blessing for the two of us to have witnessed their love flourishing. I know more of Eiichi than you possibly could, and I cannot see him tarnishing something so precious, when he has worked so hard to bring it to light. If he did, it would destroy him."

"You seem pretty confident, but you can't just go on hope and warm feelings," Otome spat.

"Eiichi has already informed me about everything. He has been consoling Roka for some time. I understand what he must do sometimes to mitigate others, and I am comfortable with it, most of the time. Though I wish he would keep me better informed…" she passed a skeptical look at Eiichi, who cleared his throat. Looking back at Otome, "I understand because he did the same for me, when you use to menace me quite regularly. I trust both of them. Eiichi and I have been very honest with each other. I've told him about the students who have eyes for me, and he's even talked with me about you."

"He what…" Otome gaped.

"I know that you have been interested in Eiichi for some time Otome, this is nothing new to me. Why are you always so interested in the people that I hold dear?"

Otome only fumed and didn't say anything.

"You've been trying to blame us for nothing, when the only one at fault is you."

Otome began behaving erratically, gritting her teeth, her hands clenching repeatedly, and Kotonoha wondered if she remembered they were still standing in front of her. Rough, unfinished words escaped between her gaping mouth. Her chest began heaving and Kotonoha could hear her strained breaths. Suddenly, Otome broke into frustrated fits of rage, screaming at her and Eiichi.

"You're wrong! I know what I saw! He's a lech!" she pointed, "You can't just continue letting him lie to you! You may think you've changed, but you're just the same, weak, stupid bitch you were last year! He's just like Mak—"

"If I have to hear that name one more time, I will end you!"

If possible, she never wanted to remember that person again, much less hear him compared with Eiichi.

Otome's final resort broke and shattered in midair, silent and unseen pieces scattered across the floor. She just stood there, with her finger extended, lost and empty.

Kotonoha felt Eiichi's hand loosen in hers and she turned. He must have noticed something, he had that shock on his face when something happened out of the ordinary.

"Katsura-sama! I found this! It's still on…"

Everyone turned as Umi came running to them from the storage room. In her hands was a camcorder, with the view lens open, and black electrical tape over the recording light.

"I noticed it sitting next to a box on a shelf."

She couldn't believe what she was seeing. Otome wanted to record the whole thing. She wanted to record her being invaded by that lowlife!

Dreaded shock stabbed her, and then was quelshed over with consuming rage.

She turned immediately on the terrified Otome, but Eiichi's arm barred her off as he moved himself in front of her, and forward. Kotonoha thought he was actually going to hit her.

"It's the same thing with you every time, isn't it?" he snarled.

Kotonoha couldn't see around Eiichi, but she heard Otome whimper.

"You never learn, you fucking idiot!"

She wanted to see and stepped out to the side.

Whatever Eiichi had told Kotonoha before must have changed, because it was apparent Otome still cared about what he thought.

Her eyes welt up before him. She staggered, looking around, seeming disoriented. She looked at each of them and Kotonoha could see tears. She croaked, like she was trying to say something, and then her hands wiped across her face before she turned and ran.

Eiichi didn't move after that, and when she saw him, she wanted to hold him again.

He placed a hand to his face, "Oh God, what did I just do…"

"I don't think you did anything wrong. Serves her right," Umi said.

"You don't understand!" he turned, but he was only looking at Kotonoha, "She was changing, she was finally beginning to understand again."

"What're you talking about?" Umi asked.

"I've to go find her," he turned.

"Eiichi…" she didn't want him to go.

He turned back around and approached her, speaking desperately, "Koto, I can still help her. Something like this could destroy her, especially after what I just said. Think about when you were alone, when no else would go near you. Think about what that felt like. Would you let that happen to someone else?" He pleaded to her, "What she did was horrible, but she's not thinking straight. I can't let it end like this, I can still fix her."

She didn't know what to say to this. She had been willing to help her before, but everything that just happened had ruined that, and yet he still wanted to push on. How could he expect her to understand, even if he knew. All she knew was that she didn't want him to leave.

"Eiichi, you can't fix everyone."

His face hardened with resolve, "I can still try."

He disappeared down the hall, while she stood, waiting.

Umi approached with the camera in hand, "I'm going to tell the school about this. She could be expelled."

"No Umi…"

"But why not!?"

"Give me the camera. I'll destroy the footage and wait for him to come back."

"Why are you protecting her?"

She just had to trust that he was right. She couldn't do what he could, so she had to rely on his words, and he had never let her down before.

"Eiichi sees things in people. He can tell if they're genuine or corrupted. He's very good at it. That girl has been suffering. She has a guilty heart and it's caused her to do some awful things. Give me the camera and go about your day. I'll wait here…"


He found her outside one of the exit doors. Trying to find a place where no one would see her, she had wandered alongside the building, away from view. She found a spot against the wall to curl up and release her agony, before continuing on to drag herself home, where she would continue with more of the same, awaiting whatever doom that would befall in her future.

She was there now, face buried in arms against a protective wall of bent knees. He didn't bother prepping himself for the full coarse of suffering he was about to adhere, and stepped forward as soon as he saw her.

She raised her head as he approached.

Pushing away, the bottom of her skirt rubbed against the grass and her legs folded out before she clamored to get up.

"St…stay away from me…" red, puffy eyes gazed timidly back at him, a cautious hand gestured a futile defense.

He did stop, but only to look upon her, and survey with deep remorse the damage he had caused.

"Come back to gloat?" she feebly tried to turn back to harshness through a weak voice, "Well gloat away! I hope you're happy! I'm wrong, you're right! What's new!?" she wiped her nose.

"I'm sorry…"

This only confused her, making her output flare up, "For what!? You're sorry for what!? I'm the one that tried to hurt you! I'm the bad one, right!?"

"I only see a sad, broken girl…"

"Oh spare me the therapist talk! It might have worked on them, but it's not going to work on me! You said I'm the idiot? You're the idiot!"

"Nobody's perfect…"

"Shut up! Just shut up and leave me alone!" Otome shrieked.

He turned his hands, palms facing toward her, and began walking.

"Wh…What're you doing…" her eyes darted nervously around him as she stepped back. "If you think hugging me will fix things, it won't! That's crap!"

She had only ever wanted him near her, and instead she was pushing him away. This too brought her pain, and the closer he got, the more painful it became.

"Stop! I said stay away!" she looked at him frantically, wanting to run away, but her fateful attraction held her, with one hand on the wall, the other in front of him.

She shoved him with the defensive hand, more pushing herself away, "Idiot!"

He grabbed it by the wrist, while her other whacked him on the shoulder.

She grunted in frustration, more hitting, "Let go of meidiot!"

A soothing arm wrapped around her, and she continued to struggle, pushing against him.

"You fuckin's-stupid…"

He didn't force her any further, and only waited.

When she thought she had been lied to, she had only led herself to believing a lie. If she wanted to trust him so much, he was giving her the opportunity. He was now closer to her than she could have ever imagined possible.

She struggled and writhed, her hand patting against coat and pushing, hitting him as hard as she could, but he held her, until it slowed down.

Her head tipped forward with gritted teeth hissing, and then deep, raspy gasps followed between long, broken wales. Her vicious arm collapsed against him, one fist near her chin as she tensed up, shaking, and buried her face. He cradled her head, and let go of her fighting hand. It landed on his shoulder with a half hazard hit.

He held her, speaking through her cries, "This is what you saw Roka and me doing. She had hurt someone she loved, and was deeply remorseful, just like you…"

With as bad as she wanted to be with him, she only ever kept her distance. He knew the shame that plagued her, he knew the loss, and she had attached her thoughts to him, to escape all of it.

"You're not a bad person Otome…you've just made some mistakes…"

"I…I just want…"

"I know you do. You're beautiful Otome…but I can't do that. I love Koto…"

You're beautiful. The words lit her output on fire, with little concern for the remainder. He knew it would do this, but she needed to hear it. Her mind had been giving her a beating for some time, and because of his anger and loosing trust with her, he had allowed it to happen. For this, he was ashamed.

"Otome, you don't have to keep hiding. Let yourself be loved."

Passion whirred out of her sorrow and pain.

"Please…"

"No…I can't let you do that…"

She was sorry, she did want his forgiveness, and for things to change, but she wanted to take something that she could not have. It might hurt her, but she had to understand.

Before he could say more, before he even realized it, her hands gripped him by the collar, they had been close enough, and before he could stop her, it happened.

Her eyes had remained closed, but so close to his they became a blur under her bangs brushing against his. The softness of her lips, a refreshing irony to her coarse manner, sucked the innocence from him as her cool nose touched next to his.

"Mm!...Mm!"

His arms came undone, but hers remained, pulling the fabric of his shirt taught across his neck, pulling him closer against his protest, her waist pressing against him. His mistake had been trying to back away while pushing her at the same time. She followed after, a dead weight, still clinging to him, and his heel slipped against hers.

She just wanted something to take away, but she wanted too much.

He didn't even feel the impact when his back hit the ground, the weight of her chest on his, her legs between his, her lips still pushing against his, all his, all that belonged to someone else.

He gripped her shoulders and shoved away, their lips parted with the gentle sucking of air.

They stared at each other, chests heaving, her hands still on his collar, shoulders propped on his arms. He witnessed as her astonished triumph turned to self-deprecating dread. The pain from before had been nothing compared with the realization of what she had done, how much she had hurt him. It seized her heart, allowing her to only produce whispers of remorse.

"Please…forgive me…"

She hoisted herself off him and clambered from her knees on to her feet, leaving him to prop himself up on his elbows.

"Otome…" he muttered, trying, wishing to calm the violent fumes of her output.

She backed away, raising a hand to guilty lips on a tortured face, the tears returning, "I'm sorry…" her last words before releasing a gasp, she turned away and broke into a run.

"Otome, wait!"

Why didn't he stop her!? He could have said more! He could have said something to ease her and prevent this.

"Shit…shit…" he rolled over on his knees and clutched his head.

He just wanted to help her, but he got too close. Now, he had taken some of her pain and bore it himself.

And then he thought of Koto. She was right, he should have never gone after her. How was she going to take this? She had just been through enough.

He moved a hand to his mouth, "Oh no…"

He got up rigidly, every limb felt alien to him, and began walking to the entrance door, just as lost as she had been.

He had to tell her.


He saw her waiting for him in the hall, the camcorder beneath her clasped hands. The hall was more empty than it had been before. The girl that had been there earlier had left, she was probably the one who sent him the text. Koto had been waiting for him this whole time, alone.

He could not bring himself to look at her.

"Did it go well?" she didn't sound distressed anymore.

He made sure he didn't get too close to her.

"What's wrong?"

He kept his eyes to the floor, and muttered, "Otome won't be bothering us anymore…"

"That's good to know, but…why won't you look at me?"

He wasn't ready. No matter what he thought, he would not be ready. It should never have happened.

"Eiichi…" it hurt to hear her say his name now.

Everything that anyone had said about him sounded so hollow in his head. Torio, Yuuki, Chie, Roka, and her…he had just proven them all wrong.

He took a deep breath and tensed up, "She kissed me…"

Of course, there was no response to this.

And then he did something he never thought he would have to do before her. Slowly, he knelt down on one knee, then brought the other next to it. He placed his hands on the floor at her feet and lowered his head.

He couldn't see her, but bitter shock and dismay was all that painted her output, and likely her face, but he was waiting for the change, he knew it was coming.

She stepped so she was standing right in front of him, "Get up..." her voice stern, but when he did not respond, she became more shrill, "Get-Up..."

He saw it coming, just like he should have seen the kiss.

He saw her face for just a second, when a crack echoed through the empty hall, and a force caused his head to whip to the side, followed by the sting and warm rush of blood to his cheek.

He stayed that way, still seeing the back of her ejected hand out of the corner of his eye.

Before he could turn back to averting his eyes from her wrath, two hands grabbed him by the collar, and he nearly reacted as he did with Otome.

Releasing a wet sob, she forced her lips to his, wanting to erase the damage that had been done. He could feel warm streams trickling between the pressed corners of their mouths.

He did not feel worthy to embrace her, and she did not want him to.

He had no time to ponder and ask after she released him. With another gasp and a hand to her mouth, her back was to him, and she took off down the hall, her steps echoing swiftly.

His mouth parted and shut itself, trying to say the words, just the right ones that would fix it, that would undo all of it; the right words to the girl still standing before him in his mind. He shuddered, and then shuffled over to the wall, leaning a hand on it for support. As if her presence had been a shield, an escape from all the noises, now his head felt heavy, his chest was tight, but there was no one around to cause him pain. There was no one, only him.

He placed his back against the wall and sank.

He had been doing a lot of running around and a lot of thinking, and he was tired. He just needed to sit down for a while.

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