Chapter II: Bittersweet Recollection
When the morning came, the sun slowly managed to find its way into the room. Slivers of light slipped through the curtains and brushed over the crimson coverlet that concealed their bodies. Of the two who lay there, though, only Shiki started to stir as the light struck. Akiha was still deeply asleep--somehow, it didn’t feel right to him to be the first one to wake up, knowing how lazy he tended to be, but then... he’d had enough classes to know that his sister’s condition wasn’t exactly normal right now. After the night before, her body was probably starting to form a bond, and she still hadn’t finished thresholding yet as he understood things.
That thought, though, came to him with an uneasy start. Despite the truth of her words on the matter, her claim that shared blood no longer meant anything, he had still... made love to his sister last night. The change she was undergoing--with his mind clear now, he could see with great clarity the fiery color that her hair had become, though thankfully it didn’t cause the sickening reaction that red normally would--didn't really change anything but biology in his mind. He couldn’t just... stop thinking of her as his little sister and start thinking of her as a pokegirl, especially with how she insisted on referring to him.
Naturally, as he thought of these things, his eyes had been entirely upon the sleeping girl, half atop him in her bed. But somehow, his mind had missed the fact that... he was indeed still holding her naked body. Soft breasts molded against his chest, and she was far, far warmer than the cover could’ve explained.... It didn’t take a genius, he mused, to realize she was probably some kind of fire type. But again, he was wandering away from the pressing fact of the situation.
Sighing, he sucked in a deep breath and let his eyes shift lower, away from her hair and face. No, it hadn’t been a dream at all. Her delicate body was still pressed to his in the bed, proof of what had transpired. Shouldn’t he have felt more... awkward in this moment? The sense of... detachedness was disconcerting on some level. Perhaps he’d made love to her last night, but that had been in a white haze of passion. How could he be equally calm now, with his thoughts restored?
No answer came to his question, though, and he sighed softly. Everything had happened so fast.... What would become of the two of them now? He’d returned to his home with little more than the clothes on his back, the glasses he wore, and a white ribbon; the maids had likely taken that to what was to be his room. Or would he have a room? It was all so strange, looking around the vermilion landscape of Akiha’s room. The red of the room still made his stomach rebel; he... definitely couldn’t live in this room.
Given that, there wasn’t much to do but look back to his sister; her limbs and hair still wrapped around him, trapping him there in the bed with her, and even if they hadn’t... he couldn’t have found the will to leave. It was ironic, but the events of the night before had accorded with his memory better than expected. She really had changed--her seductive elegance and confidence were as striking as how much more physically beautiful she’d become--but there had still been... such a sense of vulnerability. It lingered there now, in the happy, serene expression upon her face as she nuzzled into his chest in her sleep, and in his memory of her sweet, nervous words as they had spoken.
That, though, made some part of him shudder a little. What sort of man was he, to have made love to her even though he could see those echoes of the uncertain girl who’d followed him as a child? He’d heard stories before of boys in his class falling for their sisters once in a while, but they’d always seemed like such twisted people in his mind. Yet now he’d done the very same thing, letting her seduce him and... more than that. It hadn’t just been a passing passion, a one-night stand. No, he’d known what he was accepting when he gave in to her desires and his own.... Though even knowing that, some protective part of his mind rebelled against the thought.
That was to say, he technically owned Akiha now, in common law at least. Those words, though even unspoken and said silently in his mind, made his blood boil. No one could “own” Akiha. The very idea was abhorrent; it wasn’t so much that he was bothered by the general condition with regard to pokegirls, but rather just with.... This. Even acknowledging the irony of the fact that it was the same part of him that had wanted to possess her so entirely that was bothered by this, he couldn’t help the rage that made his blood burn when he thought of someone owning Akiha. It offended the very core of his being....
“Oh wow, you two must’ve had quite the night. Akiha-sama never sleeps this long--huh? Shiki-san, is something wrong?” Kohaku’s cheerful voice broke through the silence of his room, making the boy almost jump out of his skin in shock.
“...oh, good morning, Kohaku-san,” he replied after his heart had calmed a little, looking up. The maid, still in her black kimono, stood at the door of the room, looking at him with a confused expression. He hadn’t noticed her come in at all.... But from her words, what he’d been thinking must’ve been visible on his face. Even so, Shiki shook his head. “No, I’m fine.... I was just thinking.”
“If you say so, Shiki-san. But you shouldn’t say ‘good morning’ when it’s almost afternoon, you know!” the maid replied, her cheerfulness resuming as she smiled.
“Gah! Afternoon? When did that happen,” he complained, looking around.... It was true that, with the curtains still closed, he could barely tell how light it was, never mind exactly the time of day, but even so.
“Probably about a minute ago,” the maid replied, with a grin. “You should wake Akiha-sama up; I’ve prepared breakfast for the two of you, so hurry. No playing around or it’ll get cold!”
“...hey, wait!” he called after her, face suddenly blushing as he realized what the pink-haired girl had meant, but the smiling figure had already deftly slipped out the door and fled out into the hallway.
“You really didn't even take your glasses off last night, Nii-san? They could've broken and hurt us both, you know. You can't be so careless about these things,” Akiha's voice reproached as the two of them entered the dining room. She had dressed rather elegantly, in contrast to the simplicity of the day before, donning a kimono.
It was much finer than Kohaku's, really, and much more elaborate. A deeper shade of lavender was the base colors, but in a white that glowed almost silver in the sunlight were designs upon it, most of them resembling abstract flowers but some of them looking more like butterflies. With her hair falling and mingling with it--that hair was now held back by a black hairband, but it still fell quite long around her shoulders--the effect was decidedly striking.
“They won't break, Akiha, I promise. Look, I really don't like taking them off, okay? Especially not at a time like that.” He sounded uncomfortable with the subject, and a little plaintive.
“You have very strange tastes, then, Nii-san. I've heard of men who like it better when their lovers wear glasses, but one who insists on wearing them himself?” She smirked lightly, stepping ahead of him to take a seat at the head of the table.... Really, it was striking how no one, not even Akiha herself, was really acknowledging the fact that she was technically... beneath all of them now. In some sense, it was... encouraging, given that he couldn't think of her that way himself.
However, he blushed and looked away when her words sunk in, moving from her side to the table. Hisui was already quietly seated toward the far end if the table, and he'd seen Kohaku slip out, presumably to get the food, as they entered. “Like you can talk about strange tastes,” he muttered to himself, sitting down and feeling acutely self-conscious in the same blue clothes from the day before, which seemed rumpled and terribly common compared to his sister's elegant kimono.
“...I'll let it go this time, Nii-san, but you should keep thoughts to yourself. Maybe you could get away with saying rude things before, but you're going to be the sole heir of the Tohno house from now on, so you need to be a gentleman. And I can't believe you really slept until noon!” Her words had a little more serious reproach this time, but they were still amused, and a little challenging.
“You slept just as long, Akiha! And you're one to--wait, sole heir?!” He froze in the middle of the indignant response, frozen in place for a moment as his mind tried to process what she'd said. It made perfect sense, but somehow he hadn't really thought that through last night.
“Yes, but unlike you, I have an excuse. It was my first time, after all,” the girl replied, turning up her nose lightly as she awaited Kohaku to arrive with their meal. Shiki flushed and seemed about to protest it had been his too, but before he could....
“And yes, Shiki-sama, sole heir is correct.” Hisui spoke up here, from where she'd been watching the two of them. One might've imagined that there had been a ghost of a smile upon her face for a moment, but if so it vanished the moment she drew attention to herself. “Akiha-sama will be unable to inherit now, so you must be legally made the heir of the family fortune again so that you may preserve the money and estate for both of you to use. It would be rather problematic for all of us if you were not to take control of affairs. However, the process has not been finalized yet....”
Here, the slight concern in her voice wasn't imagined at all, but it was understandable since the matter was rather grave for all of them. The levity that had been in the room a moment before slowly faded from both Shiki and Ahika. The former seemed about to speak when the silence was broken instead by the sound of the door opening, and then by Kohaku.
“That's right, Shiki-san! You've got to take care of all of us now, but don't worry. It's not that hard. You just have to keep Akiha-sama's threshold a secret until the papers are all finished. Though you're going to go get a pet license today, right?”
He almost didn't hear the latter part of what she said, however. No, all the blood had drained from his face at the first part as the enormity of the task before him struck him rather hard. By accepting Akiha, he had... taken on much more responsibility than he had even realized thinking about it in bed that morning.
However, it did get through to him, and almost with perfect synchronization, brother and sister both shouted “No!” at the same moment in response to the last part of her question. Silence fell for a moment again, broken only by the soft clink of the dishes against the table as Kohaku served them, then sat down herself.
For his part, it was that possessive yet contrarily unwilling to think of her as being anyone's property part of him that had been consumed with rage at the suggestion of getting a license of any kind. That would be... acknowledging what had happened. However, that rage had passed as quickly as it had come when he'd glimpsed Akiha's face in that moment. Rather than in anger, there had been an expression of stark terror upon her face as she had refused....
If either of the maids had noticed it, though, though studiously ignored it. The silence stretched out a moment as they all started to eat. This time, Hisui broke it though, speaking quietly, “Shiki-sama, Akiha-sama... Nee-san is right. No matter how much you do not wish to, you must do that. Maybe you do not know well the... ways of the world of nobles, Shiki-sama, however... all of us do. If Akiha-sama's threshold was discovered by another of the noble families and you had no license to legally keep her, then... You would probably be parted forever.”
Hearing this, both of them looked away, their eyes not resting either on the food, each other, or even on the maid who had said that. Obviously she had not much cared for speaking so directly herself, for she looked away with clear unhappiness as well. But the terrible truth that she had spoken hung in the air over the table like a shroud.
Shiki knew without looking that his sister's face was probably terrified, and he desperately wished to go over to her and offer some comfort, but his body felt paralyzed by the awful images that had filled his mind. It wasn't hard to take Hisui's meaning, that some other noble family would snatch her up, eager to have the daughter of a rival as their property.... The thought of her living such a terrible life made his blood burn with anger, or it would've if the chill of fear had not already frozen it solid.
Finally, after several seconds of this deeper, more oppressive silence, he managed to lift his head and look to his sister. “...Akiha,' he started, his voice uncertain... It helped that she looked up at him, though her face had become an unreadable mask. It was obvious that she thought he was about to say that they needed to do it too, but... he couldn't. The sight of her face touched by such terrible fear haunted him too entirely.
Instead, he said quietly, “You're... always going to be Akiha to me. Even with all of this--even with last night and... whatever else happens, I promise you that. I can't think of you as a pet or a slave or a possession or... anything like that. But I'm going to protect you as best I can, even though all of this is... so much to take in. Yesterday, I was just... coming back here with no idea what was going to happen and already... so many things have. We don't need to rush things, right? You still haven't fully thresholded so we have time....”
Until the last bit, she had been slowly nodding to his words, starting to untense as she reached her hand out to find his under the table, out of sight of the maids. However, her grip became almost painfully hard as he finished his speech, and he saw a new flare of fear in her eyes. It was a different fear than before, he knew instinctively, but it was impossible to know the nature of it. And it seemed... obvious as well that she didn't care to talk about such matters in front of the two maids....
Given that, though, he was almost glad for Kohaku's interruption, even if its content was far from pleasant. “Shiki-san... It doesn't matter that she hasn't. If they realize what's happening, then they'll never let you get a license in time. But listen, I have a suggestion, since you're both so against this, and since we need to hide it anyway for the inheritance.”
Shiki nodded slowly, squeezing Akiha's hand under the table; she seemed glad to let him take the lead in this situation, unwilling to speak and risk showing her fear, so he said, “An idea? Go on, Kohaku-san.”
“Well, you've just returned to your family estate, right? But your sister has been in poor health of late--which is what we told everyone--so it wouldn't be so strange if you two decided to take a trip to the ocean. People say the sea air helps the sick, right? So you'd just have to say you're getting your license in case you find a pokegirl on your trip that you want. You're bound to see some, right? It wouldn't be weird at all.” This was all said with a smile, and she nodded in agreement with her own questions, obviously rather pleased with herself.
She wasn't the only one pleased, though. Hisui nodded quietly to her sister's words--it was likely they'd discussed it together in advance, Shiki realized with a touch of annoyance mixed with gratitude--but moreover, thinking about what had been said, the boy himself almost thought it would work. Licking his lips uncertainly, he turned to glance at Akiha, feeling hopeful at the lightening of the pressure on his hand.
And, indeed, she seemed much calmer, nodding slowly herself. “You really do have a devious side, huh, Kohaku? Well, it's not such a bad idea. Then we wouldn't be here if anyone came to be a nuisance about adopting Nii-san either. But will you two be alright by yourselves here?” The girl frowned slightly at the twin maids.
“Oh, Hisui-chan should go with you,” Kohaku replied happily. “No arguing. I know neither of you is any good at housekeeping, right? Shiki-san already admitted it, and you've had servants all your life, Akiha-sama.”
The latter flushed slightly and looked like she wanted to object to this, but whatever she was blushing about was enough that she kept quiet instead, averting her eyes from Kohaku back to Shiki.
Shiki himself sighed softly, but had already given in in his mind. “I guess you're right, Kohaku-san.... But is that alright with you, Hisui? I don't want to drag you along on a trip you aren't interested in.” Distracted, he didn't notice that he'd left the suffix off her name, or that it somehow felt more natural that way.
“It is my place to serve you and Akiha-sama, Shiki-sama. Besides, I would not... mind seeing the ocean,” she other replied quietly, but not unhappily, seeming glad that the tension in the room was starting to abate. Carefully, she started eating again, in fact.
“Alright, it's agreed then,” Akiha said, drawing her hand back after flashing Shiki a quick smile. “Kohaku, you book our trip. Nii-san, you... go into town after lunch. I'll give you enough money to pay the license fee and there are some other things I want you to pick up too.”
Surprised but not unwilling, Shiki nodded. “Alright, then. I'll go take care of that. I should stop by my school and tell them I'll be out of town too....” It was weird to think of so... casually blowing off school, but this was too important for that to matter.
Thus, they set about eating the good--if now somewhat cold—food that Kohaku had prepared. The maid proved herself an excellent chef, and soon all of them were in a better mood. But, as Hisui moved to carry the plates out, Kohaku remembered something. “Oh, Shiki-sama. There was one thing that Makihisa-sama left for you to have.... Let me go get it.” With a giggle, she slipped from the room, leaving the siblings alone.
Not knowing when one of the maids would return, though, they regarded each other quietly, uncertainly for a long moment.... Then, Akiha leaned closer, her hand lifting to cup her brother's chin for a moment. “Thanks for... before.” Though he'd barely had time to return the kiss, she pulled back quickly and gave him a quick smile....
And then Kohaku had returned, smiling as she held a box in her hands. It wasn't that long--maybe ten inches--and it was made of a particularly light pine. He blinked at it, taking it from her outstretched hands and peering down at it. “Ah... I guess I'll open it later.”
That, however, wasn't going to come to pass as he stood there, by the table. No, Kohaku was staring at it with a curious sort of intensity in her amber eyes, and even Akiha was glancing at it with some interest. When Shiki made no move to take back his words, she spoke, “Come on, Nii-san. Open it. I'm curious what Father could've left you...” It was hard to put a name to the inflection in her voice, though it wasn't anything like the negativity before.
“Fine, fine, if you two insist....” Shaking his head, Shiki shifted the box into one hand, and with the other he removed the lid. Given all the interest, he was rather disappointed at the lump of metal that seemed to be the only content. Blinking, he lifted it out, feeling the coldness as the cylindrical shape fit well in the palm of his hand, being perhaps six inches long. “...who knew my old man had a sense of humor. He left me a piece of junk?”
Kohaku laughed and shook her head, while Akiha seemed as puzzled as her brother. The former reached out though, and fiddled with it for a moment, causing a six-inch blade to fold outward. “See? It's a fruit knife, Shiki-san.”
“Huh...” Accepting it from her, he examined it, but still felt ultimately nonplussed. “Still seems like a joke to me. What good is a knife in the world today? And it looks like a junky one to me anyway.”
“No, not at all, Shiki-sama.” Hisui's voice startled him, and he almost dropped the knife, looking back at her where she stood, looking down in turn over his shoulder.
“Ah... You shouldn't scare people like that, Hisui. I'd let you look if you want.”
Ignoring his protest, she continued, “It's a finely made blade, Shiki-sama. Even if it is not useful, you should treasure it for that.”
This caused the boy to blink, but before he could reply, Akiha chimed in, having moved closer to him as they spoke. “...'Seven Nights'? What's that doing on the handle?” she asked, pointing to a pair of characters printed on the handle in Japanese.
“Normally, that would be the period it was made in.... But there is no period by that name, not even amongst those from before the war,” Hisui answered with a blink, regarding it.
“Maybe it's the name of it?” Kohaku suggested with a shrug, seeming to lose interest. “Oh well. What a weird thing to leave someone.... I'm going to head out to book your trip, though.” Bowing lightly, she turned and walked off.
Shiki shrugged, though, and nodded. “Okay, I'm gonna go too. You said you wanted me to get you some things, Akiha?”
“Right. And we need to find you some proper clothing, Nii-san.... You can't keep going around town dressed like some commoner anymore. Let's go to the sitting room.” The smirk upon his sister's face mildly terrified him, but Shiki had no real alternative save to follow her off to the sitting room, folding the knife and pocketing it as he did....
It hadn't been so bad as all that, Shiki had to admit in retrospect. He wasn't normally the type to dress up, but he couldn't deny that he'd felt woefully under-dressed in comparison to the array of outfits that Akiha's closet had contained. The one he was wearing now was one of several that she'd had Hisui find from an old storage room that had clothing from his old man's younger days. It fit surprisingly well.
And, for the most part, the outfit was comfortable despite being fairly elaborate. Like the mansion, it was somewhat Western in its style, with a blue dress shirt, black slacks, and a jacket, but the later was a rather magnificent specimen of its type. Though it was basically a deep navy blue and perhaps more a coat than a jacket, falling to just short of his knees, it was beautifully embroidered with silver thread, made into astrological designs all upon it, not so different from Akiha's kimono.
He'd felt somewhat uneasy wearing something so flashy, despite that such was the fad amongst the nobles of this day and age, but after a while he'd found it wasn't such a bad feeling to be noticed by passersby, though luckily he hadn't met anyone he knew from school.... That much was true at least at the licensing office, which had been dull but entirely uneventful--though he hadn't been able to help thinking unhappily of his sister's terrified reaction as he waited in the considerable line.... It had continued to hold true at the next stop, which was a high-class boutique.
Living with the family he had for the past eight years, such a place had been entirely beyond his means. It wasn't that they had been poor, but he had never asked for money, and what he'd had was from a series of part-time jobs. None of them had paid spectacularly by any means.... Given that, it was extremely weird to think that he would soon be the sole inheritor of the entire family fortune. This was, perhaps, a taste of what that would be like.
Though he'd struggled and done his best to recall every rule of etiquette that he'd learned years ago, Shiki had a feeling that he had still failed rather badly to meet the standards of refinement for the place, even if his outfit had been one of the more impressive ones there. Still, it hadn't been that hard to obtain each of the four or five items that his sister had requested, and she had directed him well. The shop was entirely discreet, not even asking for his name provided that he paid in cash.
With that fascinating but slightly awkward experience out of the way, though, he'd gone to his school. There, even just walking the distance from the gates to the office caused him to run into several of hiss classmates, most of whom were more surprised at his attire than impressed.... Only when he reached the office and glanced at the clock there did he realize that he'd come just when school was starting to let out for the day.
However, despite the student reaction to his presence, the staff seemed to take it well enough. One supposed they didn't have much choice, he supposed; the name Tohno had a lot of clout, with everything his old man had been involved in. For once, the old bastard's meddling had been useful.
On the way out, however, he'd run into a girl from his class. The sun was starting to set already, but thankfully it made the sky pink this day, not red.... And so he was here now, by the gate, with that girl standing not far away as she gazed into the sunset, “Yumizuka-san?”
Hearing his words, she looked over at him, surprised. “...oh, Tohno-kun. You weren't at school today.... I guess you finally moved back in with your family, huh? You look nice in that, instead of a boring school uniform.”
She herself was dressed in such a school uniform, though, with a blue skirt and a yellow blouse. Shiki knew she was from a fairly well-off family, one of those that lived on the way up to his house indeed. “Ah... Thanks, I guess. It's not really my thing, but Akiha says I need to dress properly for my station. Your house is up on the hill, right? We could walk part of the way together--I didn't mean to hold you up here.”
“Oh, that's right. We're both going the same way, so it wouldn't seem weird....” She seemed to contemplate for a moment, then nodded happily, moving to lead the way along the street toward the hill.
“But yeah.... I won't be at school for a while, Yumizuka-san. I'm going to go on a trip, so could you tell Arihiko for me? I was hoping to find him, but I guess I shouldn't be surprised that he wasn't there either.” Arihiko being another friend of his--or really, his only friend at school.
The girl blinked at this request, though, before frowning and looking away. “A trip? You're not gonna go try to be a tamer or anything like that, are you?”
“A tamer? No, of course not,” he replied with more vehemence than he'd intended. Sighing internally, he tried to compensate for that by making his next words lighter. “I couldn't even if I wanted to do something like that, you know, with my anemia.”
For some reason--it was strange, he thought; Satsuki Yumizuka was one of the more popular girls in his class, but someone he'd only really ever interacted with from afar--she looked relieved to hear this. In the light of the setting sun, it was perhaps not so hard to see why so many of the boys desired her. Though she couldn't match Akiha's beauty, there was something... entirely attractive and endearing about her sweet face when she smiled, and the way her light brown hair fell loosely around that face. She looked like... a free spirit.
“Good. You shouldn't just go off and leave everyone behind like that just because you got rich, you know,” she said, but the words were light and had no venom in them as her brown eyes regarded him.
“Hey, it's not like that at all! My sister's not been feeling well, so we're going on a trip to the ocean to see if the air there helps her,” he protested even so, shaking his head.
“Oh, I see... Your sister must be lucky, to have such a reliable person as her brother....” The words trailed off, and she smiled almost wistfully.
Shiki himself, though, couldn't help but look away at this, blushing slightly. “That's... that's not true at all. I'm not a reliable person, Yumizuka-san....”
“...do you remember winter of the second year of middle school, Tohno-kun?” The question was entirely out of left field, and he blinked in confusion at it, thinking back even as he looked at her again. That wistfulness had been turned into a quiet intensity upon her cute face.
“Oh... That year I stayed at school for extra lessons, yeah. I'm sorry, but that's... about all I remember from it.” He smiled uncertainly, almost apologetically, glad that they were mostly alone on the sidewalk.
“There were two sheds that the school clubs used, remember? And one of them was pretty old, and sometimes the door wouldn't open right,” she told him softly, her face a little sad but not really surprised that he didn't recall.
“Sheds.... Oh, right. That year, some girls from the badminton club got trapped in the old shed, right?”
“Yeah, that's right....” She laughed a little, shaking her head. “Maybe it doesn't seem so bad looking back at it now, but... I was one of the girls trapped in there. It was cold and dark, and we were all convinced we'd freeze to death that night. Then you came along....”
“...oh,” he murmured, nodding quietly. “Yeah, I guess I do remember that. I heard thumping and went over to check it out, and your captain told me to call a teacher. But they'd all gone home already.”
Satsuki nodded again, smiling a little. “Everyone thought the captain throwing her bat must've opened the door, because you saying you would open if it we didn't tell anyone seemed silly. But then... I just saw you standing there afterward, smiling a little. You really did save us back then, right?”
“Ah... I guess so, but it wasn't really that big a deal. It was just lucky, really,” he replied, shifting uncertainly as she spoke that way.
“I dunno, maybe it wasn't... But I've always felt, since then, that you'd come to save me if I was in trouble.” A slight blush lit her soft face for a moment, and she looked away. “So, you can't go and marry some girl by the sea, right? You still have to come back so you can save me again if I need you.” She laughed, making it lighthearted, yet there was something that still ultimately felt serious about it.
Given that, he felt even more uncomfortable, wanting to deny that he could really be of use to anyone, but looking at Satsuki's smiling face, he found he couldn't destroy the illusion, no matter how much he wanted to. Reluctantly, Shiki nodded to her. “...yeah, that's right. I'll come back and help you if you need it, promise.”
After that, both fell silent, each engaged in their own reveries as they walked the remaining short distance to Satsuki's home, and then parted. After that, Shiki made his way up the hill, back toward Akiha and the many challenges of the role he'd taken on in the world of the Tohno mansion....