Chapter VII: World of Glass
As his body started to lose all feeling, the deep darkness around him being mirrored by the darkness growing over his mind, the last thing that Shiki recalled was the distant sound of splashing, and then the strong feeling of something grabbing him. His eyes opened, thinking it must've been a dream as the light started coming closer instead of receding.
Any out of place notion that he had died, though, and that the light he'd seen was the entrance to the pearly heaven of the Thousand Gods was rudely dispelled when his consciousness returned. The lapse couldn't have been long, for as he felt a heavy weight pressing on his stomach again, there was an extremely unpleasant feeling of water coming up his throat. That feeling made him cough, trying weakly to move his body as his eyes stared up at the brightness of the noon sun that sat high in the sky, but some heavy weight on his chest refused to allow that, and pressure came again, causing him to cough harder as more water came up.
Groaning, he tried to at least move his head, and he caught sight of something blue, as well as the mosaic wall in the distance. It, along with the gritty sand against his back told him he was back on the beach. “You shouldn't try to move yet,” a soft voice suggested, laced with anxious concern, and he groaned again, not recognizing it and coughing harder as a bit more water came up. After that, it actually felt like he could breathe a little.
“Ugh... Who?” he managed, through a string of weaker coughs, and despite the command, he tilted his head further. Though staring at the sun had left a temporary dark spot in his sight, he could still make out the blue he had seen before better now. It was the color of the sea, an aqua-blue not so different from Akiha's eyes, and now it was obviously a girl's hair, worn short.
Below that, he could make out the face of the person it belonged to, and that face brought to mind the stories in the west of sea nymphs. Given that, it didn't seem a stretch, given that it was an exceptionally beautiful face, to assume that he was looking at a Naiad, or some other water-type. Her eyes were a deeper blue, more like his own swimsuit, and they seemed kind as they looked down at him. Obviously this girl was concerned even though he was a total stranger.
From his position, this was all that he could make out as she looked down at him in exasperation. “Hey, I said not to move,” she complained cutely, but the fact that he could move seemed to reassure her.
Ignoring her complaint, her struggled to look toward the shore, his breathing coming harder as his mind started to panic.... But that eased again, as he realized that Akiha lay in the golden sand as well. Though her eyes were closed and her face was far from peaceful, her breathing was regular, and she didn't seem to be in any danger.
Letting out a deep breath, he fell back, his head still somewhat groggy and it took him a moment to realize it was actually pounding. For a moment, he had been so concerned that he somehow hadn't managed to notice that the world around him was covered in spiderweb cracks. The thought that he'd looked at Akiha and seen those lines upon her, even though he couldn't remember them, made his stomach turn, and he closed his eyes tightly. “Glasses,” he groaned, “I need my glasses....”
“Hey, are you sure you didn't hit your head in that attack?” Her voice was somewhere between teasing and actually concerned. “You just almost died; you ought to worry about that, not about glasses. It's a miracle you survived at all. By the time a Titacruel drags someone out that far, there's usually nothing I can do.” From the serious tone of the latter, this was something she had experience with, but he couldn't care right now.
“...look, thanks, but... please, I need my glasses.” The desperation in his voice apparently convinced her, as the weight lifted from his chest. He still couldn't move much, with one arm and one leg each paralyzed. His eyes remained tightly closed as he waited, the seconds seeming to stretch out to eternity.
However, finally the other presence returned, and he felt the presence of his glasses, their metal frame having grown rather warm from baking on the golden sand for so long, as they were set upon his face. Taking a deep breath, he slowly opened his eyes; seeing the world back to normal, he was able to relax a little. “...thank you very much. I know I must seem weird, but...”
Shiki trailed off, and before he could finish, the 'girl's face appeared above his, with a lifted brow. “'A little weird'? Yeah, that's putting it mildly. But I guess the word is eccentric, right? That's what you're supposed to call rich people who are crazy. I know it's not my place to criticize you, but since I just saved your life, forgive me for saying you're more than a little crazy.” She seemed to have decided, at the very least, that he was physically okay.
“...I had to protect my sister,” Shiki replied, swallowing hard and well aware of how strange that would sound, but not looking away as he said it.
“...you should've brought a pokegirl to guard you, then. Geez, just because there are lifeguards like me on public beaches doesn't mean you can just be... reckless because you can afford your own.” Well, that explained why she'd saved him, and a lot of why she was speaking much more freely than most pokegirls would dare.
But Shiki didn't respond to this except with as much of a shrug as he could manage. What could he say? Even if he would've died for it without this 'girl's intervention... he had saved her without a pokegirl's help, this time, and kept his promise. He'd saved Akiha, so... that was what really mattered. After a moment, he shifted uncomfortably. “...thank you for saving me.”
The 'girl shook her head with a helpless sigh. “...yeah, you're welcome. You're lucky I happened to see you at all; I'm not supposed to be bothering people who aren't actually on the beach, you know. So don't go being so reckless again, or I probably won't see you next time.”
Shiki laughed listlessly at this, shaking his head. “Well, I'll try, but I don't know if I can make any promises about that.”
“Yeah, you're definitely wealthy.” She laughed, shaking her head at his attitude but not going so far as to criticize it again, even though he hadn't shown any sighs of taking offense at how freely she had expressed her opinions so far. “Can I at least know who I've had the honor of saving?”
“Ah... Shiki Tohno,” he told her, uncertainly. For some reason, he felt acutely aware of--and somewhat uncomfortable with--the proximity of her well-endowed figure, dressed in a rather tight bikini. “My sister and I are staying in the villa there.”
“Well, then, Tohno-sama, at least try to stay out of trouble while you stay here. Maybe you can come give me proper thanks for saving you someday.” The way a brow lifted at him made her entirely risque meaning clear as she started to turn to leave.
“Ah...” Shiki could feel only distaste at the offer, in all honestly. No matter how attractive the 'girl technically was, the thought of just... talking about something so intimate so casually was a complete turn off. “I think I'll have to pass. Could you... ah, call the staff out here before you go?”
“Oh, you can't get up?” She laughed a little, shaking her head. “Silly me, I should've realized. Actually, I'll take care of that.” There was a smile and a shrug on her part--and it bothered him almost as much that she wasn't at all offended by his rejection as that she had offered at all.
But he said nothing as she turned around and moved back to his side. Her hands reached down to press against his paralyzed leg, and it seemed that--unsurprisingly, given her apparent job--she knew some healing magic. The glow subsided after a moment as feeling flooded back.
Soon after, the same was done to his arm, though he forced himself not to pull away from her touch after she had finished, feeling more acutely uncomfortable with it as his body's functioning was restored. “Thanks... That's pretty impressive. I think it stung Akiha too....”
At the very least, no matter what he felt about the aqua-haired 'girl in general, his praise was genuine, so he didn't feel bad for giving it. He did feel a little guilty for asking her to help more, but he didn't want to leave Akiha hurt....
“Okay.” She smiled, moving over to Akiha; apparently having some skill at figuring out where the problem was, she pressed her hands to his sister's stomach and the white light repeated. “Your sister's really pretty,” the lifeguard commented offhandedly as she finished, standing up and stretching. “Take care of her her, Tohno-sama.” Shiki nodded a bit to the lifeguard's comment, and she turned away, heading back toward the normal beach.
Then, as she left, Shiki was left to more seriously consider the situation, as he moved to Akiha’s side. Some of the pain on her face had eased, and her hair was definitely back to black now--thankfully, he thought, since it was likely part of why the lifeguard hadn’t realized their secret--but looking down upon her, he shuddered a little, unable to escape a vision of how she’d looked before, a broken doll who had been thrown away on the sand like trash. That image made his body shudder with anger....
But that anger in turn brought back memories of what had happened next. Ultimately, he... had killed something. It had been a feral who had been going to rape and kill Akiha, but even so, he had killed a living creature with his own hands. And it hadn’t been anything even close to an accident; he had, knowing exactly what it would do, plunged his knife into that ‘point’ upon her chest. In some sense, it was worse that he was justified in doing it, because... he couldn’t be sorry that he had killed her.
No, he had done so willingly, wanting to live--needing to live--and not to be parted from Akiha again. He could never regret killing for that purpose, which made it all the worse. Lightly, his hand moved to touch his sister’s cheek as he whispered quietly, “...you were wrong, Akiha. You’re not the only one who knows what it feels like to kill, now--and to know you would... kill again without hesitating for that same purpose.”
Some dark part of his soul took solace in that, really. Perhaps it was twisted, but then, wasn’t he already twisted for loving his sister? Loving her as a woman more than as a sister, really, and yet... still thinking of her as a sister. He felt no desire to detach himself from that--if anything, something deeply buried in his mind reviled the idea of no longer being her brother as well as her lover. He felt as though he would be betraying her and abandoning her again if he tried to stop being her brother.
But ultimately, now both of them were killers; he laughed bitterly. In the eyes of society, they weren’t killers. What they had done was more impressive than merely killing a human, because as he had just been rather brutally reminded of, humans were weak and vulnerable. It took little effort to kill a human, but that was a crime. Killing a feral, which could fight back far better and so, by natural law, had more right to live, was... nothing. Inconsequential... Thinking of it in those terms made his stomach turn.
Taking a deep breath of the sea air, he looked down at Akiha and tried to push back the tide of depressing thoughts, though. Akiha was safe, and... so was he, even though he knew by all rights he should’ve died for doing what he had. In some sense his eyes felt very much like a curse; a regular human would’ve had no reason to think he stood a chance of helping and so he wouldn’t have gotten involved. Yet, to call them a curse would be to damn the only thing that had allowed him to save her, and... he couldn’t do that.
Sighing, he knew he should go inside and call a physician to check his health--preferably one who could be bribed to overlook what she was and check Akiha’s body as well--but instead, he laid down in the smooth but still gritty sand next to her, reaching over and wrapping her warm body in his arms, his head resting upon her shoulder. He wouldn’t let himself doze off and put them in danger, but for perhaps ten minutes he just... held her.
After that time had passed, though, he drew in a deep breath and looked hatefully at the sea which had almost claimed both of them. Then, he lifted the still-unconscious Akiha into his arms and carried her back to the house, giving the servants little thought as he found his way to his room, and then the attached washroom, which was incredibly luxurious. In this moment, he cared little for propriety or luxury; instead, he allowed himself to gently, lovingly clean the sand from her still-sleeping body, and then his own.
At some point in the process, it seemed that she had woken up, but not until he’d gently laid her against the gilded tub and started to clean himself did she give evidence beyond her eyes opening. Akiha was decidedly quiet, actually, and when he finally realized she was awake because she leaned forward a little, her eyes seemed... vague and faraway, while her posture made her seem... incredibly fragile. For a moment, as they regarded each other, the world could’ve been a glass caricature, and they two exquisitely crafted but entirely breakable figures inhabiting it.
Then, that spell broke as she reached out and pulled him against her chest, her strength easily overpowering what little resistance his surprised body offered; “...I thought you were going to leave me alone again.” Her body shuddered, and her head pressed into his shoulder, that distance vanishing from her eyes to be replaced with soft, silent tears.
“...I'm sorry, Akiha,” he whispered, his own voice barely a whisper. “...but I couldn't just... let you die....”
She swallowed hard, managing to nod a little. “...yeah, I know, Nii-san. You already... died for me once....” Her words made no sense to him, but in this moment, he didn't have the will to question what she meant. Besides, she was speaking again, her voice gaining some strength. “...I can't let this happen again. Even if we both hate what I am, I need to be stronger than this.”
“Akiha...” He didn't know what to say; her words tore at his heart. “I don't... hate what you are. I couldn't ever hate what you are, because that would mean hating some part of you, and... I don't. I can't. You're fine as you are....”
“No, Nii-san.” She lifted her head, brushing back tears as resolve showed itself upon her elegant features, and in her aqua eyes. “Even more if you don't hate these powers I have... I need to learn to use them. I need to be able to protect us.”
Seeing that resolve, he could do nothing but nod quietly and draw her back against him. Maybe she was right; he wanted desperately to protect her, but today had proved that, although he might be able to... the cost of that was likely to end up being far, far too high.
After some time, the two of them returned to his room again. Though they’d seen healed from the paralyzing stings, both were still quite tired, and the bed looked extremely appealing. However, though Akiha soon collapsed back into slumber, her body exhausted from the battle she had fought, Shiki found that sleep wouldn’t come as his eyes moved between the ceiling and his sister’s face....
Sighing, he carefully slipped out of her embrace, not liking the way that her body tensed at the loss of his presence, but not able to sit still any longer. Up until now, he’d shunned the past, wanting to deny what his family’s legacy had brought upon him. He hadn’t much cared to know more about the father that had lied to him and to the world.
Yet, now he found his mind full of questions, perhaps caused by what had happened. He had these eyes, which Akiha did not even seem aware of, but for the son of a family that was apparently actually deeply inbred with infernal pokegirls, he himself had no apparent bloodgifts. Even his anemia hadn’t started until the accident eight years ago, meaning it was likely not a bloodcurse. And though Akiha’s letter--it felt like so long ago that he’d read those carefully crafted words--had spoke of thresholds, it had said nothing about the male members of the family. What soft of bloodtraits did they get from an ancestry such as they had?
These were the sort of questions that swirled around in his mind as he whispered a quiet apology to his sister, kissing her cheek and pulling the bed’s blue cover up over her, then slipping from the room. First, making a beeline to the servants’ quarter, he gave all but the cook the rest of the day off, not really wanting to deal with them or with keeping up any kind of appearances. The chef was ordered to make a lunch, and then a vichyssoise for dinner, the latter mostly since it was served cold and so could be made now.
That done, he drew in a deep breath and headed for Hisui’s room. As he had hoped, his knock upon that door was answered by the maid in question, wearing her usual one-piece outfit and her usual, emotionless face. Despite that, he imagined he could detect a hint of restless boredom in her posture as she bowed to him. “Ah, welcome, Shiki-sama. Did you require something?”
“Thanks, Hisui... Could I come in? I wanted to talk to you about something,” he replied carefully. “But before that, how are you holding up?”
“I am fine, Shiki-sama, although there is... little to do in this house.” Though she didn’t answer his first question, she did move out of the doorway, allowing him into the room. Most of it, aside from the bed, wardrobe, and one chair near a window that looked out upon the street, seemed untouched, which somehow didn’t surprise him.
“Well, you know you don’t have to stay in the house, right? Kohaku-san might’ve said that she sent you to take care of our needs, but this house has way too many servants as it is. You should treat it like a vacation.” Despite his desire to maintain his confidence, it was hard to say this to the girl’s expressionless face without feeling intimidated.
“I suppose you are right.... I... do not have much experience with vacations, however. If you wish, you may dismiss the other maids here instead.” Somehow, it almost sounded like a plea, and he couldn’t help but chuckle softly.
“How did I know you were going to say something like that? Well, alright then--how about this? I’ll dismiss the other maids if you agree to go out and do something that you actually want to at least once a day.” It was a low blow, but the idea of Hisui having come with them but only working in her normal duties bothered him quite a bit.
Not having expected this tactic, Hisui’s façade broke a moment as she flushed slightly, and looked away. “...you are relentless, Shiki-sama. Very well then; I... will agree to your terms.” Her voice managed to remain calm, but she was definitely flustered by his initiative, and it made him wonder just how beautiful that elegant face would look with a proper smile on it....
However, the brief interlude ended after that, as he closed the door behind him, and the dark thoughts from before returned with a vengeance. “Well, I’m glad you will... But that isn’t what I came to talk to you about, Hisui.”
“There is another matter? Then I shall do my best to answer,” the maid replied, having fully recovered her composure. With both of them standing, the situation was made more formal again, and he knew that she had regained her edge.
Still, he nodded. “Thanks, Hisui... Well, you’ve been with the family since before I left eight years ago, right? I remember seeing you when I was playing with Akiha and Kohaku-san.”
For a moment, the silence weighed heavily, and Shiki, without any real logical reason, felt as though he’d just said something terribly wrong.... That feeling was dissipated a moment later though, as Hisui nodded without apparent emotion, “Yes that is correct.”
“Could you... tell me about my family a little more, then? I don’t really remember much except for those summer days of playing, and a little of my old man.”
“Should you not ask Akiha-sama instead, Shiki-sama?”
“...I guess I should ask Akiha, but... I don’t feel right talking to her about that, with everything that’s happened,” he replied quietly, looking away. “I know it’s been... harder for her than I can really hope to grasp, so she doesn’t need my asking a bunch of stupid questions on top of everything else.”
“....I see. Perhaps you are correct--it would be imprudent to speak to her of such things. Very well, then... I will answer your questions to the best of my ability, Shiki-sama.” Her voice betrayed a slight hesitance as she agreed.
“Alright. Thanks, Hisui.... And don’t worry about Akiha. She’s still sleeping, so let’s not tell her about this, if that’s okay.”
“Yes, that would be... preferable. Please do not tell Akiha-sama that we have spoken of these matters.” The hesitation was still there, but she definitely seemed relieved that he had suggested that, which was why he’d done so.
“So, Akiha told me that our family has... brought infernal pokegirls into it, right?”
“That is correct. From my understanding, at the time of the War, the region was attacked by the Legions of Terror. Because they were the wealthiest remaining house in the area, the Tohno family took charge of defending the city. The lord at that time managed to achieve a minor miracle in routing the attacking pokegirls, though both sides suffered from heavy casualties. However, the Daimon who had commanded the attacking Legion was captured in the aftermath.”
Hisui paused a moment, taking a breath as she regarded Shiki, who was listening intently, and then continued, “Initially, he had intended to have her executed, but after spending some time attempting to interrogate her, he came to admire the Daimon’s cunning and intelligence. I... cannot say if those feeling became love, but in the end he tamed her rather than having her killed, passing her off as a woman from a neighboring city, as his own wife had died in the Plague. In time, his son became fascinated by his mother’s powers, and he sought out a Daimon of his own, which started a family tradition.”
“I see... So it really does go back to the beginning, huh?” Shiki frowned, considering this carefully. “But they didn’t realize what would happen from that afterward, right?”
“Correct, Shiki-sama. Bloodtraits and thresholding were entirely unexpected. However, the Tohno family, as Akiha-sama has surely mentioned, was not the only noble family which had intermarried with pokegirls but then desired to appear pureline for reasons of prestige. So, when their daughters thresholded, these families began to simply intermarry with each other, so that each was equally obliged to keep the other’s secret.”
Hisui’s flat tone had taken on slight inflection, and on the whole Shiki decided that she was an able storyteller. “I see... Political marriages, huh? I guess I really was born into an unhappy world.”
“...Shiki-sama,” the maid replied, uncertainly, obviously wanting to tell him something but hesitating. His face betrayed his curiosity and concern so honestly, though... Hisui sighed, apparently giving in. “...yes, you are correct, Shiki-sama. It is not my place to criticize the Tohno house, but I have seen the truth of it. Akiha-sama was... acutely unhappy with the man she was to marry, before the death of Mahahisa-sama.”
“....Akiha was going to be married?!” Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised him, given their status and situation, but somehow he hadn’t even thought about that, and the unhappy image of her marrying some faceless man struck him like a brick wall, causing his breath to speed up with panic for a moment, until he brought himself under control. Even then, his hand--which had apparently unconsciously fond the hilt of his knife again--clenched painfully tightly.
“...yes, until you returned, Akiha-sama was engaged,” Hisui admitted quietly, averting her eyes. “She did not wish for you to be informed of it, but it is... something you should know. I do not believe that her former fiancé was... pleased that the match was broken.”
Shiki forced his breathing to remain steady, nodding as he swallowed hard. “Thanks for telling me, Hisui. If some... creepy guy is going to be bothering her, I want to know about it.” Though some part of him couldn’t help but appreciate the irony of the comment; he, who was in love with his sister, was calling someone creepy? Yeah, that made sense.
“You are welcome, Shiki-sama. Is that all that you wanted to ask?” After telling him that, Hisui seemed eager to drop the subject, but he couldn’t quite oblige her yet.
“Sorry, Hisui, but could you tell me one more thing? I know that the girls have thresholded, but the men in my family... They’ve been bloodgifted, right? Could you tell me... what kind of bloodgifts they tend to have?”
Hisui’s face seemed to darken at this, and she obviously would’ve preferred not to discuss the matter, but having come this far, Shiki wasn’t willing to back down so easily. Unhappily, she sighed after they stared at each other for several moments.
“That is... an unpleasant subject, Shiki-sama. By far... the most prominent result of their ancestry in the men of the Tohno house... has been madness. Perhaps you do not recall well, but Makahisa-sama himself suffered from... multiple personalities.”
Madness? Like voices in one’s head telling one to kill? That did sound like madness, he thought, the answer somehow making the whole situation feel unreal, even as he struggled to keep his mind clear and his replies logical. “Ah... Now that you mention it, I guess you’re right. He would be really kind some days, but cruel others--I guess... I remember the latter a lot more poignantly.”
“Yes, that is correct.” Hisui was definitely not comfortable with the subject, and he truly had to wonder what had happened to cause that reaction, but he knew that there would be no chance to ask now.
“Alright. Thanks, Hisui--I’ll stop asking now, but just answer me one more thing. Does my family have any history of... strange eyes, Hisui?”
If the reaction before had been hesitant, this one was almost terror as she responded quickly, far too quickly. “No, there is no such thing in your family, Shiki-sama. Please, you should not inquire about strange things....”
For a moment, looking into Hisui's blue eyes, he felt a strange sensation, as though his mind were somehow being invaded. It was the same feeling that had almost overcome him before Akiha broke the spell cast by Lelouch's Mystic Eyes, but in this moment he couldn't recognize it as that, just as something terribly wrong. But this time, something in him rebelled and he stepped forward, his hands trying to take hold of Hisui’s arms. “Stop it!”
The sound of his shout resonated in the room, but it wasn’t the most surprising thing. Instead, it was that Hisui had shoved him away, her mask breaking entirely as some nameless terror made itself known on her face. It was something different than before, he realized. In truth he couldn’t even say why he had tried to touch her now--he’d just been asking about his Mystic Eyes, then there had been an overwhelming desire from some part inside him to break her concentration.
The two stared at each other awkwardly for a moment, and then Hisui broke the silence, her face flushing as she realized what had happened. “Ah... I’m... terribly sorry, Shiki-sama.”
Despite her apology, he felt as though he was the one who had done something terrible, though. Swallowing hard, the boy shook his head. “ No, I’m the one who should be sorry, Hisui... I’ll leave you alone now.” His eyes shifted from her, so that he was looking down, and he turned away, voice subdued. “If... you’re hungry, lunch should be ready in about half an hour.” With these words, he fled from her room, back towards his own.
Shiki only realized after he had already left that he had only gotten a partial answer to his question. Hereditary madness only covered the bloodcurses, if it could even be considered that, and he was left with no knowledge of what kind of bloodgifts his family had tended to display. But aside from not wanting to upset her, something about the way things had gone when he pressed on that matter left him deeply uneasy.
Perhaps he would ask Kohaku about it instead, once they had returned to the mansion. Really, once he went back, if he was head of the family, he would have access to all of his old man's documents. Surely there would be something useful to be found in them. Maybe then the matter would become clearer.... For the moment, it seemed to get murkier the deeper he pushed.
Regardless, returning to his room, he felt a stab of guilt to see Akiha's body shifting uncomfortably upon the bed and he rushed to her side, wrapping her in his arms as he pulled away the cover. She started to calm, but from her quick breathing it seemed apparent she was still battling with some kind of nightmare. His hesitation only lasted a moment, before his lips covered hers; relief welled in his heart when her eyes opened at the kiss, blinking against the light then closing again as she returned it.
Several seconds passed before they both drew back, and Akiha's eyes opened again. Despite the nightmare before, it was strange and yet wonderful to see her face truly smiling as she looked up at him.
Given that, he returned her smile with his own, pushing aside thoughts of digging up the past for the moment. “Hey Akiha. Sorry to wake you, but lunch should be ready soon,” he greeted softly, their faces still not so apart.
Yawning softly, the girl nodded, then stretched slightly. “I probably shouldn't be sleeping in the middle of the day anyway, huh?”
Shiki laughed, shrugging as he moved to sit on the bed next to her. “You can sleep whenever you want, as far as I'm concerned.”
“You take everything so casually, Nii-san.” The words weren't a complaint this time, even though she shook her head lightly. Gods, that smile suited her face so much better than all of the troubled and serious expressions....
“Well, we should enjoy things we have, right? And we're on vacation anyway.”
“Hush, you'll ruin my ability to get up when I should if you say things like that,” she replied, rolling her eyes playfully.
“You say that like it would be a bad thing,” he retorted, lifting a brow lightly in turn.
“...you would say that,” Akiha replied, shaking her head with mock reproach, then stretching again and slipping out of bed.
“Oh, by the way, I gave the servants the rest of the day off--don't worry, dinner won't be a problem. And I think I'm going to dismiss the maids, since Hisui doesn't really seem... willing to just sit around. I feel bad making her work at all, but she practically asked me to.”
“That does sound about like her.... Well, if you think it's alright, Nii-san, I guess I won't object.” Akiha shrugged lightly, moving to the wardrobe only to remember that it was her brother's room.
However a slight smirk touched her lips as she looked at the garments inside, then looked back over her shoulder at Shiki. “Maybe I should go to lunch just wearing one of your shirts and nothing else, Nii-san. Isn't that how the girl always opens the door in the stories?” Her brow lifted suggestively; it seemed as though she was taking his suggestion to enjoy the moment seriously, if she was being so playful after everything that had happened.
Though he was glad for that on some level, that gladness did nothing to shield him from blushing rather deeply at her suggestion. “Ah! Akiha....”
“What, you're telling me that you wouldn't enjoy it, Nii-san? That you wouldn't enjoy it if I showed off that I'm yours alone?” Her voice had dropped, becoming sultrier than he could remember hearing it before as she turned--still in her swimsuit--and approached him, her movements slow and just as seductive as her voice.
“...of course I would enjoy that,” he had to admit, swallowing. “But Akiha...”
She hesitated a moment, regarding him as he seemed so uncertain, then sighed a little, looking away. “...sorry Nii-san. I wasn't trying to make you uncomfortable.”
Immediately, he was standing and moving to her, shaking his head vigorously. “No, it's not that... I'm the one who should be sorry. I was just....”
“...yeah, I guess I wasn't acting like myself, huh?” She lifted her eyes, but both happiness and sultriness were gone from her expression, leaving only a tired bitterness. “I just didn't want to think right now.”
“...sorry Akiha.” He sighed, now lowering his own eyes and wishing he'd just stayed quiet; even that sultriness, no matter how out of place it felt right now, was better than this bitterness.
“You were worried, so I can't really blame you.” She shrugged a little, but moved her arms to encircle him, and the two pressed close a moment, drawing strength from each other to help bear the weight that still hung over them.
After a while, they moved to her room, a few words passing between them, and there she dressed, after having picked out an outfit for her brother, so that both were dressed well by the time they reached the dining room.
Though Hisui was already there--and had already taken to filling her role again, having set the table and brought out the food--she could not meet Shiki's eyes, nor he hers. Hopefully whatever happened would pass, but for the moment neither was entirely comfortable in the presence of the other. If Akiha noticed though, she said nothing about the matter.
And so, they ate. Again the food wasn't as good as they were accustomed to, and this time the conversation was sporadic at best, though at the very least it wasn't a state of outright silence at the table. Even Hisui was coaxed by Akiha to speak a little.
Toward the end, though, the smalltalk came to and end and ultimately Akiha raised one of the pressing issues hanging over them. “...Nii-san, tomorrow we should find a place we can train at.”
“Ah... I guess so, yeah. I guess we'll have to train against some actual ferals?” With only his pet license, they couldn't afford another 'girl around, even if the idea of making love with some... complete stranger who was just a tool hadn't revolted him.
Akiha nodded, her expression shifting to one of contemplation. “We need somewhere that we won't be seen, but also that's close enough to civilization that we can get away if something nasty comes out.”
“Right... Maybe in the forest, then? There has to be a place like that by the trail we came in on.”
“Maybe.... Definitely not the beach, at least.” Despite herself, Akiha shuddered at the memory.
“Definitely not,” Shiki agreed, before contemplating a moment. “I think it has to be the forest. We'd be too exposed to passersby if we used any place that was clear or flat.”
Hisui cut in here quietly. “If I may offer a suggestion, Akiha-sama,” she said, directing her words to the sister rather than the brother, “I have studied the map that was provided with the villa, and I believe there is a small isolated glade near the edge of the beach. The map warns that it contains ferals, but because of its size and isolation, it surely cannot be overly dangerous, and should you need to flee to safety, it is near one of the public beaches.”
“...yeah, that would work well. Thank you, Hisui.” Akiha managed a bit of a smile, then looking questioningly at her brother, who nodded in agreement.
“We can go check it out tomorrow morning, and then go train in the afternoon if it's as good as it sounds. But, ah... by the way, this is probably a stupid question, but... exactly how long are we going to be staying here?”
From the blank looks that answered this, it seemed like neither of the other two had a clear idea of this either, which made him feel a little better. Finally, it was Hisui who spoke up again. “I... imagine that we must stay until Nee-san tells us that the adoption process is completed.”
“I guess that makes sense...” It was strange to think that they didn't know when they would be going back... But after that, at the very least the tension eased back some for what remained of the meal, and indeed the rest of that day.