The first Fall 2010 story of the Fiction Anthology is here. The Summer and Fall chapters of the other fics will be posted later this month.
Chapter 3 – Union
The night before the wedding, Saki sat on her bedding, determined not to lose face.
There was something she was dreading in that unlikely setting: one she feared would debase.
Nice start, but I don’t think you can keep it up.
Yeah, me neither. Continuing on, in the past, the two families were originally ninja clans.
I really don’t believe that. What were they, really? I mean, they were rivals, sure, but ninja clans generally didn’t war with each other.
Jeez, you really have to be a downer, don’t you? Look, this was about 500 years ago, so no one really remembers. I say ninjas. Anyway, back in those days they had a special wedding tradition.
Wait, but what about Nadeshiko? I thought she was having a Western style wedding.
They were. But that was because she was so insistent. Ryogo, on the other hand, is spineless, and Saki is only concerned with appeasing the elders for show. As for that wedding ceremony, it was a strange one. There were two ways it could end: the absorption of one spouse into the other’s family, or the union of the two families as one. The latter was used mainly to form alliances. At first the alliance is probationary, lasting for as long as the two are married. The alliance is cemented when they have a child. In the former version of the ceremony, the fathers of the spouses would have a duel to the death. Strangely, the winner of the duel would be the one to give up their child as consolation for acknowledging the dominance of the other clan.
Yeah, and there was no way that was happening here. Anyway, the ceremony to unify the two families is different. There is still a duel, but it’s more of a mock battle or play. The two betrothed would sit facing each other, with 12 members of their respective families sitting behind them like a squad line. Then, one by one, one member from each side stands, moves to the center, inspects the bride/groom of the opposite family, then takes their seat on the other side as a sign that he has accepted the union. The union of the two families will not take place if enough people don’t agree this way, but since negotiations are usually made before the wedding this really isn’t a problem. Anyway, after the acceptance ceremony has been completed, the actual union ceremony starts. The bride and groom finally stand, meet each other at the center and lock hands. They perform a traditional dance with their hands locked the entire time before they return to the center position and kiss.
Wow… Sounds nice. How could one society come up with a marriage ceremony that’s so touching and yet also one that’s so cruel?
I told you. Ninjas.
That explains nothing.
Well, whatever. Just go with the flow, ‘kay? Anyway, that’s the ceremony Saki was preparing for. She studied the dance moves, which were simple, really: it was the order that she needed to master. The important part was the kiss, of course. She had never kissed anyone before, after all. In order to keep up the act, she had to look as natural as possible during the act. To cut to the chase, she was imagining herself kissing Ryogo and programming herself to not react with disgust.
Saki: Damn, it’s just no use! How is someone like that worthy enough for such a moment with me?!
Simply thinking about it wasn’t helping. Thinking about it while at the same time also thinking about something she likes was her next plan. By doing this, she might associate Ryogo with that thing. The problem was that she didn’t like too many things to begin with. She liked many intangibles such as approval and adoration. She had friends that she cared about, but thinking about them in this situation didn’t help at all. Finally, she decided that it was her inexperience that was the main problem. She called Yukiko since she seemed like the most experienced out of the people she knew. After dialing five digits, Saki thought better of it and dialed Natsuko’s number instead.
Natsuko: Huh? A kiss?
Saki: Yeah. What is one like?
Natsuko: H-hey, I’ve never kissed anyone before either, you should know that!
Saki: Well, I was going to ask Yukiko, but…
Natsuko: Yeah, I guess she would try to turn it into a story… But why do you want to know?
Saki: Oh, no reason… I just felt like asking…
Natsuko: Hey, does this have anything to do with Misaki?
Natsuko: It’s just that you two have that counseling thing going on, and Misaki pretty much told me that there was some kind of secret between the two of you…
Saki: D-don’t be ridiculous!
Actually, this is exactly what Saki wanted, but she was genuinely surprised at how quickly Natsuko came to that conclusion.
Natsuko: Oh ho… So what is it? You can tell me, I won’t tell.
Saki knew she was telling the truth. Natsuko was a gossip addict, but she never actually spread gossip herself.
Natsuko: Ooh, I bet I know what it is! He’s probably too shy to ask anyone out because of all those rumors about him, so he confessed to you! I’ll bet he really hasn’t even kissed a girl before!
Saki was grateful that Natsuko came up with a possible explanation for her… But would it be suspicious if she just agreed like that? Would that be too lazy?
Saki: Wow, you’re good, Natsuko!
Natsuko: Ha ha, I KNEW it!
No. No it wouldn’t.
Saki: But I’m no good at giving love advice. You’ve got to help me out here.
Natsuko: Hmm… Well, learning and actually doing are completely different. I mean, you could write out a confession and plan for every possible reaction, but when it comes time to do it, anything could happen to screw everything up. My advice would be to just rush in head-first and take things as they come.
Saki: . . . Hmm… I guess that is the best advice I could hope for.
Natsuko: You could always ask Yukiko if you’re desperate.
Saki: No, I think not.
* * *
Ryogo actually lives in a back room inside Sweet Tears. It’s cramped, but he has easy access to a kitchen and can walk to nearby shops. It was in his cramped living quarters where he tried to practice the dance. He had just one kiss before, 10 years ago, with a girl named Mizuno. He imagined many times what she might look like now. Superimposing one of those images onto Saki was simple. He decided that was what he would do during the ceremony. The only thing that weighed on his mind was Saki’s plot. It sounded reasonable enough, and he would gain a lot from it. The problem was that Mizuno was always on his mind as well.
Ryogo: I should tell Satoumura about it. She’s a bit emotional, but she sounds like a smart girl. I’m sure she’ll understand that I just can’t be in a public relationship, even a pretend one.
He was aware that there was no way he could argue their very real marriage was okay while a fake high school romance wasn’t, but he made up his mind. You can’t help but wonder at how someone can be so dedicated to the memory of a five-year-old girl.
I can’t tell if it’s romantic or just childish.
A little of both.
* * *
The ceremony was held in secret at a former Misaki establishment in Arima. Now it was a regular tourist inn run by the Oracle.
The Oracle? The old lady that reads the prophecy?
Yup. She isn’t officially a member of the organization, so she was able to swoop in and buy the property when the Misaki syndicate was run out of the area.
She’s an “oracle.” How do you think she makes a living? Ahem. So, Ryogo and his family arrived together. Saki arrived separately with only a chauffer and a bodyguard. Ryogo’s “army” consisted of his father Rokusaburo, Shunya, Nadeshiko, and nine extras I couldn’t be bothered to remember. Saki’s army consisted of her chauffer, her bodyguard, and ten more Misaki extras, each of them holding a mobile phone with a representative on the other line.
They had mobile phones back then?
’98 wasn’t that far back. They had cell phones back then, though I think they were crazy huge, didn’t have apps, and used these weird things called “keypads.” So, during the first part of the ceremony, the Satoumura side shouted out orders to the Misaki guys, making the ceremony last about five times as long. In the end though, that first part ended the way it should have: with a unanimous vote. The only hesitant vote came from the wheelchair-bound Nadeshiko, who still carried resentment towards the Satoumuras. She shot a dirty glance at Saki before wheeling herself into her side. Saki maintained her composure and focused on doing her part. She and Ryogo stood and joined hands to perform the ceremonial dance.
The two stared at each other’s eyes with different intentions. Saki was focused on herself. The moment she prepared herself for was still an unknown. She stared at her own reflection in Ryogo’s eyes to make sure she was putting on the right face. Ryogo centered on Saki’s eyes and built around them. His favorite constructed image of Mizuno-chan was superimposed on her face. Soon, the girl dancing in front of her was a perfect delusion.
Saki was so focused on herself that she wasn’t able to see the change in Ryogo’s gaze. When the movement stopped, she looked at Ryogo for the first time and was taken aback by his expression. Her mind blanked. Instinct took over. Her hands moved to resist, but Ryogo wrapped an arm around her back and held her close, brushing her cheek with his other hand. She stood motionless as Ryogo moved bridged the distance between them with his lips.
Ryogo’s actions stunned Saki. The event was so far from her calculations that she nearly fainted. In her lightheadedness, she clutched Ryogo as hard as she could to prevent herself from falling. Without trying, Saki had succeeded. Everyone present was convinced that the two had genuinely loved each other because none of them believed the two teens could merely act out such a tastefully sensual scene without feeling anything towards each other.
Hey, what’s with the blank staring?
…hm? Uh… N-no, I was just trying to picture the scene in my mind.
Pay attention. It’s just getting to the good stuff.
Eh? You mean that wasn’t… er, never mind. Just go ahead.
Alrighty. Well, that kiss lasted a good, long minute. The two looked into each other’s eyes the whole time. Ryogo was pleased with his illusion, which was starting to fade. He slowly came to realize what had just happened. Saki was in a semi-trance. She came around to the sound of applause as she stared confusingly at Ryogo’s face. The two simultaneously broke away, finally grasping their own actions, and embarrassingly turned to their respective parties to acknowledge their approval.
Everyone moved to a banquet room for the reception. The new couple sat together, separated from the others.
Saki: Hey, uh… Ryogo?
Ryogo: Huh? What is it, Sat- er, Saki?
Saki: Good work there. I, uh, didn’t know you were so good at that. Didn’t think you were, you know… Experienced.
Ryogo: That was actually my second kiss ever.
Ryogo: Sorry if I overdid it. I… kinda got carried away in the moment.
Saki: I can let it pass. At least the worst is over.
Rokusaburo: Was I interrupting something? There’s no reason to whisper. You’ll have plenty of time for intimate conversations later.
Ryogo: Hey, cut that out. What is it you want?
Rokusaburo: I just wanted to make sure you’re enjoying your food.
Saki: It is quite good. I appreciate what your family has done for this occasion.
Rokusaburo: We have plenty of chefs on our payroll, so something like this is nothing. Oh, but I did have something else for you. Shunya!
Shunya: Yes, I have it right here.
Saki: Is this a present?
Rokusaburo: More than that. It’s the final step of the ceremony.
Saki: Hm? There’s more to it? I thought the ceremony was over.
Shunya: You completed the family union ceremony, but not the marriage ceremony. The two of you will spend the night in a suite here and finalize the marriage.
Saki: And by “finalize” you mean…
Ryogo: …”that,” right?
Shunya: I trust there are no objections.
Ryogo: . . .
Saki: No. Absolutely none. Right?
Ryogo: Oh… No, you can count on me.
Shunya: I thought so. Once you have finished your meals, I will escort you to the suite.
Ryogo: What now?
Saki: We went over this. We made a good show. Everything else is behind the curtains stuff. Just play your cards right and we can pull this off.
* * *
After the banquet, the two were escorted to their private suite and left alone. Shortly after entering the suite, the two heard a clicking noise and realized that the were locked in for the night.
Saki: Damn. Well, at least, there’s a bathroom here. All the other rooms are on the other side of the inn. This is perfect, don’t you think?
Ryogo: I guess. Let’s see what kind of present they left us in this box.
. . .
Ryogo: . . .
Saki: . . .
Ryogo: Well, I’m pretty sure this is a… pack of condoms…
Saki: And I assume these are contraceptive pills. Are they safe?
Ryogo: How would I know? We don’t make drugs. Just sweets.
Saki: Well, not like we’ll be using these anyway. I guess I’ll pocket the pills. Maybe my dad will stumble across them. If only I could see his face…
Ryogo: There’s something else here…
The last items in the box were two identical keys and a photograph.
Ryogo: What is this? An apartment building?
Saki: There’s an address written on the back.
Ryogo: Huh? Then these must be…
Saki: I guess they expect us to live there from now on. I guess it’s close to the school… But if word got out, I’d never be able to live it down. You can take it.
Ryogo: No thanks. I prefer my room at Sweet Tears.
Saki: What, you live there?
Ryogo: Yeah. I like it. It’s close to the pier, and there’s no shortage of food.
Saki: I see.
Ryogo: Hey, Satoumura… I’ve been meaning to tell you something.
Saki: Huh? Where’d that come from?
Ryogo: It’s been on my mind for a while, actually. I’ve just been holding back until now.
Saki: Y-you don’t say…? (No way, he can’t mean… Then again, that kiss was pretty intense… Can’t say I blame him, but I’d better set him straight.)
Ryogo: I… can’t go through with the plan.
Saki: WHAT?! But we already-
Ryogo: I mean, we went through with the marriage. But there’s no reason we have to go through with the dating charade at school.
Saki: Why not?
Ryogo: I’m sure both of our families will understand if we explain that we can’t show any public connection. It would be bad for you, right?
Saki: I don’t really care about that though.
Ryogo: But it would just be a lot of extra work for you, wouldn’t it?
Saki: . . .
Ryogo: Besides, there’s already someone else I like.
Saki: Huh? There is?
Ryogo: Well… sort of. I haven’t seen her in years. She was forced to move away.
Saki: It shouldn’t be a problem then!
Ryogo: It shouldn’t, but it is. I’ve got my cousin in the states to look for her though. Until I get some closure, let’s just hold off on this.
Saki: . . . Fine.
Saki: Yeah. I mean, it’s just going to be until you hear back, right? I don’t think it’ll be that long. But I don’t often make concessions for anybody.
Saki: It’s not like I wanted the plan to go that fast anyway. So what if it gets pushed back a week or two?
* * *
Ryogo: So… There’s only one bed…
Saki: Yeah, I noticed. Nothing else here that we could use as a bed, either. But I suppose-
Ryogo clutched his chest and struggled to breathe.
Ryogo: Damn… They did it… they…
Saki: Oh my god! You don’t mean…
At this point I should explain. Saki is a brilliant girl primarily because of a single special skill: she can process hundreds of possibilities in her mind and calculate their likeliness, all in a second.
Saki: It’s some kind of mob hit, isn’t it? Since you’re the next in line to succeed… Nngh! Ahh… Damn… They got me too! You bastard, this is… all your fault…
Of course, there is some margin of error. It sounds really impressive, but most of the time it just boils down to an overactive imagination.
Like you’re one to talk.
What’s that supposed to mean?
How many times have you restrained yourself from inserting ninjas into the story?
About 347 in the last five minutes. Why?
Just checking. Continue.
Ryogo: No… It’s not lethal… But it’s a drug…
Saki: W-what kind of drug?
Ryogo: It’s one that… reduces… sexual inhibition…
Saki: A DATE RAPE DRUG?! So you ARE involved in…
Ryogo: No! It was supposed to be a medicine! That’s what I was told, anyway. I never used it, but… Ugh… I did help make it. It’s a two-stage drug… The first stage drug is odorless and tasteless, and it has no immediate effect. It was probably sprinkled on our food. Ungh… Th-the second stage drug is an incense that activates the first stage drug.
Saki: An incense? But I don’t see any… Ah! Th-the vents! We have to cover the vents!
Ryogo: It’s no use. Once the reaction starts, there’s no stopping it. The drug has to burn itself out naturally.
Saki: How long does it take?
Ryogo: Four hours.
Saki: Uwaa… I have to feel like this… for four hours?!
Saki was dizzy from the drug. She focused all of her power on restraining herself. It wasn’t easy. She crawled into a corner and tightly held her legs close to her, her face buried into her knees, and trying her best to fall asleep. Her entire body was fired up though; she was never so awake in her entire life.
Saki: (My body… I can’t take it anymore… I can’t… I… Maybe a cold shower would help? There’s no lock on the door though… What if he…? No, I’ll pass out or die if I stay tense like this. I’ll have to trust him.)
Saki crawled toward the restroom and closed the door behind her without alerting Ryogo. Ryogo had chosen to bury himself under heavy blankets in an attempt to speed up the process and sweat out some of the drug.
Ryogo: Hahh… Damn… I think I made it worse…
Actually, Ryogo was right. By trying to sweat it out, the duration of the effect would decrease, but it also increased the effectiveness of the drug. In addition, he was even more lightheaded than Saki. He too rushed to the restroom.
Ryogo: Nngh… (Thought I was gonna throw up… Damn, this sucks… What’s that noise? Is that the shower? Maybe some cold water would help… Water… M-Mizuno?)
The sound of water stopped and Saki stepped out of the shower, completely naked, to a delirious Ryogo.
Saki: W-what the?!
Ryogo lost all restraint. He was a slave to his phantom idol.
Saki: L-let go! You idiot, you’re not… Ahh…
He normally wouldn’t ever act this way, but the effect of the drug coupled with his weakened spirit and his coping mechanism, resulting in this. Saki reached for her cell phone and dialed for help. Out of habit, she dialed her home phone number instead and soon realized that she didn’t actually know the cell number for anyone who might be of immediate use to her. She lost her grip on her phone and let it go, now focusing on the boy in front of her. She was too weak to resist both physically and mentally. All she could do was let out weak cries of protest while he ran his fingers and lips along her exposed curves of flesh. Even in this state of mind, Ryogo treated her body with reverence, lightly caressing her skin as if it were made of fine silk. It was with great care that he revealed to the idol before him a monument in her honor. As much as he revered her, he would not be turned away; for as long as it takes, he would let his love be known. The teary maiden could no longer speak in protest. She summoned all her emotion up to her mouth and it just sat there just beyond her trembling chin. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe. She wanted to say something, but her throat closed up. Perhaps she was afraid of what would be said. She gave one final glance before turning her face away and shutting her eyes. There were no thoughts running through her mind but an intense denial. Denial. Denial. Denial. Rejection. Rejection. Finally, the last wall of resistance gave way. She spoke.
“Ha. ya. ku.”
Defeat. Rejection of reality.
. . .
Hey, you’re quiet.
This is… pretty intense… I don’t know if I can go on…
Hey, you wanted to hear the story, didn’t you?
I guess I did, but I had no idea it would be like this… I mean… Do you even get what you’re saying?
What’s there not to get? Ha ha, you’re such a kid, aren’t you?
I-it’s only to be expected… Just skip the details please!
Ooooh… I get it. Reverse psychology. So you really do wanna hear all about it you per-
AAAAAAAAH, NO I DON’T NO I DON’T NO I DOOOOOOOOOON’T!!!!!!
O-okay, just chill! *ahem* Ryogo and Saki woke up silently. They didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the morning and went their own ways back to their homes. They seemed to have an unspoken understanding that when they meet next it should be business as usual.
Saki didn’t speak a word on the ride home. She walked straight to her room. On her way there she passed by the answering machine and noticed it was lit. She made sure no one was around and played back the messages. What she heard was her own voice crying out. Suddenly, she was fully aware of exactly what happened last night. She heard the sound of something being worn away and ultimately shattered. She heard her own cries transforming into moans of pleasure. And at the end of it she heard a single name that wasn’t hers.
The machine was flung across the hall and into her bedroom door. The plastic casing of the machine was cracked open, and a mini-cassette dropped out. Saki stared down at the wreck she caused. For the first time since that day, her mind was in motion. One final plot. She bent over and took the cassette, stashing it into her purse. She now had the key she needed to regain control of her life and of Misaki Ryogo.