In hindsight your mother was really the last person you should have gone to for advice on how to deal with the tension between yourself and Tokiko. Normally you would have seen something like this coming but you'd been so caught up in trying to figure out what the hell to do that you hadn't realized what your mother was up to until after she had shoved and then barricaded you within the bathroom.
Along with a naked Tokiko.
Your partner had been bathing when your mother decided to enact a plan seemingly stolen from a cheesy romance manga. Actually, didn't such events in manga usually end with the girl beating several shades of hell out of the guy? Not for the first time you were forced to re-evaluate your mother's tenuous grip on sanity given she may have done this with the intent that Tokiko would physically abuse you as a response to your presence.
Tokiko, for her part, had shrieked in a way not dissimilar to the first time you had met her before ducking down under the water in the bath until only her head was visible above it. Your eyes had lingered for only a few moments before the situation had registered in your mind, then you had simply swung away to look at the nearest wall.
“Sorry,” you mumbled as Tokiko fell silent, “mom's being crazy again.” You hear splashing behind you as Tokiko shifts in the bath, probably wishing she could just vanish or something... that or she was lining up to take a swing at you. Before your visit to Aya's you were sure it would have been the former but ever since then your partner had seemed more hostile towards you for reasons you simply didn't understand. Now you considered her taking a swing at you an actual possibility rather than an impossible event. You took a deep breath as you heard the unmistakable sound of someone getting out of a bath. Mental images came unbidden into your mind of Aya in a memory of when you and she had made love in the shower, you remembered the sight of water running along the curve of her hips, across the swell of her breast and down-
You choked that thought down. That hadn't been real, just a false memory from Aya's dreamworld. But... but now the thought was in your head you couldn't help but think of such things only now the subject wasn't the Aya of your dreams but the very real girl behind you. Most of the details were made up, an imagination based on those few times you had seen her in more shapely clothing. The sound helped, so did the smell of the room - both served to make the image in your head all the more real-seeming.
It was kind of odd how you were so easily thinking of Tokiko, your partner, wet and naked. Before you didn't really think of her body but rather the way she blushed when complimented, the way her hair smelled faintly of mint, the way her hands felt so soft and warm in your own... But now all you could seem to do was wonder about how her body looked, how it would feel in your hands, how it would feel under your own body... You wondered what sort of sound she would make when you entered her, a cute squeak? A throaty groan? The Aya of your memories had done both, would Tokiko do so too - or would she make her own unique noise? How would she look? How would she feel?
You groaned and leaned forward, you head smacking painfully against the wall. It hurt but it also cut through the perverse direction your thoughts had gone in.
“Shiori.” Your head snapped up as Tokiko quietly voiced your name. From the sound of it she was just behind you and given that the dripping of water had all but ceased you guessed she had retrieved a towel from the cupboard in here.
“Tokiko?” You respond, trying to keep your tone from belaying the thoughts in your head.
There was an almost oppressive silence for several long, long moments - broken only by the sound of Tokiko moving about as she struggled with what she was about to ask.
“Shiori.... am I... am I pretty?”
You blinked. That wasn't the kind of question you were expecting at all, rather you had anticipated something along the lines of 'how did you get in' - at least that you could blame on your mother and her disturbingly prodigious lock-picking skills. Before you could comment, however, Tokiko spoke up again.
“I... I know i'm not like Aya...” she murmured, “I'm not tall like she is... a-and I know i'm not as... as developed as she is...” She faltered, but managed to continue before you could reply. “A-and i'm not as fast or as strong or as good at flying as she is... and... and I don't...”
You stood and turned in one fluid motion, reaching out to grab Tokiko by the shoulders as you did so. Thankfully your partner had indeed found a towel to wrap around herself so that she was reasonably - if somewhat scantily - covered. “You don't... what?” you ask, trying to look into her eyes even as she tries to avoid looking into yours.
“I... I don't...” She shakes in your hands. “I don't mind if you make her your girlfriend instead of me!” she yells at last, causing you to rock back in surprise at her outburst.
* * * * * * * *
“You have not the resolve to win. A third time you have proven this.”
The girl grimaced at her opponent's statement, much like the ones he'd made the first two times she had been in this position - on the floor with a mouth filled with dirt, dust and the taste of defeat.
“Ararara~ Youmu~ I really thought you did better this time!”
Having her mistress say such a thing just made the loss feel so much worse. It was obvious to anyone with eyeballs that her mistresses partner had won without even the need to put forth any real effort!
Just like he had done the first two times she had challenged him.
“Yes lady Yuyuko,” she muttered in between attempts to wipe the taste of dirt off her tongue with one sleeve. “If you say so.” Picking herself up into a seiza-style position she turned and all but groveled to the elderly-seeming man who had defeated her. “Thank you for your mercy.” she intoned, terribly aware that the only reason she wasn't in two - or more - pieces was because he had held back with his final strikes. A good amount of nearby woodland hadn't been so lucky - a neat trick given the man had done this entirely with a plain walking cane rather than an actual blade.
She sighed as the two, Yuyuko and her partner, turned to walk away.
The man paused.
“One month.” he stated loudly enough for her to hear. “I grow tired of watching you fail to learn the lesson I had hoped to teach you, in one month shall we duel again - and it will be our final duel. No further mercy will be given.” Yuyuko tittered lightly at the threat her partner made and it was all Youmu could do to keep her head down and graciously accept the man's offer.
She kept her head down until the sound of both ghost and human had faded from earshot, only then did she rise and recover the weapon she had wielded against her opponent. She also went to locate her own partner, whom she had instructed to wait some distance away so as not to interfere in her duel. She had met the young man, only a touch older than she was, while observing an open event kendo tournament which had been held as part of some kind of local school festival. He was nice, if a little too far on the gentle side to be an effective combatant, and he had happily become her partner.
She found him a reasonable distance away performing various drills with his kendo practice weapon. Without a word she strode up and joined him in the repeating motions.
“You lost again?” he asked, and she nodded once in response. “Are you...” he paused, then forged ahead in his words, “are you sure this is the right way to go about it?”
“What other way is there?” She replied. “I cannot dishonor my mistress, not can I dishonor my training.” The white-haired girl frowned for a moment. “If I cannot overcome a single human with all my training and skill, then how can I possibly overcome those that are not human?”
“Aren't you human too, miss Youmu?” the boy asked, stopping his routine for the moment.
“That does not matter.” The girl replied. “All that matters if that Lady Yuyuko has ordered me to defeat her partner if I wish to defeat her.”
The boy frowned, “Maybe...” he hazarded, “no, you know best I guess - it's your fight.”
* * * * * * * *
Leaving the bathroom was somewhat more difficult than one may normally expect, what with the fact that your mother had all but barricaded the door shut with a pile of chairs. A good kick or two had moved the door enough to squeeze out and into the hallway where you took a moment to pray thanks to whoever was responsible for your sister taking Flandre to the park earlier as she still - thank god - wasn't back yet. Tokiko, and yourself really, was too fragile at the moment to deal with your sister taking photographs for blackmail purposes against you both.
You half led, half pulled your partner to your room - kicking open the door with one foot and then slamming it shut in a similar manner when you were both inside.
Then your turned on Tokiko and....
And... maybe you should have thought this through a bit more. Words seemed to fail as you struggled to find something to say to Tokiko's earlier bombshell of a line. Eventually you could only find one word - “Why?”
“Because you were happy with her.” Your partner murmurs, her face red with a mix of anger - at herself, at you and at Aya - and embarrassment over making such a scene about it.
“I...” Words fails you once again. “You... How do you...?”
“K-Koishi showed me... when she took me out of my li- my dream.”
* * * * * * * *
The attic was cold, dusty and in places a little damp. Thankfully there had been enough crap stored up here for her and Risa to make the place relatively livable. A couple of wooden pallets filched from where a store had thrown them out had been dragged up here in the dead of night to create a makeshift floor over the beams and loose insulation that covered the attic space. That had been something of a challenge since none of the pallets were able to go in through the house itself - in the end she and Risa had, with only a little care, ripped a hole in the roof insulation and tilework to make a sort of skylight door Mystia could use. It was hardly a great work of construction - little more than a hole with a covering, but it was reasonably waterproof and more importantly was all but invisible when someone looked at the roof from outside at ground level. It was also over all the crap they had moved out of the way to make Mystia's little living space - so it wasn't like anything important would get wet if it did leak.
Besides, they'd put up a small tent atop the pallet floor for Mystia to sleep in. A few old blankets and a mass of old clothes - shirts mainly, Mystia had thrown out anything which was uncomfortable - swiped from donations to a thrift store had made a nest that was almost better than the one she had left in Gensokyo.
Early on Mystia had questioned why she needed to live up here... but the first time Risa had clambered up through the attic hatch while sporting matching black eyes... Mystia had seen the reasons behind the arrangement immediately. Since then she had stolen a first aid kit from Risa's school and stashed it up here for use whenever her partner's parents got... annoyed.
Risa had abusive parents. Or possibly they were just mean drunks - Mystia wasn't sure as she had trouble recalling a time when the two hadn't been drunk. Risa was convinced, with good reason, that if her parents found out that she was giving Mystia a place to stay... they would not be happy. Hence the secret exit built while they were too drunk to notice, hence the reason that Sunny was the most valuable addition to Mystia's hideaway since it had begun.
Okay, so convincing the fairy not to prank the people in the house had been difficult - but not impossible as neither Mystia nor Risa cared much if Sunny pranked anyone else in the neighborhood. As it turned out the fairy was pretty content to snooze away most of the time in a corner of Mystia's nest that she had claimed as her own, only emerging now and then to cause havoc on the neighbors or to follow Risa to school while invisible. A bit of testing had revealed that Sunny could naturally turn things invisible as long as they stayed close - almost right on top of her in fact - and didn't move about too quickly. Thanks to this Mystia suspected that everyone had some limited use of their ability without the need for a book-holder... she herself could dim the light with her voice if she tried, but anything more and Risa would have to cast a spell. Koishi, she knew, slipped into the subconscious to hide - she'd admitted that much when Shiori and Tokiko had introduced the girl to herself and Risa.
Given all this... It seemed strange that Tokiko couldn't do anything. The more Mystia thought about this the more puzzled she got - she'd known Tokiko for a long while, almost since the girl had first become a youkai, but now she thought about it she couldn't remember a single time in which Tokiko had shown any kind of ability off. Wriggle had her insect control, Cirno her ice and Rumia her darkness, Tokiko seemingly had... nothing. Then again it wasn't like she'd seen Daiyousei do anything much either - maybe the two of them just had abilities which weren't very flashy? The shopkeeper's power was pretty dull, wasn't it?
Mystia winced at the sound of raised voices from below.
Maybe Tokiko's power was one that could turn people kind? Something like that, right now, Mystia would have given anything to have - even if it wasn't a very impressive-looking power.
* * * * * * * *
“Tell me,” you begin saying to Tokiko, before pausing to lick your lips - which seem terribly dry for some reason. “Tell me about your dream.”
And so she did.
She told you of dates she had with the you in her dream.
She spoke of the marriage, of the ceremony, of the dress she wore and the robes you had worn. She mumbled though a brief description of the wedding night, of the time the two of you had spent together afterwards.
Her words from then on came thick and fast and it seemed as if each new thing she revealed was another knife aimed at your heartstrings. You, with Aya, had really just repeated the same few days over and over... Tokiko had seemingly lived an entire life in her dream, a life with husband - you - with children, with friends and family and about all that was missing was the pet dog and house with a white picket fence.
She told you of her pregnancy, of the first time she held her children, of their first words and first steps... It hurt, seeing the look on your partner's face when she explained how Koishi had shown up and told her the truth - that her happy family life had been just one big lie. The reason she had required help to escape, had not even thought to question the validity of the illusion on her own... was because she was living what she considered her ideal life and apparently that ideal life included you.
“I'm sorry.” You say at last, a little while after Tokiko had finished the story of her fake life.”I didn't know... I mean... “ you trail off, not really knowing what to say to your partner. “I do like you,” you say at last, “a lot. It's just that... well, Aya...” You sighed, “I don't know how I feel about her. She had me repeating the same couple of days over and over until I was head over heels for her - but.... but I don't know how much of that is real.” You shift uncomfortably as Tokiko looks up at you. “I mean, yeah, I do like Aya - I don't think i'm going to be able to just stop liking her, but I don't think I'll ever be able to trust her enough to be able to love her.”
“What about me?” your partner asks, her voice small, “Could you love me?”
“I could.” Your response was almost instant - which surprised you a little given how messed up you knew your feelings were at the moment. “I did, it's just that now everything is all confused. Every time I look at you I...” you trail off and flush red as your mind immediately flashes to a mental image of Tokiko naked and in your bed. “...I think things I shouldn't - and I don't know how much of that is because I want to and how much is because of what Aya was doing to me in my dream.”
“You mean sex.” You wince and nod at Tokiko's accusation. “Was it good?” You feel your jaw drop slightly at Tokiko's second question - a terribly bold one to be coming from your partner like that.
“It was...” You struggle for a moment. If you were truthful then sex with Aya had been the most mind-blowingly amazing thing you'd ever done. On the other hand it was the only sex you'd ever had and you were fairly sure that Aya had probably improved on the reality of the act quite significantly . “It was... everything I dreamed it would be.” you say at last, “And I don't think that's a good thing.”
Tokiko nodded slightly. “It was too good.” She admitted after a few moments of full-on blushing. “Everything was too perfect.”
“I suppose that's why it was a dream.” you state, a tiny smirk tugging at your mouth. Opposite you Tokiko blinked, then giggled lightly. “Look,” you say once you both had calmed down again, “I... I don't want...” You frown and pause, trying to think of how to say what you want to get across. “I do like you, I would say that I love you but I don't think I know what love is anymore and I don't want to make things worse between us just because i'm all messed up in the heart right now. So...” You bite your lip, then continue. “So... can we try again?” you ask, “Being friends I mean, friends and partners and maybe...”
“Maybe more in the future?”
You nod. “I'd like that.”
* * * * * * * *
“Red Oni!” the brown-haired girl screamed as she watched the great bulk of her minion bounce along the ground having been blasted away by her opponent's almost ungodly strength. Fortunately Red Oni was built pretty sturdily and was soon back on it's feet albeit somewhat unsteadily. Chewing on her lip the girl considered the strength of her enemy and the strength of her minion... and decided that the latter did not match the former. Reinforcements were needed - and for that her partner was required.
Unfortunately... he had been involved in something of an unfortunate accident earlier. Actually 'accident' was something of an understatement as she could quite honestly see no possible way for the string of events leading up to it to have happened at all. Yet somehow they had and so her partner was currently mostly naked and stuck in a tree nearby. It was his yells for help which had attracted their current opponent as she had originally come to provide assistance... up until she realized that she was about to aid a grimoire-holder and partner. And so, after a quick assurance that whoever won would get the poor young man out of the tree, both sides had begun to fight.
Ordering her Red Oni to distract her opponent, the girl backed away and then ran towards where her partner was stuck. “Mister Ryotaro!” she called once she was near enough to be heard over the sound of her minion once more tasting dirt, “The fourth spell!”
Her partner, a scrawny young man with messy black hair, nodded frantically and started fumbling through the dark pink grimoire he held. Soon he was yelling out the spell and she turned and threw her hands out at a spot just off to the left of her opponent. “Blue Oni!” she yelled, “Get out here!”
At the spot she aimed her second minion, Blue Oni, simply popped into being with a small burst of blue smoke. Like Red Oni it was a squat shaped figure a good seven feet tall, it possessed two stumpy arms and two stumpier legs which all hooked onto a bulbous body which seemed to double as a head if the great mask and face it wore was any indication. Unlike Red Oni, however, Blue Oni was smooth and both it's body and mask covered in hexagonal panels which gave it a turtle-shell look instead of Red Oni's more fearsome traditional-style snarling oni mask and leathery body. Another difference was that Red Oni carried a great broadsword which it swung with wild abandon while Blue Oni was armed with a long staff which it used to thrust at it's opponent instead... not that it did much good as their combined opponent was capable of dodging some blows and simply batting aside others.
The girl gnawed at one nail as she watched her minions slowly start to be driven back. Evidently all the rumors about the strength of the sealed magician Byakuren had been rather accurate as she was easily keeping up with her two opponents.
“The cat that runs away,” the girl murmured to herself, “gets to play another day.” nodding she decided on her course of action and ran for the tree her partner was stuck in. With a bit of luck she'd be able to get him out and find wherever his bicycle had ended up - with two wheels under them and two Oni keeping Byakuren busy there should be no trouble with their escape... provided Ryotaro's bad luck would hold off for a while.
Approaching the tree at speed the girl leapt, her fingers and toes tensing in mid air so that the claws they hid would pop out and be ready to dig into the bark. Climbing came second nature to her, a perk of being a cat, and it took moments to scramble up to where Ryotaro was wedged between two branches and clad only in a pair of star-covered boxer shorts. After considering the problem for a moment the girl climbed up above her partner and positioned herself so that she could brace one foot against the trunk and the other against the thick branch that held Ryotaro in place.
Then she pushed, yowled in surprise as the branch somehow snapped, and finally screamed as both she and her partner fell a good number of feet to the ground. Looking up she hissed at the sight of partially rotten wood where the branch had been - strong enough to trap her partner but not strong enough to resist being bent out of the way without snapping. Her partner groaned, injured but alive, and she immediately thanked whatever deities seemed intent on keeping him alive despite his terrible luck. Dragging him to his feet she glanced over at the fight and winced slightly at the sight of Red Oni flat on it's back while Blue Oni was being slapped around with impunity by Byakuren.
Praying that Blue Oni would hold Byakuren's attention for somewhat longer, she slung the arm of her partner over her shoulders and started dragging the boy away as fast as she could. Slowly, after what seemed like an eternity to her, the sounds of fighting faded away and the noise of city life drew closer. Byakuren wouldn't try anything in a crowded street, and Ryotaro was growing more conscious as they moved - it was a pity about his bike, but she was too short to ride it and he not exactly in any condition to hang on even if she could.
Even though they had run she was congratulating herself a little on the inside - her two oni summoning spells had held Byakuren back after all, and the magician was easily in the upper tier of physical fighters. Maybe if she could get herself a new spell then she'd have a shot at taking the woman down on her own!
Wouldn't that make miss Ran so proud of her?
* * * * * * * *
Being 'just friends' again with Tokiko was, in some ways, really painful. You wanted to grab her and hug her and kiss her and... in many ways the decision was the best one you'd made as you knew that a good number of those desires were not necessarily your own. Over the past few days since your mother's utterly stupid 'trap you both in the bathroom' plan - something which you had berated her for quite thoroughly - you had been able to get your mind and feelings to a point where you could tell which were or were not your own.
The fact that they were all technically yours had made that tricky, but at least now you knew which ones were a result of Aya's intervention. Speaking of the raven-haired girl, your feelings about her were still messed up and you suspected they always would be as part of you wanted to hate her for what she had done and part of you just couldn't hate her as it remembered her as the love of your life.
Well, whatever. At least you were getting a handle on the whole thing rather than remaining the mess you had been earlier. Tokiko too was doing better if her warming up to you again was any indication. School had been... iffy... more than a few had picked up on the tensions between you and Tokiko even if they didn't understand them - there had been a number of behind-the-back comments from other students but as yet no-one had actually come right out and said anything to your face. Fortunate for them really as you were more than prepared to attack anyone who dared to say to your face even a fraction of what you had heard behind your back. Risa, her dislike of you no doubt a factor, had delighted in informing you of some of the more disparaging rumors.
Before long the next weekend, and it's time away from the requirements of school, was almost upon you.
This would have been a good thing were it not for the posters.
The posters had arrived midweek and promised the amazing, unbelievable, unmissable spectacle of a live action show that was really little more than a thinly veiled advertisement for some future costumed hero show.
Needless to say your sister had declared that she couldn't possibly miss it. Unfortunately for you Flandre had agreed and you could tell that while not as corrupted as Flandre was by your sister, Tokiko also had some interest in going. The final nail in this coffin of inevitable embarrassment was when your mother admitted that since it was taking place at a shopping center she could happily drop everyone off to watch while she went shopping herself.
And that, in the end, explained why you had ended up the de facto chaperone for three girls - of which only one you considered mature enough to leave alone amongst a crowd of children, nerds and a number of long-suffering parents who were doing their own escort work. True to her word your mother had left you, your sister, Flandre and Tokiko to watch the show while she went to examine the stores on her own. She had also swore to crucify you above the roof of the house should anything happen to Flandre while under your care - so you were currently holding one of the short girl's hands in what was only slightly less than a death grip so she wouldn't wander off.
Looking over the gathered crowd you sighed.
CROWDS. CROWDS OF SQUEALING MEWLING WHINING NERDS AND CHILDEN TOO.
[ ] Stand near the front for the best view of the stage area.
[ ] Stand off to one side so as not to be surrounded by fans.
[ ] Stand near the back, bad view but at least the kids are further away.