The declaration was issued swiftly, firmly, from a mouth gluey with dango.
Seiran sighed. And in her heart of hearts she thought: Of course. Of course the radio jockey had it all dialled in. The unpretty sentiment it was, it kinked her lips quite likewise; an end Seiran schooled just as soon, not to too much notice. Scowling at Ringo was akin to mind-scrambling a fairy. It seldom registered.
Around them, the Hakurei festival, the dozenth only this Spring, did as these did, with all the hubbub, susurrus and hurly-burly endemic. The dusking hour hadn’t dissuaded the humans of their unimaginatively-named town from milling around the stalls lining the shrine’s flagstone approach nor lugging behind them their spouses, children, elders or, in cases, all at once with a sprinkling of festive purchases. Somewhere toward the Toori, somebody was engaging in a hopeful impression of musical talent. Occasionally, the shrine’s proprietress could be seen or, anyway, heard jingling about, peddling prayer slips to whoever listened and especially those who didn’t. There were, after all, youkai about; yes, youkai, but no, never mind those manning the stalls. Those had paid the fee, hunky-dory.
Seiran turned the dango atop her charcoal box, adding a series of sizzles to the carnival potpourri of noise. They were glazing nicely, courtesy of love, practice and the vacuum-tube timer secreted under the counter. Her stall and Ringo’s, side by side for the first time in months, roughly since they could last afford the Hakurei’s stratospheric rent, had seen prime business tonight. Seiran could barely keep her dango coming up; Ringo could barely scarf down those of hers which hadn’t vanished while still warm. They’d made good of their ageing supplies, a lot of mouths happy and, last yet not least, good enough proceeds to do it all over again.
Seiran was ill at ease.
There was no particular why to it. There wasn’t. She just was, there’d been a lull, and it had caused her to speak.
Something Ringo was unlike to let go. Her snoopy sister-in-arms fanned herself with her beret, rabbit ears half-agog on her honey-blond head.
“Well, that’s ol’ me. You know ol’ me,” Ringo assured. “And what about you? Anything you want out of life? Not to wax philosophical about it, I never figured. That’s more… well, no one’s speed now. Seiran?”
Seiran peeked speculatively at who, not too long ago, had been her in-chief by proxy. A second and third thoughts hitched on the tail of the first. Not anymore. Never again.
She ignored the minute drying in her mouth.
“… I,” Seiran confessed with a hem, “I believe… I assume I’m being courted.”
And peek. But the news which should have cracked the Earth beneath their tired feet had left Ringo’s face without a scathe. A small, teeth-backed grin was everything which’d opened between her cheeks.
“Wowie,” said the whilom lifeline of the stranded Moon elite. She replaced her beret and leaned Seiran-wise by the counter of her stall. “I’ll be. Human, I take it? That’s nice, isn’t it? Who is he? Ah. Yes, yes, they’re real, and if you pull them, I’ll squeal.”
That ultimate remark had been aimed sidelong at a pair of human striplings standing and gawping in front of the stall or, more accurately, at their accompanying elder brother, who blushed and hurried the group along. Seiran grimaced. The Eagle Ravi, being the pick of the litter or certainly the push and shove of it, were supposed by standard to hold themselves above the mental gutter. On the flip side, it was perhaps Ringo’s indiscrimination which’d plunked her in the backseat of every operation where she could sieve out all the information too offensive for other rabbits’ ears. It’d made her invaluable, if difficult to talk to in uncontrolled conditions.
And, loathe it though Seiran might, the best source of counsel often available. Now more than ever.
She sucked in what was identifiably air, but felt a lungful of water.
“It’s… a customer,” she croaked, fiddling with a hand of messy skewers. “He comes by, well, every day, seems like. Sometimes, we chat a bit about nothing. Been – a while. Though, he does check that he doesn’t encroach on my time. And then, one day, he told me he’d really – really – enjoy going on a date with me. Just told. Nothing pushy. Mentioned it on and off since, but it’s just… that.”
“And you haven’t gone?” Ringo wanted to know.
Seiran bristled. “No!”
The erstwhile Eagle Ravi intelligence officer switched the rabbit-ear-themed skewer she’d absently stuck in her unfiltered mouth from corner to corner. Then, breaking no stride, she plucked a maturing dango from Seiran’s charcoal box and spiked it on the end. A broker’s fee – she might’ve said, had she not been occupied flicking her near-burnt fingers.
“He at least a looker?” she asked by way of distraction.
Seiran ground out a sigh. “How would I know if he was?”
Ringo quit flapping her hand. Ringo resumed flapping her hand.
“Girl, let’s not, ow, pound around the mochi bowl,” she said with every signage of someone who didn’t pick up piping-hot dango with their naked fingers. “The ear situation’s a Lu— a female dog to get used to, I’ll warrant, boy I will, but that aside what do you reckon’s so different between these—” she waved the frantic hand over the counter at a momentarily confused passer-by, “—and the bucks back on the home-world? Got all the same bits otherwise… I’ll warrant.”
Sensing Seiran’s welding torch of a glare, she forwent an explication.
“… I’m saying,” explained Ringo, “none’re liable to swoop on down else than to put you in ropes. So can those scruples. Traitors make do. As we have. Haven’t we?”
“That’s your advice?”
“It’s my conclusion.”
Seiran watched she whom, even now, years in, she was hesitant to call her friend out loud, plop the barely cooled dango in her mouth as though it was done deal. It wasn’t, maintained Seiran’s mother wit. But if Ringo of everyone had nothing to add, perhaps the problem was beyond them all. And all Seiran’s.
The ultrasonic chime of the timer twitched her ears. Seiran stuck the steaming dango and exhibited them in a stand on the counter. She’d gone up half the night whittling little wood-pieces into eye-grabbing shapes for herself and her – well, she was, wasn’t she? – business rival as a tiny nicety for their first common venture in seeming forever but, save a guarded few, these had run out before long. And Seiran – the Seiran who would’ve considered her off-time as belonging to her squad mates – was briefly grateful for the psy-damping clip on her ear when Ringo wiped a remaining one on her shorts ahead handing it to a luridly delighted, human child.
Good job she did have a hidden couple.
“So-o,” Ringo cooed as Seiran extracted some select, raw dango to put on the burner box next. “He been by tonight?”
“No,” admitted Seiran. “Not yet.”
“That sounds fairly confident.”
“Comes to each and every Hakurei fair, to hear him tell,” she clarified, shaking her mental tail at that slip. “The food’s apparently a big draw, what with the youkai and their inventiveness with ingredients.”
“A gourmet, have we?”
“Something like that. Look, I’ll pulse you if and when he does, fine? Then you can tell me if he’s a looker, since plainly I can’t.”
Ringo’s expression went odd for a moment. After which it evanesced straight back into Ringo-ness.
“Roger that,” she agreed. “But one thing. Keep out of the aether. I’ll guess.”
“You probably—” Seiran began.
“Won’t have to,” finished Ringo.
Seiran poked the dango on the box.
Somehow, somewise, she didn’t hate herself for having selected them very meticulously. Ringo’s knowing smile be Earthed.
Rather not a lot of guessing would be needed, Seiran had to concede, because no sooner the dango had been about done than a familiar silhouette swam out of the faceless tides and caused her shoulders to draw. Even then he perused the intervening stalls with leisure bordering on the deliberate, birthing in Seiran’s head an insidious hope that he would eat his heart out to satisfaction before reaching hers, get a bellyache, or – and here the hope lay thick as Moondust – simply fail to scent the joint Seiran/Ringo operation not a toothpick’s toss away.
The hope was dashed against the human’s face turning from an idle examination of an ice-shaving contraption to the place whence his almost-everyday snack beckoned the unerring nose. Seiran pretended she hadn’t been staring – then didn’t. Instead, she stared in earnest.
The man, ambling over, appeared as though he’d tried, like any self-respecting fair-goer, to dress up, but owing to some basic deficiency in the male brain it’d turned out scantly distinct from his casual wear. A thin laugh-line came down from the inner corner of either eye to make a detour around his cheekbones, giving off, what could on one of the perfectly-sculpted Lunar Lords have been meant as, an intimation of the wisdom of years. A patch of light scrub, trimmed out of a sense of duty over any real need, resided on his chin. Above it, a faint, unaffected smile of some constant, personal bemusement, as always – and Seiran slapped this “always” with an imaginary palm – played around his lips. The worst playground for her imagination – never mind the nerves.
The man sailed on past Ringo’s stall to come to port in front of Seiran’s without a second glance. Which was to say, he hadn’t graced either of the Eagle-Ravi-turned-peddlers with a first one ahead getting an eyeful of the goods atop Seiran’s charcoal box. Then and only then, with a righting of the back, the man met Seiran’s petulant scrutiny.
And coolly spoke around it.
“Good day, Miss Seiran,” he said mellowly, as though she were but a fellow human in the street and not… what she was. “It does find you good, doesn’t it? The business, if I hear, is decent all around this evening. The shrine maiden’s over the Moon.”
Seiran breathed. Which was a welcome change, even if she could now sense all of Ringo craning as one, big neck off to the side. A fat, purple dango popped, with a keen sense of the dramatic, over the embers.
The man waited her response, unconcerned of attitude, a figure of such infinite tolerance for anything and everything the day had and had yet to offer the Hakurei would’ve given up in seconds. Seiran’s ear tingled, even under the damper-clip, from the concerted pulses. Or perhaps her own heartbeat.
Staying noncommittally silent might’ve done if she’d been alone with the man, but Ringo would have her for stew now the proverbial human was out of the bag.
The madlad has gone and done it. I've been waiting for another one of these since the end of KuroYammy's Black Satin Jammies.
I'm already liking the subtle little bits of info dropped here and there. What I'm getting is that the two buns consider themselves basically exiles and are making the best of things on Earth — though Seiran might be a little more troubled about it than her former commanding officer. Ringo seems to have been taking advantage of this situation in more ways than one; I wonder if she's already made acquaintances with that young man she was teasing. The blue bun is less apt to take such a casual line towards things, but maybe the cracks are starting to show.
And, though it took me a minute, I saw what the writer did in his selection of Seiran's new beau. I actually had myself a little chuckle in spite of myself when I realised. All of the small bits of chatter finally came true, I suppose. Splendid, really.
Well, let's examine the vote, shall we? (You with your parentheses, always.)
>[ ] She handled him affably.
With everything displayed by Seiran leading up to the choice, I imagine this one involving her attempting to keep a degree of composure but slipping up and letting her true blue show. Ringo will, of course, undoubtedly tease her later. Seiran will at least face this indignity as an honest woman.
>[ ] No. Professionally!
More in character with how she deals with her former commanding officer. Certainly, there is a dutifulness — if not a servility — to Seiran's personality that makes this option feasible and tempting... but it does ring just a little bit 'typical' to my sensibilities.
This story has me listening to Seiran's theme on loop again. I literally haven't done that since 2015, shortly after the LoLK demo came out; I used to listen to it for literally hours at work. I didn't even think that much of Seiran at the time.
But, honestly, Seiran is cute. Thanks for waking me up to that, I guess.
>“He at least a looker?” she asked by way of distraction.
>Seiran ground out a sigh. “How would I know if he was?”
>Ringo quit flapping her hand. Ringo resumed flapping her hand.
>“Girl, let’s not, ow, pound around the mochi bowl,” she said with every signage of someone who didn’t pick up piping-hot dango with their naked fingers. “The ear situation’s a Lu— a female dog to get used to, I’ll warrant, boy I will, but that aside what do you reckon’s so different between these—” she waved the frantic hand over the counter at a momentarily confused passer-by, “—and the bucks back on the home-world? Got all the same bits otherwise… I’ll warrant.”
>Sensing Seiran’s welding torch of a glare, she forwent an explication.
>“… I’m saying,” explained Ringo, “none’re liable to swoop on down else than to put you in ropes. So can those scruples. Traitors make do. As we have. Haven’t we?”
>“That’s your advice?”
>“It’s my conclusion.”
It took me like 10 minutes of puzzling it out and multiple rereadings to understand what they were even talking about in this bit, and I still don't get all of it. "So can these scruples"? So can they what? swoop down? put you in ropes? In what sense? What scruples, ones regarding appearance? Reduce YAFisms please.
>>43562 I picked up on the intended sense of 'can' reasonably quickly, but I will admit that it took me a couple of passes. If there had been a comma (i.e., So, can those scruples.) the meaning would have been more immediately clear, I feel.
>>43562 Maybe, on the off-chance, she meant that such scruples could put you in metaphorical ropes? No, my bad. It was the rare Americanism I decided to throw in there; even ran it through a native speaker beforehand and he didn’t, how do the Brits say, wiggle-waggle the eye-clapper? Sorry for that one.
In addition, I’m going to call it for the affable option, since it reached 4 votes first and I want to get started tonight. Sorry to snub you. Again. Getting off on the wrong foot here…
>>43567 That's not what we say at all, now stop stealing our jobs. And maybe don't get him off on either foot, this is hardly the board for it you lech. (He did have a point though, that line in particular was a bit arcane.)
>>43569 What was arcane about it? Ringo was talking about Seiran's reluctance to get on or off haw haw with filthy humies out of a sense of misplaced duty, and maybe just a little bit of stuck-up-ness as an 'elite' soldier of La Luna, now very much fallen from grace and in no position to be relying on their former homeland's sense of values.
“I—It’s been good,” eked out Seiran with not a stutter, nuh-uh, not a one. “We’ve broken more than even – even accounting the rent. Thank you.”
The man inclined his head gravely, as though he understood and gave a fig on top. Seiran quit eyeballing holes in his countenance. The least adumbrative question Ringo had posed, and she couldn’t make ears or tails of it. Talk about basic deficiencies.
She shunted on leave the question of the man’s looker-itude and fell back on what they, at least, enjoyed in common. This suited the dango, which complemented Seiran’s timeliness by sliding smoothly onto one of the cuter skewers she’d purposely sheltered from charity. On a second’s deliberation, she overturned the customary rule of four and, by a whisker, managed to stack a fifth on the tippy tip. The purple pagoda teetered in her hand as she extended it over the counter.
Seiran plastered on a face she would later punch in a mirror. “Here you are!” she put forward helpfully. “Your fa— um, regular, yes, pickled-plum mitarashi dango, lightly browned, no sauce. Is that about right, mister, er…?”
The man gently relieved the skewer from her tenuous grip with, as tradition demanded, awkwardly minimised skin contact.
“… Sir?” Seiran finished lamely.
And felt a moony fool. Months upon months the man had been leaving his savings at her modest if not meek establishment; somewhen in there, she was all but positive, he must have included his name. It was one of the things which quietly stunned you about Earthlings: every-confounded-one parting with their private moniker as if you were liable to stand together at muster tomorrow and need to get them to fake a cough while you redo your laces. Or likely to ever hear from again off the aether.
Clearly, either Seiran or her stall’s signboard had covered that contingency for the man. Clearly, Seiran would’ve been caught with her butt up and laces down. And for nobody’s fault but her own overcrowded head’s. Well, why not? He was background; between rationing supplies, managing expenses, tussling for produce with elderly ladies and screaming her throat raw about dango, dango, come get yours each day, she’d simply slotted him into the routine. This was life now. He was part of it – just as a tick on the list.
A tick which had, treading on convention, voiced a desire to be shifted farther up Seiran’s agenda.
It was unfair. Ticks weren’t supposed to do that. It muddied everything.
“It’s right about right,” said the tick, glossing over the unintended slight as if greased by existence itself. He held the surplus dango safely out and delved into the pockets of his slapdash… no, it wasn’t, was it; it was only comparatively understated… robe. “Have some smaller change in here somewhere,” he promised, rummaging. “You’ll not want to pester the shadier vendors if you run out. I know how it gets at these.”
Seiran, who had been doing the end of one of her braids no favours, startled alert. “Oh. Oh! No. No, no, no,” she machinegunned out with as much nonchalance as she could counterfeit. “Come on! It’s on the house. Told you: we’ve done well for ourselves today. Yes? The least I can do. Come on.”
The man’s endeavours congealed in a pose which would’ve been silly had his gaze all of a sudden not turned penetrating.
“… Money is no problem, Miss Seiran,” he said at length.
“It’s not about money,” Seiran insisted. “You’re a patron. Constant. Those plums were as like bought by your coin anyway. Come on. My treat. Yes? Please.”
For a moment, the man appeared one with something on his mind. Then, that slightly nonplussed smile autochthonous to his face-scape reasserted itself on its native soil. He considered the dango, then the Seiran.
“In that case,” he decided, “very nice. Thank you.”
Seiran scrambled to bow. “No, no! Thank you. For your, um, support. All this while.”
The man bowed courteously back. “Any time, Miss Seiran. Well, I would’ve liked it to be,” he corrected, humour twice underlined. “Some days you aren’t there.”
To her surprise, a snicker bubbled out between her own, involuntarily pursed lips. “Um. Yes. Well. You know,” she said, squaring up to verticality and knocking the errant braid behind a shoulder. “These things. Got to make them. Closer or farther from the flour up. I’m pretty well black on everything after today, so I’ll need to run the MSR and take a bit of knee to prep another batch. Be back in a solar or two. No worries.”
“Ah. Understandable,” conceded the man, and it wouldn’t be until after extensive retrospection that Seiran would realise there were degrees to his customary expression.
It was as she was coming down from the flash of purpose and toeing a precariously empty magazine of things left to say that relief made landfall from planet Ringo.
“Aaa—” Seiran’s rescue drawled from the flank. “Since we’re givin’. How about some of mine for contrast?”
The man and the deflating rabbit peered aside in tandem at the adjacent stall, where Ringo was sticking a number of varying dango for a smorgasbord of a skewer. This she then presented to the human of the two – over Seiran’s counter.
“The Ringo-ya recipe’s a tittle-touch different,” she enticed, tapping a conspiratorial finger on her cheek; “you wouldn’t notice, really, except side-by-side, but it is there. Variety’s the spice, isn’t it? Ol’ Seiran here weren’t lying, besides. We’re going to jingle the whole flight home. Take it. On me.”
The man gave the treat a once-over that went a tic beyond culinary apprehension. And, with unchanging frontage, took it in the free hand.
“Obliged,” he said – jogged his laden arms in mischief – reflected, “like I haven’t been since boyhood,” and then, no later than the joke had glanced off of the rabbits’ sensibilities, followed, “Speaking of. Will you need any help hauling all this home?”
Seiran, on whom the attention had been trained, let go of her hair. “Um. No. Me and Ringo, we…” She looked to the idea’s originator and received a shrug. “We chipped in with a couple of other towners and had the stalls delivered. They’re going to break them down again and cart them back overnight. It’s a service, apparently. I’m just going to have to put it together tomorrow. It’s made for that, no sweat.”
“Sorry,” added Ringo.
They looked at him looking at them a shade blankly. Then, he rallied. “If so,” he said, “I’ll leave you to it. There are a few sellers I meant to annoy yet tonight, so—”
“Good evening!” Seiran burst out, bowed and regretted it in the span of a pulse.
The man merely nodded. “Obliged, once again, for… the spice. Good evening, Miss Seiran. Miss Ringo.”
“Aloha~” Ringo humoured protocol, and the man moseyed away while Seiran contemplated doing the same to her career choice.
Ultimately, she hadn’t resolved whether the tips of her shoes would have been better off in her mouth when the former Eagle Ravi case officer offered her assessment.
“Sharp cookie, that man.”
The tiny part of Seiran’s brain geared toward coherency dragged her upright to blink at her manifest senior. Ringo perambulated her stare whence the man had dipped back into the crowd to her fellow expatriate. Then narrowed her eyes.
“Gunner Seiran,” she opined, “you can’t shoot the shit for shit, can you?”
Seiran beat back the instinct to ten-hut like rabbit fresh in her jacket. Bootstrapping her in no small measure was the familiar thrum in Ringo’s voice. The long, reliable leg-puller which had tied bells on rabbit and Lunarian alike.
Seiran exhaled. “… I tried,” she said. “I tried, didn’t I?”
“Could read you trying down to the roots of your ears,” agreed Ringo, a soul of no affinity for kid gloves. “This how these rendezvous go as a rule?”
“Mm. No,” granted Seiran, thinking, I don’t get graded as a rule.
Something of it must’ve all the same filtered through her clip. “Right. I’ll wager my wages there’s usually no audience. Sharp, sharp cookie. Hmm? Oh, I was about to hoover those up myself, so how about twenty per?”
Seiran, whose gloom must have deflected the now happily en-dango-ed couple from her stall to Ringo’s, availed herself of the opportunity to restock and re-fire her charcoal box, array a new set of non-pickled-plum dango on the grille and generally re-enter the time-honoured storekeeper’s zen where the lyrics of the song being profaned at volume nearby remain inscrutable even if you focus. Ringo waved the customers (or, anyway, the dango) good-bye and, catching on, adopted the example.
The end of the minute saw one more, desperate line cast.
“… Why me?” asked Seiran, touch-pulsing a new integer to the timer.
Ringo dumped the ash drawer from her box into the communal bin. That, too, was somebody’s livelihood in a realm where life fed endlessly on death. “Who can tell?” she wondered aloud, wiping her palms on a rag. “You’ve more curves on you than your name, girl. That’s more than enough to turn, aha, heads.”
Seiran analysed that. “… But that’s not it, is it?”
The rag smacked her on the calf. “So what if it is anyhow? Doubly fine he is a looker. Got a catch in your snares, Eagle Ravi.” Then, ostensibly by way of prior speculation, Ringo gave her junior a pointed going-over, terminating in the most apposite area. “… Have you been snacking on your leftover MREs, by chance?”
Seiran flushed. “It’s the crunchy lumps in the mealll!” she wailed. “I can’t help it!”
Ringo didn’t reply at first. “… It’s just starch and aspartame,” she ultimately said. “You should try chocolate; they have the real deal here.” She reinstalled the box under the counter and picked up a number of fresh coals with the rag. “I’m not going to tell you how to live or not to live, girl,” she said, arranging them inside the circle of lingering embers. “It’s not my prerogative. Never was. Never will be. You’re your own rabbit. But I’d like you to keep in mind one thing for me. There is nothing wrong with wanting.”
Very pleased to see a new Yaf story NOT in /at/ after the whining I did in various comment sections. Much as I love his smut, I really enjoy his long form stuff. That is to say, I'm looking forward to this and will be keeping an eye on it. Seiran and Ringo are pretty underutilised, so that's already a bonus in my eyes. Is there a particular accent I'm meant to read Ringo's dialogue in? It's different enough to get me curious.
Later, much later – in fact, later still – Seiran levered herself out of the hip bath she’d circumspectly drawn and dragged up to her meagre accommodations ahead setting out for the day-long fair. She towelled down what she could, vigorously shook what she couldn’t, fished the still-warm micro-furnace out of the sudsed water and flumped onto the single, raised bed which had been her only exemption of the thrift otherwise embedded in her bones. An inflected pulse saw the standard issue glow-globe Seiran had hung in an old fishing net from a loose board in the ceiling brighten from sedate sundown to radiant moonlight. She thumbed a manual exhaust panel on the nonagonal face of the furnace, eliciting a tame jet of tepid air. This she then took with sagging efficiency to her damp, de-braided hair.
She was, in a word, Earthed.
The micro-furnace purred in her hand, almost soothing as she orbited it round her head. She’d spared half a thought for combing, but wrote it off for a future wherein she hadn’t aches in her knuckles from scrubbing burnt ricemeal off a sticky grille. If nothing else, the nonstop treadmill of sales had ushered the evening toward an earlier close than apprehended; and even Seiran had been pardoned further probing by her ex-XO. The occasional off-the-cuff comment had indicated Ringo was as intrigued by the man as anything else equally misfortunate, but Seiran’s indisposition (or, rather, incapacity) to respond satisfactorily had put a muzzle on that fancy. If only the object of contention could himself be muzzled along…
Seiran glanced, wilfully if fecklessly, at the sheet of polished copper which’d served as her mirror since the silvered, purifying one from her kit had shattered after inopportunely reflecting a gaggle of fairies swooping outside the window.
Ringo hadn’t been… grossly wrong. Seiran had a figure. Seiran had, actually, enough figure to cramp a quartermaster’s report; it may not have been as attracting as Ringo’s, whose presence had overall more gravity, but it was unmistakably a figure. She had curves to burn; in practice and in places, more urgently (and impossibly) than Ringo. The reeve-conscripter who’d marked her down as Eagle Ravi material a lifetime ago had cited “form aesthetics” as something the Lunar Lords put stock in right beneath psychic acuity, but… why these same aesthetics should be supposedly coveted by an impure human was a question with more treason in than Ringo’s ink stick. Most human females were, anyway, more vertically-aligned; it’d been the joke of the hour during the crawler operation that their bodies were instinctively distancing their noses from the Earthen filth. Many laughs conspicuously nearer said filth had been had.
Seiran set aside the sputtering furnace and negotiated a trip to the monofilament rope-bound trunk at the foot of the bed with her wilting knees. She picked out the least wrinkled nightgown and, relishing the cool, silken fabric, wriggled inside. Her hair was freed and then shaken loose with nominal tangling.
Seiran sat on the edge of the bed. The micro-furnace had whirred to a stop. It was lukewarm to the touch. And easier to lift, now the gyroscopic core-cage wasn’t oscillating.
Seiran breathed in. After a longer while than comfortable, she breathed out.
The crystalline psy-Lattice inside the device woke to her query. Luminous rune-work lapped the angular circumference, once, twice, transiently rousing the orichalcine core and its control components. Seiran felt the mechanism live in the palm of her hand for but an instant; and then, having completed the circuit, a readout inscribed itself in her mind’s eye. A number wrought of smoky, surreal light, hovering over the now-dormant piece of Lunarian technology.
Some hasty mathematics, and it was converted into a single, incontrovertible digit.
One Earth year.
The prognostic longest the core would last with current use.
Seiran’s fingers locked about the ribbed, heat-dissipating frame. The rustic-looking device, which had been meant to remain usable at best for a fortnight afield for all the rabbits had been briefed, had exceeded the runaway Eagle Ravis’ expectations by leaps and bounds. When not exerted repowering the crawler or Lunaforming landscape, each micro-furnace had gone weeks and months and – by this time – years doing the same, on a smaller scale, to essential pieces of their kit. It’d enlivened the glow-globes when their accumulators had gone dry; it’d kept their tools functioning and responsive to their personal Lattices. A circuit stress-test could be run, in which case the furnace may rapidly heat astounding volumes of air or water at minimally worrying expenditure. Two virgin cores had been left behind in the rabbits’ incomplete flight from Earth, an illusive aeon in the past. Two surrogate, beating hearts riven from the lost Moon.
And now, one of them had a year to live.
Seiran breathed in.
The dense, metallic device, which had been her comfort and subsistence in exile, weighed down her slim arm. The cardinal buoy in the black, turbulent sea of her reluctantly repossessed existence. The lifeblood of her refuge and its invaluable touches of familiarity. And it would be dead before Earth shed its next snow.
Seiran… breathed in.
She could make ends meet. She had. She’d earned money and gotten by as any Earthling; she’d lived as they had with every blessing and bane… for a try. But there were hungers insatiable by warmth and feed, or even starch and aspartame. She could not feel a fireplace or a stove. She could not talk to a carved chunk of tree as she did to those things which had, in the absence of other rabbits in the Lattice, become her sanity’s anchors.
The things which would, in a year, be all dead weight. As dead and deaf as she.
And then what will you do?
There is no going home.
She wasn’t breathing.
The void descended as a blanket.
She’d known it would. She had coaxed it. It’d done nothing to prevent it slugging into her bowels like the butt of a drill sergeant’s rifle. Terror gripped her; and it was more than a vapid witticism. It was near-physical: an ice-cold vice around her guts.
Seiran’s heart hammered in her seized throat. She had let the furnace slip her hold, possibly dented the floor in yet another spot, but that made goose-egg matter now. The room was too tight. Too low. A noose of wood and lacquered straw. The little, insignificant rabbit in the hind of Seiran’s brain wanted to bolt. To do something; to be out of here, right then and there, wherever the “here” was. And it was in primacy.
Seiran scrabbled on all-fours, unaware when she’d tumbled off the bed, dazed and suffocating. The lucid, interior voice which should’ve told her this would pass, that it would be situation normal, all sticks and dango in the morning, couldn’t get a word in edgeways over the staggering, muscle-tearing need to open a window and fly. To perish, if she must, at least on her own terms. With moonlight in her eyes.
It was futile. Her lungs would not listen. The attack was too strong. Seiran’s vision frayed at the peripheries, darkening from outside in. She clawed at her neck. She was sweating, palpitating and, with that eye-of-the-storm clarity, dying.
Like this. In this tiny, foreign room. Seiran, the Eagle Ravi, Moon’s elite, would die.
>>43578 Not PTSD. PTSD comes from some past trauma event. From the narration this is, what, severe anxiety over being in an entirely different world? With the aggravating factor that it was basically a forced relocation. That sounds right. Like someone who moves to a drastically different country all alone. Don't know the technical term for it, if there is one.
(X) Never say that. I'm picking this because I expect the writer doesn't think it will win. Plus it seems like she's gone through it before, so I wanna see what form her rituals and coping take.
(X) Never say that. It's a difficult choice I'll admit. I would like to see her call for help, maybe Ringo answers, maybe someone else does, maybe nobody does. On the other hand however... It hardly seems like something likely for someone to do.
>>43581 I wasn't sure. I thought it could potentially be PTSD over some traumatic military event on the moon (though I'm not sure where OP stands on the 'was the luna invasion an actual thing?' question), given the lines about dying like a filthy rabbit. Then again, the line before it specifically pointed out that it was a foreign room, so I'm still uncertain. Either way, I still think she should have someone there for her.
Gonna respond to both this update and >>43572 since I was a little slow in writing up my impressions.
So, it looks like we've got a look at two kinda different Seirans in this pair of complementary posts. In the first, we saw an (adorably) awkward and fidgety Seiran. In the second, we unfortunately witnessed a Seiran oppressed by her castaway status, in the grips of an attack. It's interesting to see how earthbound and in the moment she is in the post before, followed by how deeply wedged into her lunar origins she is in the next. We did see in the very first update that she has a hard time with the Earth still, and it appears it's going to be a struggle to change that. Poor bun.
As to the lad — if he really is a lad, considering he makes a joke that makes it sound like he has a few years on him — funny to see how straightfaced he seems to be at most things. That said, it seems to be more of a poker face, considering his seriousness at points. Not enough to fool Ringo, of course. Speaking of which, she seems pretty impressed with him. If anything, she seems to be egging her junior on. I wonder what the seriousness is about in her comment about there being 'nothing wrong with wanting', though. More to it than meets the eye, methinks.
The magi-technology in the second post is, whilst not my usual cup of tea, fun to have a peek at. Nonagonal mini-furnaces, eh? Sounds familiar. If I'm reading things right, though, it seems like they might be semi-sentient? Able to communicate in a limited way? Given that Seiran seems to have leant on one or more as something to talk to, that seems like it might be the case to me. Correct me if I'm wrong.
A lot of interesting vocabulary and usages thereof this time around. I'm not sure it was entirely intentional, but I found out that a 'muster' can regionally refer to a roundup of livestock for inspection. Perfect for referring to moon buns assembling, no? Similarly, as with most military lingo, I wasn't familiar with the term 'XO', so it's very illuminating to look that up and see that Ringo was, in fact, a second-in-command; that begs the question of who the first was. That said, flogged if I know what the hell an 'MSR' is unless we're actually talking about nuclear power. That particular extract was a little odd to me, but I expect the slightly not-quite-techno-babble-y nature of it was intended. Or I'm just particularly thick today and unable to research properly.
Anyway, let's look over the votes, shall we?
>[ ] Never say that.
'Never say die.' Seiran's going to probably try to get a grip on herself. Maybe she calls on her soldierly past as an 'elite' and channels a force of will to snap herself out of panic. Or maybe she passes out and has some kind of hallucinatory dream-recollection where someone yells at her. Can't really say where it's likely to go. Either way, this reads like the first true step to rooting an moon bun on Earth.
>[ ] +Help!+
Interesting formatting on the 'psychic' bits. Well, not much to think about here. She beams out a psychic SOS to someone. Maybe out into an open channel? Will someone answer? Will it fall on deaf mind-ears? Either one could be likely. This reads like the 'stay mooned' option to me.
I suppose there's two schools of thought on votes like this. On the one hand, there's the 'what the vote is actually about' school. On the other, there's the 'what someone would likely do' school. Neither seems to be inherently right — as much as they can be 'right' in these sorts of stories — so I guess it's down to what the personal draw is.
I lean more for the former school, and it's the former vote that rings to that tune. Makes things easy.
[x] Never say that.
As Ringo was so kind to say, there's nothing wrong with wanting. That extends to wanting to find that foothold in living on Earth. Has to start with some kind of determination first, though. If Seiran can't power through this, she'll probably never get there.
>>43573 Dunno what to say, my dude. As a native speaker of North American English, it was pretty clear to me, so I guess regionalisms are a bitch, innit?
>>43576 >Ringo accent Eh? Not really an accent to my eyes. S'just colloquialisms.
>>43578 Well, there was Shoot for the Moon, which had a panic-attack-y Seiran; she was even worse there, from what I remember, what with having to constantly hold back interdimensional boolets or something. Also, I can't remember very many 'traumatised' treatments of Reisen on THP, honestly. Probably more of an 'other sites' kinda thing. Could be that my old man memory is failing, of course.
>I expect the writer doesn't think it will win. Dunno, pretty sure YAF only gives choices he actualy intends to write.
>>43582 >too proud to ask for help from Ringo First update makes it pretty clear her attitude is that the Ringus is a good bet for advice, even if she's not wild about her former officer's laxness/lack of tact.
>>43584 It's the mooninite way to associate impurity (i.e., filth) with the Earth. So, 'die like an earth rabbit' — in other words, like a lowly, non-'elite' rabbit in an impure land, an ignoble way to go out for someone like Seiran who clings to her pride as a moon rabbit and status as a former Eagle Ravi.
No. You didn’t say that. You never said that. The choice was not hers.
She was of the Moon. Death was anathema.
Seiran thrashed onto her back. The glow-globe’s pale, familiar shine knifed through the encroaching darkness. She reached out a yearning, grasping hand.
… And pulsed from the depths of her desolate heart.
The globe blazed in psychic reply, cycling rapidly through spectra visible and invisible, light and un-light, a range of radiation previously unrecorded on Earth – until, unable to comply with the frantic feed, guttered out, its charge violently spent, plunging the room headlong into the belated night. Somebody hypothetically staking out Seiran’s window would’ve gotten all the confirmation they might desire, never mind the squeaky new chromosomes, but she cared not an Earthen whit. Not in the moment.
Just that. Just that much. Just that bit of feedback in the Lattice – however crude, however artificial – made the estranged Moon rabbit feel like herself again.
A measure of control reinstated itself over the bottomless, roiling panic. Seiran clambered half onto the bed, wheezing for the blessed, ozone-tinged air. Tears, thick and hot, were trickling down her cheeks: not of despair, but of desperation. The raw, emotive appreciation of being alive. Had to be. Seiran breathed, grateful, for now, for the ability to stay still.
But she was not out of the crater yet. The panic was at bay, yes, but tided against the defensive skin of her psyche. Seiran bit down on a lock of her hair, teeth chattering. The readiest safety belt staved off only the remaining days she hadn’t to wash it again.
She could have meshed with Ringo. Yes. Could have. The possibility had occurred to her somewhere in the rush for something to acknowledge her presence in the universe, but caution, the eldest of reflexes, had won out that tug-of-war. Least of all was the trouble of not knowing where it was that Ringo had shacked up; both the rabbits had agreed upon their exile, for reasons of security, to keep the whereabouts of their dwellings bilaterally obscured. To reach her once-commander omitting such directional foci would have meant to cry sightlessly into the aether; and then, who asked, who told who was listening? The fugitive Sage in the Bamboo Forest? Her cohort? Some other ineffable party? It would have been punching a new star in the firmament.
That wasn’t all. Not even the pertinent part. The well-worn clip on Seiran’s ear was. Originally devised and mass-circulated to forestall recumbent rabbits inundating the local Lattice with subconscious babble, the dampers had since pulled double duty to contain the runaways’ psychic report to an intimate, personal bubble. Within it, true self reigned; without was the silence of dull minds.
It had been Ringo’s final, last-ever order to wear these at all times. To avoid an accidental… or purposeful… triangulation by the home-world they had betrayed. A bid for mutual safety between the sole friends left.
To beg Ringo’s help now… would have been selfishly betraying that as well.
Seiran squeezed her wet eyes shut, which made hardly a difference at this stage.
The Earth way, then. The filthy, lowly, practical and effective way.
Seiran swayed to her feet, scanning about the dark, gloomy room for something, anything to do. To busy her hands and faculties. This was how you dealt. Step by step. Task by task. Day to day. The only way to tackle inevitability.
The cooling hip bath hooked her need like a drowning and, well, not too fussy-about-it rabbit. She was going to take it out to the gutter tomorrow, once her knees weren’t made of mochi, but needs, as they did, must. She slipped on a pair of sandals, eased wide the exiting door, swallowed down of the chill, night air and prepared to suffer.
She’d only bruised all two of her knees by the time the hip bath was purling down the sewage channel just outside the walled yard of the workers’ dosshouse where she rented her room. Tools of various and indiscriminate trades, including her own, attended her huffing efforts from the shadows. Grasshoppers fiddled their mating songs. A man up the street loudly lamented a woman’s disaffection. The night was late, but even now, the world was furtively abuzz with life.
Seiran wasn’t. The paltry few minutes of lugging, emptying and storing back the heavy, ceramic bath had drained her of everything even a Lunar Lord might have wrung out of her on a less fraught night. She locked close the door of her room, banged an elbow on some unseen furniture, didn’t as much as flinch, located her bed and fell asleep in the most literal of the senses.
She was pitched out of bed, hours subsequently, by the least cultured of the three. At least, this was what her brain muzzily expostulated until well after Seiran had dive-rolled on her abused limbs to somewhat of a combat crouch.
The morning was well in swing, not to mention her pastoral safehouse. A striving, springtime Sun was creeping over the straw-mat floor through a window which could have done with but had, in practice, done without blinds since Seiran had first scrimped on acquiring some. The yesterday clothes lay where she’d backed out of them, attempting to evade too much mention.
The percussive, bang-bang-bang noise outside continued to rattle Seiran’s ears, if not the window-glass. Not of gunfire, as the umpteen midnight drills would’ve had her believe till her own wake, but conceivably of something hard striking, not to overstimulate the imagination, something else out in the yard. Seiran rose on sleep-heavy hips, clarity seeping in by degrees from some grandly distant reservoir. The neighbours would have been all and sundry out working by this time; Seiran had exchanged enough numb, pre-caffeinated well-wishes with each of her unselective co-renters to learn their schedules dependably stole a march upon the Sun’s. The land wasn’t predisposed to wait; neither, by the sound of it, was the town’s gentility. The building should have been a temporary waste of urban space by now.
And yet, bang-bang-bang the something went.
Seiran crept, inasmuch as the term applied, for the comfortingly locked door. There, on a short, elastic lanyard looped around a nail in the flaking wall, hung an Eagle Ravi’s best companion. Seiran feelingly wrapped her fingers around the profiled handle.
Sleek and stark, the weapon appeared little beyond a horizontal tube welded to an angled grip. None of the antiquarian flourish of the Moon’s domestic defence force and their kinetic throwers – or the honour guard’s flamboyant, leporine affectations – was to be had here; the lone ostentation present was the name-rune etched in the opalescent, black enamel on the gun’s barrel. Seiran’s was a pair of parallel, slanting lines with a dot between. Which, as well, was a pragmatism. Called, all too often affectionately, the ahp, the Amplifier Handheld Projector housed a crystal-grown facsimile of the organ which made Moon rabbits what they were; a more involved version of their off-the-rack tools’; each was modelled after the individual Eagle Ravi’s personal Lattice and tended toward general amusement if meshed with by somebody else than the owner.
It was not, per se, a gun. It didn’t launch a tungsten slug or a fatally unstable gob of plasma at the Moon’s enemies; rather, it replicated the operator’s psychic emissions over and over in a closed gyre till the result was dense enough to impact a sentient creature’s subtle body. The Eagle Ravi Earth Recon Unit, more beholden to Lunarian dogma than the dust-slogging grunts, did not kill. To do so would have been an affront to their superiors. But they dislodged pieces of the soul from whoever countermined the sanctity of the home-world to the point of incapacitation. The Earth took its own soon enough anyway once they were rendered discorporate.
Seiran pulsed the psy-lock off the – ugh – ahp, querying its charge level purely out of usance. The reply, being largely her own sans the morning torpor, reported ninety-nine to full. She hadn’t had to fire a real shot since disembarking her veil. The wagers she would have lost…
Seiran, still quivering from being anywhere near vertical, pulled the bolt and gingerly inched open the door. The ahp’s nasty end presaged her in the bright world outside.
The noise went bang-bang-bang, bang… and stopped.
A small, circumspect and hitherto asleep piece of Seiran’s mind instantly jerked the gun out of sight behind her back.
Out in the Sun-bathed yard, ridden for the while of most of the labourer paraphernalia, hammering away at a half-assembled dango stall, was her eternally flummoxed adorer. The sleeves of his informal robe were tucked up, showboating a set of decidedly more purpose-built and masculine forearms; a smooth-faced, wooden mallet was twirled in a raised hand in, she guessed, a whimsical greeting. The man brought it down punitively on an ill-fitting dovetail as though it hadn’t been his own idea.
Slowly, Seiran replaced the gun on the lanyard and the nail. She hopped into her sandals and strode out determinedly at the man, arms folded under her bust, electing not to speak lest she reveal herself less outraged than was surely apt. The man had another redressive bang at the stubborn joinery before turning his forever stumped smile at the Moon rabbit tentatively standing by.
“Am amusing myself,” he declared, sure as shooting to make her question whether he’d read the inadvertent Morse from her blinking, a universal trick of males everywhere. Oh joy.
Seiran surveyed his environs, which was to say the yet unassembled parts and knickknacks of her stall. Those porters Ringo had so toadied to must have brought it in sometime between her crack at tiring herself out cold and the pleximetric wake-up call. The blithe man had the half-wheeled platform all but together with the counter by now; accordingly, the tolerances of Seiran’s psychometry-aided carpentry were flashing their paws. She touched a thought to the vacuum-burst pneuma-driver she’d had to employ a few times last she’d remodelled the stall. But the man was amusing himself well alone. He’d said so. Where he had found that battered old mallet was an ongoing inquiry, but the yard had on its tidiest days enough loose tools strewn about to open a vehicle depot.
Seiran put that out of her mind. To the ever-present mystification of her – she reminded herself – best customer she then added this germane question:
“… Are you tailing me?”
The man’s studiously levelled stare threatened to make an innuendo of it. “Tempting prospect,” he admitted, upturning his gaze back to the Moon rabbit’s face, “but no. I was walking out to pick up some breakfast. Happened to rubberneck down this gate. And there you were.”
He thrust his bristly chin at the stall’s detached signboard, with its prominent DANGO SEIRAN-YA splashed on in blue paint in a faltering, Gensokyan script.
“If I’d known,” the man delivered his ultimate argument, “I would have bought flowers. So don’t fret.”
Seiran, who couldn’t work out whether she’d just been funned with by that comment, stopped her fidgety fingers midway to her hair.
“… You shouldn’t be doing this,” she contended.
“Not for free, no,” agreed the man.
“No! You don’t understand!” Seiran groaned. “You shouldn’t… my job… my stall…”
The man looked at her as though she was slightly stupid. Which, might be, wasn’t to be dismissed out of hand.
“… Not for free,” he repeated, evenly. Seiran gave up, while he gave it another mull-over. “But yes,” he yielded. “Maybe I oughtn’t have, and indeed I owe you for the entertainment. Why do you not let me take you out to breakfast, Miss Seiran? That’ll cover it nicely, I divine. You don’t look to have been watered or fed yet, either. With regard.”
A heretofore unregarded area of Seiran’s physiology called home at the prod.
“A friend has a place,” the man struck on, oblivious – or perhaps not, “not far, where he caters for the big lads afore they march out to the fields and such. Sells what’s left and not crusted over to late risers like yours truly. It’s filling stuff, lots of healthy what-have-yous and, I am not ashamed to endorse, cheap. Was away there myself before, well, this.”
He slapped a palm on the stall as if to suggest it was an accident in search of someone to happen to and he’d been fortuitously there to thwart it. Seiran forbore speculating to whom and/or whether the would-be victim needed the babyminding.
She was hungry, at any rate. It’d been only too easily glossed over that she hadn’t had a proper spread since departing for the fair the previous day with other issues on (and with) her mind, but the wan, mounting Sun above was a more inexorable clock than Seiran’s internal one. Truthfully, she would’ve eaten soon or late; most likely, she would have downed a bowl of watered oats with a pinch of the good stuff from the surplus MREs not a one of her squad mates had as much as sniffed at after Ringo had introduced them to Earth foods, and been slaked for a supply run or two around town. The added taste would have made the bowl by itself go down fine. Which was why she’d rationed those MREs so stringently.
… Then again, Ringo had said to cut down on the native sweets, and most of what Ringo said had a point. That was really the main trouble with it.
Seiran faced off with what seemed by the minute a less and less objectionable future, and it smiled at her guilelessly. The mallet went down, and the dovetails, at last, snapped flush.
( ) “It won’t be a date, will it?” ( ) Silently acquiesce. He may figure what he liked. ( ) No dice. Not on this planet.Come on, it’s free food.Ringo will twist your ears off.
>Truthfully, she would’ve eaten soon or late; most likely, she would have downed a bowl of watered oats with a pinch of the good stuff from the surplus MREs not a one of her squad mates had as much as sniffed at after Ringo had introduced them to Earth foods, and been slaked for a supply run or two around town. Is this implying Seiran and Ringo weren't the only bunnies who went rogue and stayed in Gensokyo after the invasion?
(X) Silently acquiesce. He may figure what he liked.
I figure it's still too early in the late-day for Seiran to articulate anything before breakfast. Or perhaps she's actually the type who forgets to put a filter on her thoughts early in the morning?
Once again, I am incredibly slow to respond, so it'll be a double. I make so much work for myself sometimes.
Lots of mooniness in this pair of updates. The idea of psychic radiation seems rather scary, as do the operating principles of their shooty-bangs. That said, I'm still very lost on what the bloody a 'Lattice' even is, much less its meaning to our lagomorphic ladies. Obviously, 'some kinda psychic thing', but that's as far as I get in consideration. The fact that the not-gun is said to house a 'facsimile of the organ which [makes] Moon rabbits what they [are]' is a chin-stroker as well.
Very amusing how combat-ready Seiran is first thing in the morning. Elite of the Moon, indeed. Then again, I guess sharing flop-house lodgings with folks you don't know from Tsukuyomi would put one on alert as it is. Quite unfortunate that it is somewhat out of necessity, being a fugitive in a foreign land. Bet that does wonders for a proud bun's self-esteem. Hang in there, Seiran.
Also, you really go out of your way to underscore that Seiran is a low-key glutton and bearer of kickin' curves, don't you? Guess a lack of being wrung out by Lunar Lords lately will do that. Just gotta follow Ringo's example, I guess, eh? Seems to be making progress without realising, going by the famished fam's 'studiously levelled stare'.
Oh, but less glibly, I like how the exchange between them begins and ends with a reference to the joinery. Maybe things will snap into place for Seiran as well?
>[ ] “It won’t be a date, will it?”
Playing it a bit coy, though perhaps a bit genuinely clueless. Indeed, Seiran seems to be perceptive and yet somehow always a little off the mark. She doesn't mind the hungry lad being there, and yet she's equally bewildered at his presence. Isn't too much of a stretch that she might not get it.
This could also be taken as a statement that she thinks a 'date' has to be something a bit more involved — which we don't really have a good sense of right now, now that I think of it, do we?
>[ ] Silently acquiesce. He may figure what he liked.
I wonder if this really leads where it hints. He certainly intends to take Seiran out to eat, but it sure seems a shift in apparent strategy. Before, he was only hinting, and now he's shifted to meeting Seiran on her turf. I think I'd be a little sketched out, personally. But, honestly, I still think she's just a little dense, so perhaps that's not the issue here.
>[ ] No dice. Not on this planet. Come on, it’s free food. Ringo will twist your ears off.
Don't tempt me. I'll do it just because you've put that big red button there.
[x] "It won't be a date, will it?"
Pissing against the tide, but I've always enjoyed a bit of that. I do hope our hungry boy drops the pretenses fairly soon.
>>43606 >>43608 Personally would like to OL Seiran. Mmh, buns in pencil skirts...
>I'm still very lost on what the bloody a 'Lattice' even is
The terms seems to be used in two ways, a "personal Lattice" and a "local Lattice", which appear to function as a psionic analogue to a simple computer network. Each rabbit uses their personal Lattice to interface with their technology, and they can telepathically communicate with each other.
(X) Silently acquiesce. He may figure what he liked.
There was an allegory to be had in there somewhere. But you couldn’t endure on those alone. Seiran had tried.
Therefore, she gave a nod. And it was a long, ponderous nod, one involving the shoulders as well as the head, which might’ve been taken by a sniffy officer to be a dopey recruit going for broke at an upright nap. The dango addict before her must not have seen silly o’ clock on his life; he bobbed his scrabbly chin in acceptance, topped by a smile, Seiran thought, no more nor less pleased than those thus far. This was wobbled – but only by his renewed inspection of his work.
Somewise, she found herself irked into speaking, against antecedent plans.
“… It is not far, is it?” she questioned.
The man, caught afoul of nudging the joint as though sceptical it should hold precluding catastrophic stresses, glanced the Moon rabbit’s doubting way. “… No. Not far,” he assured, edging back, presumably, to the side of caution. “Two corners down to the southern gate. Could have tossed a fairy from here to there in a better time.”
Seiran frowned. “There was a place like that so close?”
“Small, family business,” the man explained and put the mallet down where it wouldn’t rocket to the Moon if his fears were realised. “Might not have noticed. Actually, wouldn’t have myself if not for this big nose. Isn’t a restaurant as such, anyhow. Jirou – that is, the owner – has a pledge to the clans firstly. The clearance sales are a perk.”
“And it is cheap?” Seiran clutched the important bit.
“Won’t slit your purse,” he promised.
And, once more, Seiran nodded, upper body coming along for the essay, validated on the upswing by the man’s smile widening a fraction upon visual reengagement. He, in good truth, shocked her further by subsequently grinning like the aforementioned officer later on in the canteen.
“Ahh, and, Miss Seiran?” he benignantly proposed. “You do cut quite a dash, no saying otherwise, but I’d urge against nightwear outside the bedroom. The lads hereabouts can get rowdy afterwise a day out in the Sun. Only natural. You oughtn’t to hold it against them. You do, as I said, cut a dash. Just watch where you do.”
Something in Seiran, another oversleeping component, jolted her stiff up to the tips of her ears.
But the man hadn’t even the slightest will to wait for her to splutter. He was instead casting about the yard with his palms up in another pan-Solar, male affectation for, “These have been places, sorry, ma’am. Help?” Seiran waved one of hers vaguely toward the well then quick-timed herself indoors at a virile stomp. The door slammed on whatever thanks may have been arcing in her direction.
There in sacrosanct privacy, Seiran pulsed a choice blasphemy into the aether. The unsecured ahp, nearby on its hook and inside the pocket afforded by her psy-damper, hiccoughed back its synthetic incomprehension. Seiran locked it up with the crack of a thought.
She bestowed a baleful look on her copper-plate mirror and positively dove into her trunk, a brief ransacking of which relinquished the plainest of a refugee Moon rabbit’s provincial clothes. A clean set of undergarments (also plain) in addition, and, within the minute, Seiran was indistinguishable from any industrious housewife trotting down the town’s cobbled streets, provided whoever was gauging kept their gaze at an accommodating minus forty-five… sixty-five degrees vertical. To braid her hair would’ve been an hour-long operation employing a hit-squad of brushes and combs, so she put it up in a perfunctory bubble ponytail with a fistful of mono-fil compression bands.
For a second, her training filled the looming destination with hostiles – or, particularly, one hostile – and Seiran’s eyes clamped on the ahp dangling by the door. The gun would’ve been favourite, yes, but the town’s textile vogues, in lately seasons exceedingly, hadn’t been near as accounting for utility as they were for floppy lace and spideresque embroidery. Short of a belly-strap, there would’ve been no concealing the weapon in a civilian getup. Not if she wanted to walk straight. And Seiran categorically didn’t want to belt one on.
She could still floor a human if need be, anyway, armed or else; even though, her experiences were telling, the tattle-tale ears averted most violence-adjacent necessities. The Sage’s tacit pharmaceutical enterprise in town had its boons for those outside the circle as well. Another small dishonesty. Another collateral treason…
Seiran shook her head, coincidental ears and all. No use disseminating degrees of treachery. She slapped her cheeks, slapped the ahp with a safety double-check, slapped the sandals back on and, finally, didn’t let the door slap her on the step out. She pulled it shut, wrapped her mind around the bolt on the inside and slid the contraption locked. Telekine aptitudes weren’t too buoyantly exercised, not even by the iron-stomached rabbits, but Seiran’s empty one weathered the vertiginous pushback with unintentional dignity. The dosshouse’s landlady, a reliably reticent woman with a glare like a double-tap, had recommended early on that Seiran see a locksmith in the district over. What she’d failed to fathom was that a door with no keyhole was naturally more impregnable to picking than one with.
The dango-slash-Moon-rabbit aficionado beckoned her from beside the well, where he had drawn a pail of water big enough to float a watermelon. Seiran splashed her face and preened her ears, grasping only after the invigorating coolness had gone that she’d done so, and looked to the smiling, complaisant man she was, according to her friend, lucky to have enmeshed. The responding nod was, in the drought of more colourful impressions, recurring.
“Shall we?” he asked her expansively.
Seiran, who still didn’t know if they should, nonetheless acquiesced. Silently. The man may never – could never – perceive or partake in her Lattice, but, for the present, didn’t seem to need to. He turned and took the lead.
She followed him out of the yard on the guarantee of cheap food and, she was aghast to find, a clinging, hungry trust.
My initial impression of the esurient humanoid were that he was either quite confident in having captured the blue bun's attentions, or he was capable of patience that would turn a boddhisatva smelly and cave-dwelling. There are subtle hints to me, however, that this belief may have been mistaken. I can't help seeing parallels here between being bothered about the joinery and him showing up to escort his currently favoured dish to breakfast. 'Yes, there's probably nothing wrong, but perhaps just a little bit more fiddling.' That sort of mindset.
And, well, I suppose it's a little hard to blame him, what with the mixed messages he's received from Seiran. Realising this discordance in attitude might be a little beyond the present Seiran, of course. After all, she's struggling with non-soldierly life in general, by all indications. Hard to shake off training around hostiles and gunfire in the night and all that. Well, and there's still the insidious thread of Mooninite arrogance sewn into the hem of her thoughts. Hungry Boy here would do well to invest in a set of ears as an aid in his efforts, I guess; even the Ringus grapples with that key omission.
Still, slow progress is still progress. Our long-eared not-trencher(wo)man, in spite of her hangups, at least is willing to set aside some apprehensions at the end in favour of going with the impure humie. She might be ready to knock him out at a moment's notice, but they'll work through that, I'm sure. Would be a shame if the bun were to crack our snacking lad's neck out of paranoia. Certainly wouldn't help business in future. Setting that amusing what-if aside, there is still work to be done. After all, Seiran has clearly gone out of her way to not 'cut [as much of] a dash' in her plainclothes. Even if she doesn't outright question it, she plainly (hee) wants — either consciously or subconsciously — to signal that this outing is merely, well, an outing. No raisins much less dates here, no siree.
Speaking of which, the mention of Eientei's lot in passing did prompt me to ponder the ex-Eagle Ravi's relationship with the other Moon-derived 'hus. I don't look much into Moon things myself, so the details of these things often slip past me, but I suppose I never considered that they might view Eientei adversarially. It does make sense, of course, with Eirin being Eirin, Kaguya being a Mooninite-non-grata, and the dried fruit-y bun being a verified turncoat deserter. Granted, it's hard to say at this juncture what Seiran's ex-superior thinks on the matter, but I don't guess the orchidaceous rabbit is going to throw off all vestiges of her Moony brainwashing just yet.
Still loving the little hints at all things Moon as far as their psycho-magic machinery goes. Every little exchange with the gadgetry adds more to my opinion that it's all at least semi-sentient; sure, they're in essence computers, but they're still magical and display communicative capabilities that a simple Bash shell wouldn't. The essentiality of these telepathic/telekinetic functions of Moon buns to their lives and how that effects their outlook is something interesting to consider.
They moved out down the street at what might have been lockstep had Seiran geared up in a pair of stilts. As it was, she tuned the staccato of her sandals to keep her fixedly at the man’s flank and out the periphery of his sight. Whether spurred on by the expectation of a full (and affordable) trough or a woeful lack of team training, he bulled on down the block, any opposing walkers diverted aside for fear of causing an unbreakable shield situation. And Seiran was forced all anew to revise one or two experimental opinions.
As for the town itself… it was just the town now. Seiran had spotted it often enough throughout their intitial forays: a terracotta-brown grid amid the tea-stains of agricultural fields, far off in the valley below their landing. It’d been hardly of note then: a future tally on the crawler, should the skittish Lunar Lords please it; but, as the fortnight’s agenda had crossed the deadline, and no communique had come down from the hallowed home-world, let alone relief, rudderless heads had begun to wander. The prime among these had been Ringo’s, who, via her lax position as an XO with no orders to relay, had been the first to steal into the town and extract from it its piquant temptations. Upon which the idle Eagle Ravi had fallen as one rabbit. Time and time, in transient freedom – until the outlaw Sage had sent in her pet fixer.
All except Gunner Seiran. Zealous, Moon-eyed Gunner Seiran, who’d go off to pound mochi when told to pound sand.
Ironic, then, it’d be this Seiran alone who would, once all had been said and done, have to grapple with the town’s uncanny semblance of the Lunar Capital’s more ancient precincts. The roads here were rough and scuffed andesite, rather than polished moonstone you may assess your undercarriage in, and glass might be sparser than Lady Sagume’s voice; and yet, it was evident, in a subversive, heretical way, whence it was Lord Tsukuyomi and His companions had traced their architectural proclivities. A Lunar Lord might saunter out of any house she loped by, and Seiran wouldn’t know till her knees were buckled beneath her. If, anyhow, the surprise Lord didn’t buckle first from the Earthen filth.
It was a small comfort. Still bigger than stopping an inch short of ramming her nose between the man’s ribs when he cast anchor before a building Seiran wouldn’t have taken for an eatery in the midst of the worst munchies. That snap-evaluation was rectified by his racking the nondescript door aside and motioning Seiran through.
The ground floor was wide open, if not too spacious for all that. It showed some waist-high tables laid siege to by chairs; their purpose was beyond doubt, but possibly beyond service life. The air had a faint whiff of tobacco adhering to it, the same way the Sun had a faint glow attached. In the rear, backed by a doorway with a grimy flap, was ostensibly the yet newest addition to the premises, consisting of a decently scrubbed bar, a trio of acrophobia-inducingly tall stools, and a large man on the wrong end of a coffee break, built like an ox and watching the top for rogue stains.
Seeing two liable sources of such sidling in out of daylight, his massive shoulders rolled over from a state of squared somewhere into the geometrical realm of cubed.
“Lady Minoriko’s arse, Hito!” he foghorned. “Would’ve bloody got a dog if I needed the pots licked clean! Get! Get, you!”
“Like a dog would glance twice at the slop!” cannoned the six o’ clock riposte.
Seiran, not a little absolutely petrified, stood rooted to the welcome mat as her guide squeezed past and charged the proprietor with sleeves rolled up. Thunder clapped. Stools clattered against the bar. And, once Seiran had dared open her startled eyes, the men disengaged, beaming and shaking the pain from their right hands. The Moon rabbit gawped while they sized each other up like sumo rivals who hadn’t smacked bellies – or, for now, palms – in years.
“Thought you’d come down with the gripes,” joshed, yes, joshed the barman. “The wise you carried yourself yesterday... the wife was afeared you’d croak afore dawn.”
“I’ll save the gripes for when I’m dead,” returned Seiran’s smiling acquaintance. “The noise’ll spook away the kasha.”
“And what smattering of friends you have,” the barman added somatically.
Seiran shuddered off the shellshock with vengeance. There’d been something important there, hadn’t it? A name. Hito. Hito. Hitohitohitohito; she rolled it around her brain like dough until it solidified. Hito, Earth it!
It’d left her stationary enough for the bulkier of the humans to lock his sights.
“And now here—” The sights zeroed in with suspicion. “… A rabbit from the Clinic, have we?”
Seiran had no sooner begun to nod her white lie of years when Hito – right? – when Hito retrained his stoic’s smile on her for a veritable crossfire of male attention. Earth it. The indeterminate tenure as a food peddler had inured her to contact with short-ears, but two at once and both of the brusquer persuasion was overegging it. She didn’t quite quail, but it was a rare bird.
“This? Oh, this,” said Hito, and did she imagine it, or had that smile softened around the edges? “This is Miss Seiran. The dangonista.”
The barman’s face was a low-yield explosion of incredulity. “This is the Miss Seiran?” Then, behind his slit-narrow eyes, gears did a skip. “Hold your horses. Is that a word? Dangonista?”
“Isn’t it, though?” Hito about-faced as if to encompass her in the investigation. “What else do you call somebody who makes excellent dango?”
Seiran hesitated. Then, something sloughed off of her spring-taut shoulders.
“… I’m Seiran,” she offered, vowing inside to tie her ears into a double fisherman’s the instant there weren’t witnesses.
The men stared.
At least, so they did ahead one of them made a sudden noise like ripping wallpaper, whereupon the other guffawed somewhat urgently into his elbow. Seiran hazarded a sheepish smile. Maybe Ringo hadn’t the entire right. Maybe she wasn’t utterly hopeless.
“And humble about it, too!” boomed the barman. “Well, Miss Seiran, as a fellow restaurateur I share your torment. Please, seat yourself. I’ll have the slop whipped up afore you can say save me, Hakurei miko.”
Vaunting which, he ducked the flap at his back and vanished into what, Seiran conjectured, was what passed for the establishment’s kitchen. Crockery could be heard emerging from, assumedly, dark and dank recesses. A mortar and a pestle donked into each other with stony tintinnabulation. Something dry crackled in a bowl.
Seiran waded through the smoky air to the outmost of the mountainous stools, which she climbed with the proffered aid of what she would much later begrudgingly recall to be a tough, steady and reassuringly strong arm. The time spent wrangling the short-ears’ predilections might not have been too fruitful, true. But she knew, in a contingency, what to expect from their food.
Hito saddled up beside her, wearing his interminable smile at a satisfied angle. He didn’t speak, and so neither did she, although who had revolutionised the idea of a conversation by substituting silence remained an academic discussion. Seiran didn’t complain. She could wait, eat and turn the dishes in with silence for a bib.
The barman resurfaced in some moments to deposit two bowls of small-grained contents in front of the wordlessly hungering customers then retreated again. Seiran had just the opportunity to perplex at the sight of flaked oats, rye, cranberries, roasted pumpkin seeds, dried apple and what most resolutely identified as chocolate chips in one shambles, ahead a hot saucepan was brought out and poured out over the motley mix.
Seiran twinged. She was currently in dispute with “cowmilk,” having previously enjoyed the fatty sweetness and then learnt whence on the markedly unmetaphorical cow it came out of. But the vision of melted chocolate and milk-puffy grains wasn’t to be trifled with. Seiran snatched up the provisioned, wooden spoon – and all but staved it through the top of Hito’s barring palm.
“Best if you let it soak a minute,” he advised, retracting the nearly staked appendage. “Better that way. Trust me.”
Seiran glowered, growled (below), but settled back. You could argue with experience. Sure. But then you ended up trounced more often than not and told you’d been told so. What was the gain?
Hito leaned on the spotless bar, conversationally paddling the thick air with the free hand.
“Old Itou been by with the lads?”
The barman scoffed at the acute detective work. “Too right. The man’s been smoking like a charcoal kiln since the Toorima ousted him from the peppers and tomatoes market. Says it’s witchery, the sore sack. Sorry for that. Was chewing the cud about taking the walls out to air out when yous twos trundled in. Couldn’t get off my arse.”
Hito gave a smile to that – forasmuch as he hadn’t been doing prior. “Can’t tell him to play with smoke-sticks outside? Help you with those walls, by the way, iffen you want.”
The barman shrugged, achieving an eerily tectonic effect. “It’s his boys drag in the most business. Yet. See about it once the season’s out. Maybe the Toorima’ll look favourably upon turncoats. Thanks, but no, thanks, by the way. Got the wife. Got the kids, the lazybones. You mind yours.”
“Holy through Yasaka be the day I must,” Hito intoned, so mock-piously that Seiran winced from second-hand shame. “Anything else interesting happen? You’re bound to hear a lot at those fairs: Jirou, the nice chap with the full galley.”
“Up yours. What do I run here? The rumour mill?” The barman – Jirou, it was, wasn’t it? – barked off a laugh like psychic whiplash. Then, eyes out of nowhere twinkling with knavery, he stooped forward to conspiracy. “The young Hieda lady,” he whispered, “is getting hitched, believe it or not!”
“You’d best!” cackled Jirou. “Caught in bed with the help, no less. Old man Hieda thrashed the lad seven ways to sunbreak. Had a gibbet put up on the grounds and everything. Scared the toss out of him all right. Well, the Hieda lady wouldn’t’ve had it, since she’d been sweet on the young man for as long as she’d been that lady, and, the maids natter, may’ve organised for the sour walk-in herself. For cause, the lad’d been seen traipsing with other women, see…?”
“That’s a right caught lad,” opined Hito.
“Married into nobility,” Jirou reminded. “How about that?”
“I can feature no more touch-and-go fate.”
“This,” jeered Jirou, “from a chap who trod over a hunger god for a jar of Kappa pickles and yakitori?”
Seiran’s ears pricked up.
Hito waved it off. “They stick herbs in you can’t grow in lowlands. Can’t be sure when they’ll be down again, either. Cagey things, the Kappa.”
“And the yakitori?”
“Cheap. Spicy. Cheap.”
Jirou sighed. “The priorities on display here…”
( ) What was that about treading on a god? ( ) What was that about a shotgun wedding?
No, damnit no! >( ) What was that about treading on a god? >( ) What was that about a shotgun wedding? You can't just give options like these and make me choose! You monster! (X) What was that about treading on a god? You'll have your reckoning for this I swear it.
>(X) What was that about treading on a god? Seems like something you ought to know about your (de facto) date. Then again, Seiran forgot the poor guy's name despite encountering him several times beforehand. Moonies must not be big on the whole 'courtship' thing.
Don't have a lot clever to say this time. It was, with some double-looking, obvious enough that Ringus had tainted the batch with the Eagle Ravi. Interesting to note that Reisen engaged them at one point, though. Wonder what her current disposition towards them is?
I don't even have to do an analysis of the choices here.
[x] What was that about a shotgun wedding?
I already know your munchie man's deal because I read things, so I don't care about that. Also, you can't dangle gossip about AQN in front of me and not expect me to hammer that button.
Frankly, it's difficult for me to believe Akyuu's papa has much weight in any of these matters; she introduces herself as the head of the Hieda family in that one thing by that one artist our humble Author-san hates. Then again, seems to be a little beside the point. Guy got in a little too deep (haw haw), by all word-appearances.
>>43623 >>43624 >>43625 C'mon, y'all. Not going to spoil anything out of respect for the writer's stated wishes, but read Wild and Horned Hermit. All I'm gonna say.
>>43626 Likewise, those who have read Yaf's more racy literature are already in the know about the nature of the Hieda's beau's "trading", so to speak. Hence why I'd rather see the author's take on a canon event in his own universe.
I understand what this is referencing now, but I do think it would be good to actually describe this in the story, since casual readers might not get it. Plus, since that event is literally all the canon information that exists for the character, he's gonna end up telling Seiran about it at some point anyway.
Also, I think that for someone like Seiran who is not immersed in the "village culture", something about gods would be more interesting than some local gossip.
>>43636 You obviously didn't read much, but whatever. That's not the point.
I know there's at least one person that thinks the 'god' vote is about Shion, and that's entirely incorrect; the actual episode that occurred is much less interesting and pivotal than whatever half of the people voting for it are imagining.
Seiran vacillated. It never ceased to stun her, the elisions human conversation made. Coition in one sentence; gods in the next. A stream of consciousness with a whirlpool in it. Or some other hole…
Seiran knew of gods, at least. The Moon was a haven for untold myriads. Those shepherded by Lord Tsukuyomi, having renounced the filth of Earth. Seiran had heard also of General (younger) Watatsuki, half-chief of the domestic defence force, she whose body had been fashioned into a temple for said gods to call upon in battle. Although, who was really calling upon whom then was a theological conundrum reserved for the blandest mid-rats and slowest watches.
And, because Ringo’s was a planetoid-sized mouth where it concerned (and it did concern) other formations, Seiran had been made privy to an incident wherein a human capable of much the same had caused the General an undue case of the behind. It therefore stood to reason (or, anyway, the scuttlebutt) that the crumb of the divine smothered in humanity could yet be roused within its exceptional specimen. To pray those divine spirits yet Earth-borne toward the purest of communions. They would be native gods, Earth-gods, of course, thusly filth manifest, but still…
… But still, something as that wasn’t to be glossed over for talk of food! Right? Right!
“Anywise,” went on Jirou, not tuned into radio inner Seiran, “dits on the grapevine are the young lady’s drawing up nuptials to end all nuptials. Guests a hundred, courses a dozen, the shebang. The trading agency she begot’s doing the family well, so like as not she wants to toot her horn. And the groom’s. Old man Hieda can’t get a say sidewise. Still a few moons off, mind, but they’re petitioning cooks from all over town already.”
“Oh?” said Hito. He had a look on his face. “Sounds like nobs all right. Sticking out the backside for scratches.”
Jirou paused. Then, in the same undeterred tone, said, “There’s an open invite for… any neglected talents, too. Matter of negotiation. Good outlook, though, good promise of good money, publicity—”
“Good chance for up-and-coming culinarians,” Hito filled in, nodding sagely. “That it is.”
The men held a stare. Which proved a contest Hito must have warmed up for beforehand.
The barman sagged from the hackles down – something he, in turn, was better-furnished for.
“... Tell me,” he pled, “why I try.”
Hito’s was the smile of a merciful god. “Makes you feel human, doesn’t it?”
Jirou shook his head, not too ill-humouredly. “You surely do, old boy.”
“Um,” Seiran put in.
And tardily recognised she’d poked her fingers up in a querying, V-sign salute as she would’ve in basic training. Whether the men recognised it as well – or its condemningly hasty lowering – they needn’t show. Their intensely polite attention – Hito’s go-ahead smile in the vast main – portended rabbit stew if she retracted now.
So, she didn’t, and rode the dregs of outrage onto a wave of boldness.
“What was that about… treading on a god?”
They held another stare, albeit this one was hefted jointly rather than jostled.
“You’ll tell it better,” judged Hito.
To the reception of a look even Seiran decoded as “critical.”
“I weren’t there,” Jirou said meaningfully. “The Miss asked you, besides.”
“The Miss is only curious,” disagreed Hito. “And not being there hasn’t wet your blanket before. You’ll tell it better. Tell it. I’ll re-evaluate with the Miss later where you’ve embellished.”
“Yes, please,” said Seiran, consolidating without thinking. “Sir.”
That turned the trick. The barman sighed and shrugged again, a man purpose-built to do so.
“Well, Miss, it were some seasons ago—” he began.
Out the corner of her weather-eye, not that she’d been keeping much of one, Seiran saw Hito plunk his spoon into his bowl and stir. She peeked at the barman, who gestured not to be shy, and the ravenous rabbit followed suit. Grains and berries pocked the milk’s surface, while the latter browned with chocolate and the spoon dredged up the rye sediment.
“Some seasons ago, as we were,” Jirou went on, voice twanging with relish. “Another of those crowed-about Hakurei fairs was then in the offing, with all the Kappa pickles, Miss, essential. Now the Pilgrim’s Way is no Sunday stroll on the best of those; a proper hour’s plod to the shrine if you don’t take the rickshaw. Meanin’ mouths dry and bellies cravin’ by the while as they get there, which may as good’ve been deliberate by the miko. Anywise the day we speak of was different, for folks were turning tail by the midway: lads groanin’ and lasses swooning with hunger, rickshaws circling round forgoing fare. All but for one had foundered afore reaching the shrine, one indefatigable man—”
Seiran spooned up the mushy blend, shooing away the cow of her imagination. She felt Hito’s observance practically stuck to the rising scoop. A temperature-conscious sup, and Seiran dumped the fluffy, warm concoction into her mouth.
“—who thereupon, having the stair climbed, collapsed slack as a sack of rice. Now the Hakurei miko swith came to his aid, surmising some nefarious attack, but the man scant besought a cup of water afore attending the fair in its emptiness as if never aught was awry.”
“It was right nice water,” Hito chimed in, laser-focused on the chewing Seiran. “The Kappa had an ice-box. Clear stuff from upriver.”
“And but one customer to inveigle wherewith,” noted Jirou.
“So it was,” Hito concurred. “And that there’s a right nice vocabulary. You’ve been reading?”
The barman batted off the friendly gibe. “That bard wot comes here once or twice yearly – you know him? Tall chap, noggin like a library, tongue like a corkscrew? Had a book penned of his tales. The Suzunaan lends out copies. Got one for the little ones; couldn’t part with it meself. Insidious stuff.” He harrumphed with what could have been flair earlier in the morning. “Now our Hakurei miko, scenting evilry, took flight immediate upon the Pilgrim’s Way, doom bespoke in her colour, but, alas—”
Seiran swallowed. And was flabbergasted. The so-called “slop” hadn’t the right to taste any better than it looked, and yet there her taste buds were, gleefully serenading her palate. The cow she could have done without, but she saw how the milk brought everything together how water might never, not even with starch and aspartame liberally churned in. The sweetness of chocolate and the bitterness of rye were as one in the greasy, filthy, white emulsifier. Seiran was in tragic love.
And then there were the berries and apples…
Hito caught her conflicted eye. And nodded something in his private, non-verbal vernacular.
“—alas, even she of power was overcome by the eerie hunger – nay – laid low by it as her friends swith found. Comestibles were brought to bear, and the miko to strength restored, conclusion pellucid in her view. For yes indeed a hunger god had been born on the road, and you two aren’t appreciative of this anywise, so why the bloody hell do I bother?” The barman swept a glare between the two busy at their bowls. “Not a care for the finer things, this pair. The short of the rest is, Miss Seiran, the miko baited the god and exterminated it. Then this blighter commissioned a score of new fair flyers for the girl and shoved them out around town. Free of charge, too, I reckon.”
“Only just I did,” mumbled Hito, spoon milling. “Got the water free, didn’t I?”
Seiran lowered hers, cutting off the repartee. “… Exterminated? A god?”
Hito pondered the answer. Or perhaps delayed for the mouthful to go down. “Hmm. No. Not as such,” he admitted. “There was an offering of foodstuffs, shimenawa and everything. Miss Hakurei’s speciality is extermination, however, so she put that kind of shine on it. But then the report wouldn’t have been as readable, would it?”
“Now, now,” said Jirou, defensively. “Miss Bunbunmaru may’ve a colourful memory, but her heart’s in it.”
“Her heart’s in getting you to subscribe, friend.”
“As well it is. It’s a job. You’re the one who were standin’ there side-by-side with fairies and youkai whilst a god got the works. You’re the evil one.”
Hito’s eyes described the ceiling in preoccupied sardonicism. This prompted the barman to take his well-deserved win and concede a moment of silence for perished divinities. Not so Seiran. The Moon rabbit poured her gaze at the villain with the fast-emptying bowl.
“… You took a god inside you,” she wished to be consummate about this, “then expelled it?”
And then, for the first instance since… well, not learning his name, but conjecturally having it presented to her and consigning it to no matter, Seiran witnessed her best customer’s laugh-lined face film over with the mildest of tirednesses. It hadn’t rid of his unrelenting smile and was gone ahead of Seiran’s next, skipped heartbeat, but it’d been there.
“… No, Miss Seiran,” he humoured her nonetheless. “Would’ve well been told by Miss Hakurei had that been the case. I have no truck with gods that I can help. Went there for the pickles; I didn’t run from the youkai; I did what was right. That is the heart and soul of it.”
Seiran needed no resonance in the Lattice to understand the words, “And I should be gladder for no heed paid to it” were swirling in whatever stunted analogue comprised the internal world of a human. She inclined her head, remembering with care aforethought he couldn’t read hers, either.
It wasn’t what she’d envisioned, anyway. She wasn’t in turn sure what that had been, but for sure as the dust this wasn’t it. Hito was – his inhuman stomach and smile and patience notwithstanding – nobody special. Just a human. A rank-and-file participant of his species’ day-to-day struggle on life-tainted Earth. As Seiran was now… in supposition if not practice.
She couldn’t untangle whether that was to the good or something else.
“The pointy bit’s, Miss,” Jirou jabbed the final neighbourly jab, “don’t send gods after this chap. He’ll walk over them and that’ll be the fat lady’s gig.”
Seiran, she who knew gods by name and station, did not speak.
What a blithely profane existence these short-eared humans led. You did not entreat the gods. You did not send for them. To do so was impertinence. They sent for you. Always. That was how it was.
They owned you. They played you. And then they left you behind when divine memory slipped.
I wonder how Seiran would feel if she knew Reimu and Marisa beat up gods on a (semi) regular basis? Given how ridgid and strict they are over there on the moon, it's no surprise hearing something like that is anathema to her.
It could not have been two minutes afterwards that Hito’s bowl had been ladled clean of grainy debris and handed off, sans contents, to the formal owner. Who consequently ferried it past the flap to stash it, hopefully not preceding at least a rinse, back in the deep kitcheny alcoves charted, as in so many eateries, by the proprietor alone. There was a far and diffident splash of water, and Seiran exhaled, the laden spoon completing its bowl-mouth roundtrip with understated zest.
That done, she deigned to acknowledge with an askance look the resumed vigilance of her difficultly best patron and self-avowed Seiran admirer. The man joined the contest by propping his chin on a forearm in the attitude of homespun thinkers. And watched on.
“… What?” Seiran blurted at length, spoon-arm thrumming with tension.
Hito appeared fleetingly puzzled. Insofar as his brows bowed like stretching rabbits.
“… Observing you, Miss Seiran,” he eventually confessed, straight and narrow as an ahp’s shot, “puts me awfully at ease. Simple as. If it discomfits you, please say.”
Seiran, who cherished the breakfast ever further for occupying her trigger- and other fingers away her ponytail, strove not to let it show. “It doesn’t… discomfit me. Silence. Silence sets me on edge. Silence and loud noises,” she expounded, feeling silly. “I’m a sol— rabbit, yes? So both are bugbears.”
“Should I talk?” asked Hito, sounding more bemused by the moment.
“It would be…”
“… The lesser evil?”
She bored a chagrined stare into her food. And was bemused herself to hear a pithy “Hmf” blow through the awkwardness.
“We’ve established I can be that,” accepted Hito. “So why not. You said yesterday, Miss Seiran, that you wanted to run something...?”
Seiran bit the spoon and blinked. “... Emesharr? Um. Meanf main shupply route,” she slurred. “Ingregients. The likesh.” She cleared her mouth and some headspace together with. “... Come to it, I sacked out pretty bad. Might not be worth it to gaggle-harch to the market by now. There’s always such an Earthed push after festivals.”
“Too right, with every huckster sold clear out,” Hito agreed, parabolaing round the planetary condemnations. “But that sidelight earlier gave me this to think. Why do you not sign up with the trading service? Have the ingredients and whatever likes delivered? The Hieda get the pick of the goods in any event if I’ve known the nobs. Could loosen up the schedule for... sacking out or a proper breakfast. A one-woman operation can still delegate, Miss Seiran.”
Seiran made a face. She wagged the spoon, uncertainly. “Could I afford that...?”
“Last I saw the numbers their rates weren’t far off the market price. The estimates’ll be out of date sometimes, but then they’ll even it out with you on delivery to flat with the current. No fleecing; the clan name’s in the balance.”
Something wasn’t checking out. “How’s that ever turn a profit?” questioned Seiran. “If they buy and sell at the same rate?”
Hito shut his eyes in speciously self-inflicted pain. “... Scratching of the backs, Miss Seiran,” he explained. “The landed clans sell at a rebate because the Hieda buy in guaranteed bulk and regularly. Then there are the reductions on labour, since the service hires its own porters. Make no mistake; our young Hieda lady slept with an abacus as a babe. If she does run a hustle, it’s one you’ve no hope to notice anyhow. Out of sight – and all that, right?”
Hito switched support arms around. “It’s decent help. That's what I’m skirting around saying. Give it a go, Miss Seiran. You’re ill like to regret it. And, well, if you do... ought to be I’ve got a hide to spare.”
“Iffen you can weasel past their waiting list,” said a prodigious voice, and the barman followed it promptly out of the kitchen. “Not to widdle in your muesli, Miss,” he continued, “but the service’s as thronged as the market on Monday dawn these days. Less’n you offer to buy out the whole apple harvest or are compeers with the lady, the two bein’ perforce synonymous, it’s good luck and in the line with you. Sure was for us.”
Seiran, who hadn’t ever put widdling and food in the same sentence, let alone bowl, endeavoured diligently not to choke.
Hito wasn’t impressed either. “How’d you tunnel under yours?”
Jirou the giant dwarf winked. “Got the Itou clan on my shoulder,” he said, which would go far to explain some things, and shrugged. “Old man shook some hands, and here I am. And afore you occur of it, no. Can’t put in an order for Miss mochi-pound here. Old Itou would smoke me out of my hide if I were suddenly billin’ his treasury with mochi-ko by the sack and no dessert to show for it. Sorry.”
“She’d pay for it. I’d pay for it.”
“It’d still go in the books, and there goes that hide.”
Hito’s smile curdled at the rims. “... That’s a widdler, isn’t it?”
“Tax, my unwaged man,” snorted Jirou. “The oldest bloody youkai. And the Hakurei’ll not lift a stick to stamp it out.”
“... Stamp, huh.”
“Should’ve got round to it when they was startin’ out. Might be then you’d’ve been the one getting walked in on— Hito?”
Hito dropped off the stool – a future feat of courage for Seiran. He gutted his pockets, and a string of coins sailed over the counter into the barman’s readied hands.
“For two and a tip,” said Hito, teeming with unexpected purpose. “Get the little ones a thinner book. Miss Seiran?”
“Ye—Yesh?” Seiran complied through a mouthful of mush.
The man gave her manners a pass. “You’re right. The market will have been plundered by this hour. Can I meet you at your place in… two, three? You may just have your… MSR… done for you by tomorrow dusk. Please?” he added – and bowed.
Wrongfooted by that finishing touch, Seiran’s inner squad mother couldn’t butt it ahead the Moon rabbit’s ears were bobbing her dazed assent. “Co—Copy,” she swallowed and said. “Got to scour the baking board, and… the stall’s still in pieces, so… enough to do, anyway. I’ll be in the wire.”
A proportion of bunny-buck-like vim Seiran hadn’t witnessed since boot camp could be appreciated in his righting up.
“Glad,” he said, succinctly. “Then I’ll be there. Thinner book, Jirou.”
“Sit on it,” quipped the barman.
And, with that friendly dagger stuck under his ribs, the man Seiran hadn’t known for half an hour was called Hito sallied out of the crummy eatery with such exigency it was a wonder he hadn’t left his smile hanging confusedly in the air. The turbulences of his launch hadn’t hardly settled when Seiran’s ears were jarred afresh from the opposite front.
“Lo and hearken!” intoned Jirou, vindictively but not unfeelingly. “To the tale of a man in eld determined not to let life stand in the way, e’er again.”
Seiran turned, age certainly making itself impend.
The bulking barman tried for a Hito-esque smile. With scant success else than emphatically straining his cheek muscles. She was relieved to see him stop – and so apparently was he.
“Now, Miss bunny,” he said, loaflike arms crossing in a protective barrier at his chest. “You aren’t one for chinwag if I’ve my acuities, and that’s fine. I’ll leave you be. Got my own cleaning, anywise. But afore I do, heed me on two things. Will you? One,” he went on, quite barring Seiran’s reply, “we’re restaurateurs fellows, so you’re free to come in whenever, even if the Itou lads are in. Hito insists not to, but that’s him. Wholesale rates, the usual. That’s my offer. Deal?”
Seiran nodded – warily. The barman, thankfully, patterned himself after her example and abstained from spitting in his palm. She’d had that happen. It’d been a gob in the sea of culture shock.
“Secondly then,” the barman reopened. “Gossip that I am, I’ll clip my tongue this once and mention this only. Hito is a friend. He may be… how he is now, but he does have folks looking out for him. We like to play callous here, the world bein’ what it is, but it’s not all that. We squib and squabble, but that’s the mountain air talkin’. Nobody is alone. Not even Hito. Harm him, and we’ll have the Hakurei slipped on you afore the blood’s cooled. This is a vow, on my Lady.”
Seiran felt as though the smoke had gone solid in her face. “I—I’m not—”
“Not dangerous? A rabbit youkai like you? No? Then pardon me,” he relented. “But facts is facts, Miss. Accidents hang upon the red string.”
“I haven’t come here to harm anybody,” Seiran lied. “I’m not… going to. I just want to—” What? Live? “—to sell dango. That’s all. It really is.”
“And Lady Minoriko bless you for arsing,” conceded Jirou, breathing out so hugely his own hugeness turned out collateral. “Still welcome here, Miss bunny. Any day, any time. I’m jus’ worried for a friend, and believe me rightly. He is after you, confound him. No gossip, but those kinds of eyes – they are made by boys, not men of his track. Good grief, that one.”
He abruptly and sharply looked to the door wherethrough Hito had decamped – and then once more, shakily, to Seiran.
“… You were aware of that,” he asked, unease beading out like sweat, “were you, Miss?”
( ) “I suspected.” ( ) “I know. He’s said.” ( ) “No. What?”Come, don’t do that. He’s in the Earthed right, here.
>The man gave her manners a pass. “You’re right. The market will have been plundered by this hour. Can I meet you at your place in… two, three? You may just have your… MSR… done for you by tomorrow dusk. Please?” Now that's mighty curious. Where did our lovable hungry man pick up on such military jargon? Has he been stalking Seiran for longer than he's admitted? Or is there some mysterious past to him?
>“I haven’t come here to harm anybody,” Seiran lied. :reisenworry:
(x) “I suspected.” Although I'd wager a moon rabbit on "enemy" territory would be suspicious of everything.
Seiran administered Lady Sagume’s mercy. “I know,” she confirmed. “He’s said.”
The barman assumed the egg-walking facial ruggedness of one at risk of divine exasperation himself. “He’s… said. Said.”
“Said,” sighed Seiran. “That he wouldn’t turn a deaf ear if I were inclined to sit down for a tea with him.”
“And other such phraseologies. It happened on a couple of occasions.”
The barman appeared to excogitate this. You could have made a trench-line of it. “Well, that’s… delicate,” he said after a while. “Hito’d by and large walk over a god for a tea if it was a mugi-cha and maybe had a cracker on the side.” The joke was a dud, but male Earthlings never were given to noticing misfires in Seiran’s checked experience. “Oh, well. Countin’ that muesli unwiddled in, anyhow.” He went at ease. “Praise, praise to my Lady. And now, Miss bunny, as I betook, I shall do and make myself sparse. Leave the tableware ‘ere once you’re done. Good noon to you and thank you for Hito’s b’ness.”
And then, as he’d betaken, he did, making himself sparse in Seiran’s vicinity if not the kitchen, whence sounds of post-custom industry were soon forthcoming. Seiran eased out of the stranger alert-state herself, alone at last with the remainder of her breakfast. She tossed the spoon and lifted the bowl to her mouth.
It was good.
It really was good.
Good enough to turn a rabbit’s coat.
Then why have you been dumping oats in water and hailing it breakfast?
Seiran lowered the bowl, munching on the chocolate-milk-soaked grains. She couldn’t… no, could nebulously remember the last time she’d eaten out in town like this. Obviously, it’d been Ringo’s idea then too; obviously, Seiran had fallen in with the not-order against her better judgement. Her lackadaisical ex-XO had picked a popular dive in one of the outer districts, where the clientele wouldn’t hear of nutritional value if you could exchange it for mint and preoccupied itself instead with the varying decoctions of ethanol. However, upon a hugger-mugger word with Ringo, the comically-hatted (and even more comically busted) waitress had brought out something distinguishable as food beyond its salt and carbohydrate content. It had been, actually, digestible.
The rival rabbits had made what Ringo had called “a night of it,” chatting, by increasing necessity, through a tight beam between their Lattices, talking the usual shop of soldiers on leave and vendors after a jointly weathered rush. They’d been celebrating something, Seiran was almost positive, although what it was eluded her in the fretful mist of a memory of sitting in a rackety, Earthling-packed pub.
But there were places like this, too. Quiet – if stuffy – places sensible of your purse, with staff that spoke with you rather than at you. And, where real, palatable food needn’t be coaxed out via arm-round-shoulder chicanery.
Thinking of which, Seiran coaxed a gluey piece of apple out the bowl with a, bother it, unsanitary finger.
She’d been aware they were there. Like she’d known of pleasure outlets in the Lunar Capital which serviced rabbits even on active duty without flustering looks or questions.
She’d just never looked up either. There was no reason to it, now. She just, somehow, hadn’t thought to.
It’d taken an Earthling to flush her out of that unconscious safe zone. An Earthling. One, sure, possessed of a comparably supercilious antipathy for gods as Seiran’s deserter-commander, but an Earthling still. What could he do?
Take you out to breakfast, evidently.
Seiran slammed the bowl down, swiped as good as clean.
Well, if she was finally falling, then at least it tasted Earthed nice.
She’d cuffed some coins on the bar, because Gunner Seiran was like that, and, for similar causes, exfiltrated the small, cosy eatery omitting additional, clumsy good-byes. The return route to her home compound may have taken twice longer in the absence of an adult, human male’s feeding frenzy to keep cadence with, but Seiran had wound up nevertheless with an abundance of upraised spirits to be tested by the sight of her unfinished stall and flour-caked implements of trade. Spirits undiscouraged, in the event, even so. Seiran had been in dumb awe.
Nothing for it, she’d resolved, changed out of the outing clothes, donned a potato paste-stained apron and, as it was said, got on the mallet. And then, since Ringo’s barbs were yet caught fast in her hair and no other motive, Seiran had made it the same mallet her human adorer had employed so well as a morning bugle.
The hard, Earthen way for a sweet-toothed Moon rabbit.
She was gratifyingly worked up, never mind sweaty, from suboptimal hammering and had been eyeing the crusty baking board with definite unfriendliness when support arrived, a second time in twice as many hours, at the gate. He came fitted with a recondite smile, a roll of papers and a bamboo drink tube dangling from a wrist on a cord.
On cue, because some things required patent visual confirmation, he bowed his inscrutably organised head.
“Good day, Miss Seiran,” he called.
Seiran steeled herself. “... Hello, Hito. Sir.”
The man hitched mid-stride, though did, apart from that, manage to keep a steady approach. Seiran spotted him throughout from the stall’s platform, discreetly de-stressing by means of ponytail, until, out of routine perhaps, he moored at the vendees’ side of the counter. The papers were summarily disbursed all across, and the drink – thrust considerately up in Seiran’s direction. She took it – out of reflex, really, most available attention on the flurried documents.
The paper was veiny and a yellowy-white; it was the same affordable, middling quality thing Seiran had come to accept from the town’s solitary and over-saddled mill. But the type was lusher than Ringo was: all flowing thicknesses and edge flourishes. Moneyedness bloomed from the page.
Seiran’s writing of the Gensokyan script may have been as indistinct as smoke signs in a gale, but her reading was nothing short of perfectly adequate in any weather. Not least because a savvy enough Moon rabbit may feign an inquiring mind and run a psychometry scan on an accommodating printer’s type-case for later, off-time study. The training of the wrist and developing all the little, necessary muscle tics subsequent were, of course, a whole another box of Earthlings – which Seiran had barely jimmied the hatch on.
Still, she absorbed at a leaf-through what turned out a diplomatically phrased mortgage of her immortal soul if she should fail to provide reimbursement (sensible), fail to receive a delivery of perishables within an agreed date (valid), fail to return the Family’s deliverer unperished (weird) or, conceivably, fail to sing the Family’s praises evermore proceeding the transaction (evident). It was nip and tuck with her trooper’s oath in terms of knottiness and, thus, just as simple to skip over.
Seiran didn’t need a broad, masculine hand roguishly covering it up to do so, but there it was quite regardless.
“You’re generally concerned with the blank section under. That is where the order goes,” Hito furnished the more or less obvious. “The rest is, shall we say, my neck?”
“Is it?” wondered Seiran.
“I’ll be signing if this is to work. So.”
So it was. Seiran had about patted herself down for an ink stick when she noticed anew the sloshy occupancy of her dominant hand. And it was slosh of some opulence, now she looked: with a sealed lid and inbuilt straw for spillage-free hydration on the go. A hiker’s lifesaver.
“Tea,” assured Hito, noting the holes being stared in the bamboo tube. “We didn’t get anything to drink at Jirou’s. Thought you’d be straight back in the harness here, too, so here. On me.”
Seiran paused unlatching the lid. “… Mugi-cha?”
Hito’s permanent smile expanded. “Sure is. Well done.”
“No poison,” he promised.
“… I know. Thanks.” She fumbled the free hand around her apron. “Um. Have you got a pe— a stick? Mine’s with the rest of the kit someplace.”
Truthfully, Seiran had its coordinates down to the cubic inch, but would rather avert the techno-insensitive commentary endemic. Most every human in town reckoned on whittled charcoal sticks doing the office just fine, or a quill and inkwell where “stationery” and “stationary” coincided. She didn’t mind. Not rabidly. The former were deployed – optionally, should you pay out the nose – in quite cute and comfortable, hand-carved holders, quite cuter and more comfortable than even her microgravity-enabled, Eagle Ravi-issue ink stick. Seiran had never gotten one for herself.
What produced from the nadirs of Hito’s pockets belonged to neither category. Instead, the Moon rabbit was presented with a wonder in dark jade: a fountain pen, gold-nibbed, heavy and antique, the like an eccentric Lunar Lord may insist convey their inestimable name. Sans, guessing, the entropic absorber preventing the ink drying in hundreds of Lunar cycles of disuse. Seiran hefted the thing like a murder-weapon, amusing the metaphor.
“Careful,” warned Hito, in good sport. “This blaggard’s killed entire branch families. Take your time and list everything, Miss Seiran. I’ll hang about.”
“Thanks,” said Seiran, idly thumbing the fill lever. “Do.”
“Unless you wish I talk?”
She gave him a wry glance. “Not right this moment, thanks.”
Hito smiled, which was a thing he did, insouciant. Altogether overdue, although not overdue for his back to have been sparingly turned, Seiran recognised she was smiling back.
Nothing for it. She could wing chit-chat after all, if nothing else. Take that, huh, Ringo?
Fortified by a sip of, yes, it sure was a tea, from the bamboo canteen, Seiran levelled the killingly sharp nib of the pen at the creative space provided. Nitty-gritty first, she chided the rousing memory of breakfast. So, she wrote thusly:
– m๏cɦi-ӄ๏ fɭ๏ur (1-ӄan sacӄ, pɭɛasɛ)
Then again, a repeat deliberation advanced, if I’m not going to have to tow it all to base myself…
That did it for the basics. Seiran quit pressing the nib musingly to her lips, wiped the stray ink on a sleeve, and proceeded down the list, momentum endowing a respectable speed.
She really should’ve been a quartermaster. Or a spoon. Not even Lunarians expected those to do anything else than handle provisions and be fat. Maybe an ET, something rear echelon. She should never have been on recon. That was the trouble. She should never have been on the ground. None of this would ever have needed not to have been if they’d just let her at what she was better at.
“Um. Hito… er, sir?”
That, distinctly, not including talking.
Hito, who’d been pervading the cluttered yard with that ultra-conspicuous sort of unobtrusiveness only achievable by the truly hopeless, jumped to. To what it was he did, Seiran cautiously labelled as attention.
“Yes?” he volunteered, for all outward appearances having been riveted by a rusted, derelict sheep cage currently, and this was perhaps the philosophically intriguing part, lacking for any evincible sheep inside. “What-ho, Miss Seiran?”
Seiran wet her lips – and tasted ink. Earth it. “… Will they, that service,” she asked, “be able to procure chocolate, do you think?”
“Sure will,” warranted Hito, off-hand. “Just specify shavings for baking or bar for snacking, and ta-da.”
Seiran scrupulously did as advised. “… Then I should be done.”
Hito let the ostensive sheep be (or not be, whichever) and joined the Moon rabbit up on the stall’s platform, reinforcing in this due how it hadn’t been built for two or to a human – male – scale. He put forward a hand, palm up.
“The pen, Miss Seiran.”
She surrendered the only weapon of bloodshed in fifteen paces (the mochi-pounding mallet by her quarters’ door being the other), and the man put the nib to the bottom of the page and the bracket verbosely denoted, “Cmmsnr. Name.”
Seiran craned as it danced. Ink sank a strange truth into paper.
「 空腹の久人 」
Kuu-fuku, Seiran syllablised, “Hisa...?”
She felt colour forge up her cheeks as the gaffe dawned. The man pocketed the pen in exchange for an oblong, brass seal stamp his ilk occasionally staked to legitimise their interactions. There must’ve been a fresh pad on the inside of the cap, because the order had all at once a very red, very official signature. That the character stamped matched seemingly none comprising the underlying name almost hadn’t registered beside the analogous red flushing Seiran’s face.
The man scooped the papers up into a file. Then espied the blue Moon rabbit IED going live where she was liable to take off at least an arm.
“Oh,” said, apparently, one Hisahito of the Kuufuku family. “That.”
Seiran mimed an exotic, rabbit-eared fish. But Hisahito, Earth him literally, jumped aground in contempt of evolution. Then he raised a smile-shaped bar across the issue.
“It is nothing, Miss Seiran,” he reassured her fixed to the platform’s planks. “‘Hito’ is just what comes out of people unable to be butted into spelling the whole article. I believe ‘friends’ is what we call those. You may use your discretion; I’d rather you did. Though, if nothing goes pear-shaped, worry not – you won’t soon have to.”
Seiran lurched. “Wha—What?”
“I’ll hand these in and bring it on home.” Hisahito fanned the papers. “If it falls through, I’ll jog by to clue you in that it’s back to square one. If I don’t, assume that’s it. The young Hieda lady processes it some time today, and you ought to hear somebody knocking on your door tomorrow. What number room shall I put down, by the bye?”
“I—I’m in 3,” Seiran supplied. What did it matter now? “You’re… going home after?”
Hisahito bowed, somewhat finally. “Yes, ma’am. Miss. You’ll see me again, I don’t doubt, once you’re back in business.”
Up behind the counter, Seiran reeled from the suddenness of this double strike on her composure. She knew some reply was incumbent; the sore question was whether how silly she’d inevitably make it would fall outside the scope of what was expected from someone who’d merrily exercised a customer’s private pet name.
Somehow, Hisahito’s smile was imputing, she might as good try to hop over the Sea of Tranquillity.
( ) “You don’t want to stay and… observe?” ( ) Let him who’d done enough go.
If only I knew moonrunes so that I could fully understand how hard Seiran screwed the pooch by shortening our hungry man's most surely illustrious name into the most generic name ever for a member of a species (discounting underground monkeys).
And, if she might as good try, she might as good do try.
Urged on by the foregoneness of the conclusion, Seiran cooked off the ammo she’d been purveyed.
“You don’t want to stay and, um… observe?”
To her merit he did give off a dim sense of surprise, complete with the minutest of head tilts. This lasted all four of Seiran’s heartbeats, really a flash on a self-esteem’s scale, the successor of which saw Hisahito fold his arms into an L-shape, elbow in palm, and sight down the papers’ longer edge as if taking aim at the overbold Moon rabbit.
“… Miss Seiran?” he said.
“Yes. Me. Good day,” she scraped up from the great jar of Seiran wits.
“Quite.” Hisahito’s bifurcated smile dignified the attempt. “But, Miss Seiran, the answer is yes, but no. A god-trampler I may be,” he granted, “but haven’t, luckily, been struck a blind one. I can see just fine. You’ve indulged me enough; and, I do dearly hope, you will in the future. Would, would so, love little more. Not this day, however, Miss Seiran. You have done plenty. Today, you’re off the Hito-hook.”
Seiran inflated for a heated reply, but whatever negligent discharge of folly it might have been fed back into the scramble of her synapses unvoiced. Wherever he’d learnt it, Hisahito’s was the innocent expression of a sergeant with a detail to dole out.
“… Now, Miss Seiran,” he concluded once she verifiably had not. “Since I’m leaning on you not seeing me again, it’ll be good day, good evening and good night to you. Have a good night, Miss Seiran. I won’t say you look like hell, for fear I still need a spot, but those bags don’t lie. You’re lovelier without them, anywise. I’ll check in in – whatsit? – two solars. Rest easy. Obliged.”
He aped her bunny-ears salute from the bar, no doubt to emphasise this was as well as military business and therefore superseded however they might’ve felt on it personally, and marched out to the street at a vaguely martial plod.
Seiran stared after his disappeared back, deaf to all but the thumping in her temples.
The next sound she heard was that of her forehead thumping the counter.
She made a note to keep in the forefront of her brain not to lose the forefront of her brain. However much it might appeal at the time. Wilted of ears and not too fairer of complexion, Seiran reconciled with dreaded verticality.
Well, she’d bet the bowl and gotten bowled over. There’d been, perhaps, nothing for it. The compliment may have been nice, but she hadn’t especially countenanced an afternoon of constant distraction in any case. She had chores enough to keep her athwart of the hairy position of time hanging heavily on her hands and, failing on that front, could both make and work make-work like the pettiest of officers. No bumbling, male touch required. Seiran was a bumble all of her own. The compliment had been nice, though. It had been nice.
She could almost, almost believe it.
Time. Time is hanging.
Seiran cast about the yard from her stall’s vantage to find herself menaced by the baking board proudly displaying what was, most surely by now, an armour plate of crusted flour. Any of the various purifiers from her personal maintenance and disposal kit and she could’ve made the job (and, if she wasn’t accurate, herself) a no-brainer, but none had lasted this long into her exile. It was hence down to Seiran, salt-water and a blunted, down-to-Earth knife.
An hour in, and she was well-nigh beholden to her admirer for hitting the dust against every otherwise suggestion. The board wasn’t even half-clean, there were flour rocks everywhere, and the knife’s handle bit. Oaths were strung a mile a minute.
And Seiran really, really, really didn’t want her only compliment to be rescinded.
Frustrated. That was how she had felt about it all, Seiran unravelled later, once she’d retraced the conversation in her memory’s pathways. She’d just succeeded negotiating a mesh between the micro-furnace and her room’s spent glow-globe – and accorded herself the biggest bed-flop she wouldn’t cave in together with – when the assessment reared its ugly tail. An early Spring sundown was dousing her retreat in orange through the window. Her former XO could have sprawled prone on the floor with her beret over her ears and been virtually invisible.
But she wasn’t frustrated with Ringo. Not in this instance. She hadn’t even to deal with Ringo on a daily basis.
She did, however, deal with Hisahito. That was the dustiest thing, because neither had she ever to specifically ask for it. He’d drift by and dawdle at her stall unbidden; he’d indisputably not been invited to amuse himself with its pieces and a mallet this morning-noon; and even Seiran’s consent to be dragged along to breakfast had been, at its loudest, tacit. He’d always happened to her without once needing to be requested or requisitioned.
… Then, the one time she’d worked herself up to, he’d baulked at her like one priggish Eagle Ravi at Earthen food.
Seiran lolled about on the bed and pulsed the glow-globe with an inquiry. For which diligence she received a psychic prick in her Lattice from the re-charge transference underway between the devices. Fine, be like that, she thought its way. You’ll be Moon-white before I will.
The joke wasn’t whatsoever funny, and Seiran rubbed the pins and needles out of her ears rather put out at her own jaundice. She’d turned out a good day, after all. Hadn’t she? The stall was axle-checked and battle-ready, all fine to be trundled out to the bumpy streets; her merch-prep utilities were cleaned and oiled and hung out to dry where not too inconvenient. The victuals would, if her fancier’s absence of reappearance was to be interpreted positively, reach Seiran’s home-base on their own time, irrespective of her current restlessness. She had even, in the acquired leeway, had a good, Earthen dinner rather than a sugary biscuit or five from the forever diminishing stack of MREs.
A nice, beef-stock, Spring soup with onions and carrots and whatnot. Greasy, unwholesome, delicious whatnot.
And to feature that, fewer than a dozen cycles back, she wouldn’t have poked meat stew with the butt of her mochi mallet. These days she felt under the gun if her portable soup case rattled too hollowly when disturbed. And, where it may’ve begun in linguistic confusion (and, disturbingly, no straightaway retching) on another outing with Ringo, it hadn’t settled into a habit till Seiran had unearthed from the detritus of the outdoor, cooking area in the yard an old, wrinkled recipe book. The book had contained upon a time many an etching-resplendent and handily flammable page of Earthen wisdom; to Seiran, however, who had found it in its state of decline, the book had imparted primarily this: a yellowed formula for soup you may store in your pockets. And store it there, the author avowed, for “winters and winters and winters.”
Questionable retention solutions aside, Seiran’s professional doubt had been piqued; and so, not too long after, the Moon rabbit had been dumping discounted cuts of dead animal into a cauldron she had chained up on a hook over the weather-beaten, open-flame woodstove. There eventually she’d been discovered by a pair of homecoming neighbours, farmhands of closer or farther description, whose faintly nose-flicking tones, once they’d spoken, had been only too known to rookie Seiran.
“Whoa, Miss dango,” one had called right out, as it were, the gate. “Cooking for the whole fluffle, there?”
Veteran Seiran hadn’t risen to the bait. “Making portable soup, thanks.”
This’d caused a measure of hushed consternation in the rude pair. Ultimately, with a timid look of the miraculously converted and their straw hats held off in their hands, they had approached the bustling “Miss dango.”
“… If we chipped in, Miss,” one had submitted for her kind consideration, “say, would you let us twos have some? The butcher hereabouts owes me a favour; we could be round with some choice bits in two shakes of, pardon me, a tail. Would be most thankful, Miss. Most thankful.”
“Hear, hear,” the other had agreed. “Bloody pain to make, portable soup. But bloody handy, too. Make a muggy right out afield if some’n but brings a kettle.”
More eager concurrence had ensued. “Too right, too right. Keeps you spry in the cold, a muggy. Well, Miss? Will you, nill you?”
Taken more than an inch aback, Seiran had acceded. And, a couple more shakes of the tail (hers) than two afterwards, a whole beef shank, several pig’s feet and about a fistful of condiments from another neighbour tipped off in the meanwhile had been floating in the cauldron. Later yet, Seiran had strained the done broth, put it back on the fire, picked clean the tender, savoury meat left over and, since she’d been Seiran even then, dispensed it among a number of small, clay bowls earmarked for the communal kitchen. It had been well dusking by when she’d wiped her hands on the apron and hollered, “Supper’s served! Come one, come all!” over her shoulder.
Curious faces had peered out the dosshouse’s seven occupied doors. They’d been soon pursued by the peckish rests of Seiran’s unsophisticated neighbours.
The spontaneous eat-together would last an hour or so into dark: men and women of various, inglorious walks eating and chatting in a cosy huddle, while Seiran had tended the fire in the wings, largely unbothered but for the odd, encomiastic remark. A strange and rare spell of night camaraderie from people who shared, as a rule, only their morning hopes and evening disillusionments.
It had been the safest and most comfortable Seiran had felt ahead or since in their presence.
Come sunrise, the Moon rabbit had cut the floppy, jellied essence out of the cooled cauldron – sliced it as neatly she could – laid the gelatinous pancakes out on a linen sheet and, because a Moon rabbit cook had her advantages over dated, Earthen texts, shut them in an atmospheric regulator box which would usually have housed unfinished rations to re-dehydrate. Four days hence, scraps of leathery, resin-like and, yes, perfectly pocketable soup had been parcelled out around the building.
And another Moon rabbit’s unbelief had been proven false.
Seiran sat up. She looked toward the mirror and found herself staring at a bronzed reflection of a muss-haired sulk who’d borrowed her face.
Frustrated, my fourth point of contact, the rightful Seiran grumbled inside. She was jealous, not frustrated. She was jealous because a psychically dull human had read she hadn’t been her best and acted on it with more tact than she herself had at first discerned. That was it. She wasn’t frustrated because he had denied her his company. No. She was ashamed to have been shown up. Shown up and patronised. And, by a human, no less. A ham-handed, human male.
What did that make her? What did that make Seiran, the Eagle Ravi? The Moon elite?
Frustrated in earnest, that was what.
Seiran tugged the compression bands out of her ponytail. There’d been no time earlier in the supposedly off-day’s un-leisurely rush, but perhaps now she could do her privately cherished asset justice. She crawled lengthwise the bed and slumped down the edge and into her trunk for the combs and brushes necessary. If she was to fritter the evening away, she’d if nothing else look the lovelier for the waste. Yes.
But, you know, she thought, slithering back up with her hygiene kit. You do know, right, Seiran? Maybe it needn’t be that. Ringo isn’t wrong. You and he aren’t as far apart. Not anymore. This is your common war, now. This life. You are here, aren’t you?
I am here.
Maybe, then. Maybe a man and Moon rabbit may struggle together. Treating and complimenting each other as peers, pride removed.
Then morning came and proved her false on that too.
Seiran rose with the Sun. That in and of itself wasn’t far off the wall, given the blindlessness of her window. That she did so in something shyly approaching expectation and confidence was farther by a light second. Still, she coasted the drive: turned out of the bed and into fresh clothes, smoothed down her ears and braided hair, hopped into her sandals and popped the colloquial smoke. The new daylight outside was cool, almost Moon-pale. Seiran telekine-bolted the door, shivered and, perkily, set forth from the appurtenance-strewn yard.
Unlike the noon prior, the doors of Jirou’s hole-and-corner canteen were fanned wide out, greasy men greasing greasily in and out in inverse states of satiation. Seiran waited a gap to open in the fluctuating workforce – wherethrough then she slipped inside the small, yet well-oiled eatery. There were glances from the embattled tables on route to the bar, but of no stripe which wouldn’t have cropped up elsewhere in town. The barman hadn’t lied; nobody cared two hoots she came in at o’ feeding thirty. It really was just Hito. Hisahito. Hisahito and his Hisasyncrasies.
“There’s a pretty smile,” reviewed the barman as Seiran ascended one of the towering stools with less dignity than might’ve been surmised in the word. “Goodly morn to thee, Miss bunny. Same as yesterday, be it?”
“Same slop, yes, please,” Seiran confirmed.
He didn’t belabour the sally beyond a nasally exhalation. “Right you are, Miss.”
A quarter-hour later, Seiran quit the eatery a happy and muesli-filled Miss bunny. And a good job she did; because, no sooner had she swerved under the gate of her home-plate than the slam of a door and a shower of expletives erupted from the dosshouse. Seiran leaned round the support, caution not quite smothered beneath the full belly.
A man-drawn float, with wheels nearly the size of Seiran and a load to frighten the greasiest of menials, had been parked askew just inside the gate. A man was making back toward it from the building: tall and Sun-dusked along the extremities and having manifestly knocked at not only the wrong door but the wrong time to boot. He was muttering profanity like a trooper. And, was fiendishly handsome for one so filthy-tongued. No ears, of course – but a nice, rakish beard, fastidiously slicked hair, shoulders like shelves and arms that could scoop you right up were, yes, definitely in evidence. Lord Daikoku, Ringo would have a field day…
Seiran blinked. It was a rare break she recognised Earthling males, let alone as aesthetically pleasing. She was in danger.
The clap of her eyes must have advised him of her position taking cover behind the float. He cocked his head, formidably dog-like; and then, without an advance notice, hope dawned on his features like the bright side of Earth after an eclipse. If he’d marked her ramrod-straight, bunny antennae at all, there was no reassuring, familiar mistrust to be had for it.
He sketched a half-bow in greeting. “Gin. Gin Akamatsu,” he reeled off, coming close. “Still with the Hieda. Somehow. Got a delivery here for one noble Miss… wossname, wossname. Know where around here one could stash any noble lady? They don’t suffer these chicken coops well, in experience. Hang on, got the slip with the names here…”
“… Seiran?” pre-empted Seiran.
The man consulted a strip of densely-lettered paper tacked to the handlebar of the float. “… Nope,” he judged. “Not it. It’s, bloody tits, darling, what is this character—”
“I’m waiting on a supp— a delivery, though,” said Seiran, casting out of mind the picture of cute, albeit inexplicably carnivorous birds.
Now a healthy dose of mistrust was injected into his expression. The deictic deliverer scanned her from the tips to the bottoms of her agog ears. Seiran breathed those fifteen inches easier.
“… You’re no young mistress, or I don’t reckon,” he confessed. “Are you a Lady Seiran, Miss Seiran?”
“No,” Seiran emphatically denied. “But I am waiting on a delivery.”
“That so.” He scanned her some more. “Which room number, then?”
Seiran glanced. “Three.”
A waxing grin nearly split the man’s face in two. “A-ha! There’s the rub. Third three or eighth three?”
Oh, right, she thought. That Earthed thing. “Um. Third three,” she began elucidating. “The doorplates are buffed to dust, so eighth kind of looks like—”
The delivery man rounded the float, cutting her off. “Yeah, yeah. Sure bloody does,” he said and threw aside the copiously patched-over tarpaulin. “I was moving out, I told the landlady: borrow a loupe, singe some new ones, else some fairy-botherer gets drunk and them wrong one day. Well, what do you know – I was that fairy-botherer. Knocked on three; nobody was home, so I gave mister eight a free wake-up call. Would’ve. Turns out, wasn’t the only fairy-botherer. Imagine that. Uh, lessee…”
Seiran tactically jinked whatever might’ve been entendred. For all that, she found herself affixed on the end of a sudden, last-ditch squint from the man bent in half over the miscellaneous cargo.
“Yanno,” said the deliverer, mock-inoffensively. “Just in case. Say what the weirdest item in the order was.”
Seiran’s ears were beginning to ache. “Um. Two jars of pickled plums. And, er, four bars of chocolate...?”
The man bit off a scoff. “Ha. If’n you reckon that’s weird, try having a fiancée with child. Righto. Where do I dump this not to stub any toes?”
“Field kitchen there.” She indicated. “I’ll be going straight to work, so there’ll do.”
“You’re the boss bunny.”
He ducked the handlebar and pulled the float where she’d directed. Seiran skipped along, safe within his blind spot.
“So,” she spoke up. “Where and when do I pay? How much?”
The man jogged his shoulders. “Oh, you don’t.”
… What? “Um. What?”
“All paid on commitment,” he explained. “Overpaid up front for the loose rates, actually, so I’ll be giving you back some. Thank the noble lady, keep mum and keep the change, is my piece.”
Seiran went stiff.
The deliverer threw down the bar, circled the float and set about debarking the goods by the roofed, brick stove. Sacks of flour, fruit, condiments, soybeans, brown sugar and, indeed, bars of chocolate in expensive profusion. Seiran’s hard-won earnings. Sweat, tears and stress-induced kilograms. Her self-made freedom. Her choice.
He wouldn’t. He wouldn’t have done that to her. Would he? There’d been vexed sarcasm to the effect, but it should’ve gone no further than that. Had it? Hadn’t Seiran warned him? Hadn’t she said...?
No. No, no, no. Not when she’d just resigned herself to enjoying his compliments. This wasn’t equality. This was a mistake...
“Miss? You fine?”
Seiran quit tapping her sandaled foot. The deliverer was extending a bill of sale and polite pressure. Seiran snatched up the tendered writing stick and signed: Ꮥɛirคຖ.
“Keep it,” she snapped. “Tip.”
The man’s face became a vista of self-catering schadenfreude. He pocketed the strung coins.
“I’ll bloody miss being a common mule,” he sighed, melodramatically. Then hitched himself up to the float, now that bulk lighter. “Ta-ta, private chump change and lower body strength. Ta-ta. You too, Miss Seiran. And, please,” he rattled out the postscript with painstakingly rehearsed speed, “directalleventualinquiriesregarding the reception to young mistress Akyuu. OK? Tell everyone. I’m not even let in on how much’s it going to cost, bloody hell.”
Seiran half-listened to him wheel his tool of trade out through the gate.
The very heartbeat he did, she whirled around – grabbed a knife off the rack by the stove – and flung it at the cobbles underfoot. It twanged to a vibrating stand between two.
Seiran gnashed her teeth – and drilled her mind at the hardwood handle till the blade had sunk up to the heel and the feedback nausea nigh on doubled her over.
How dare he?
How dare that man – that Earthling! – presume she needed alms? Help? Money? Hadn’t she done him courtesy enough deferring to his advice? Now this! What did he fancy she was? A snotty-nosed conscript in need of protection from the pit? Some pet rabbit to feed peaches and mollycoddle?
She was Seiran. Seiran! A dust-blasted, Earthed Eagle Ravi! Buy her dango and shove off!
The knife slid out from between the stones at a strenuous grind, extorted by her psychic pull. The steel emerged, with might and main, mangled by the antagonistic forces. Seiran flicked it atop a refuse pile with another telekine push.
She swallowed a breath, tasting bile.
Nothing for it, huh? You binkying idiot.
Her fingers were twitching with indignation as she knelt beside the flour sack and the rest of the raw ingredients. Continue Mission, Seiran. That was what she was owed to do. Continue dust-blasted, Earthed Mission. There was a trade to ply: dango to mix, flavour, knead and roll. Sustenance to earn – earn! – from this life-tainted realm.
She would calm down. She always did, up to her elbows in dough. She would get a grip, would Seiran – meet him who would venture buying her loyalty on professional terms – and, respectfully, apprise him of where his “no problem” money may be better utilised.
Where the Moon didn’t deign shine would be a start.
That upmost in her mind, Seiran ripped up the sack and dyed her dress – and everything in a small radius – white.
Yes. Calm down. Come Hell or Oomagatsumi, that was what Gunner Seiran shall do if she had to hack it up first.
She did not calm down. As such. She had stewed, simmered and fumed as rabbits were wont to when sufficiently heated, but hadn’t, per se, calmed down. She’d escaped planet Anger and penetrated deep into the interstellar frigidness of personal offence. She’d trawled about every conversation tenuously held with the man heretofore till beyond the tinniest doubt she had been mortally and repeatedly slighted. It was as well that an Eagle Ravi had pride in mandated surplus.
And just as well that Seiran had the damper clip permanently on. She wouldn’t have heard the end of it if she’d flooded the Lattice with thoughts of a male around the clock for Ringo to riff on. She’d had hard enough of a time keeping the dango globular as was.
By subsequent morning, Seiran had moulted the wintery coat of resentment and become a rabbit with the sole purpose of proving a presumptuous, overbearing human wrong. And making some dust-scoured coin to cover for what she’d throw back in his smiling face. His smiling, god-smashing face she couldn’t determine whether it was handsome or not. Not that it mattered. It was lodged in her Earthed head whatever it was.
She vacuumed up a breakfast of oatmeal and chocolate bar (which was a nice change) and donned her blue, off-duty dress (which was a nice lynchpin). The stars-and-Moon-embroidered piece was smart without being clever, and a pair of running pants forestalled any remaining bright ideas that could’ve occurred. She wound a cook’s kerchief round her hair and ears so tightly it might as well have been nailed in place.
Thusly girded against all unprofessionalism, she carted Dango Seiran-ya out to the streets.
And the coin was… decent. No day visited on such an arcadian, low-rung commune as Gensokyo’s without its congenital troubles; and, there was no trouble which wasn’t made more trifling by a sweet treat churning happy chemicals around the fluffy folds of the brain. Seiran might attest. She was a doctor, so to say, practicing self-medication.
The coin had trickled in thicker yet since she and Ringo had psygned a non-impingement pact on the town’s busiest avenues. It was easier to reel in desperate taste buds when the competition wasn’t compromising the illusion of scarcity on the other side of the walk; it was simpler and cleaner as well, to divide and conquer – rather than contending who had the fuller chest and the better-lubricated vocal chords. Their exception of festivals was one mainly of convenience – and the reliability of young (or soused) heads to drum up purchases.
It had also put each rabbit out of the other’s hair. The very technical definition for this had been: “to keep from toeing the inconspicuousness threshold for the number of ‘youkai’ in one place;” but, the emotive undertow in the Lattice had read: “I like to be left alone, and we’ve never been close, either, but let’s not make it sound like we aren’t in it together, yeah?”
Seiran hadn’t objected. XO Ringo was like a bath: an hour was fine, two were an occasionally pleasant inattention, but any further and you could feel wrinkles growing on you in real time. She liked orbiting Ringo; she really did, if the distance was proper. But she also liked sucking on lumps of starch and aspartame, and that had been, apparently, a dietary pitfall.
The pact had made them both comparatively healthier rabbits – never mind smoother ones.
After a few hours of boasting dango, dango, oh sweet dango around one of her main venues, in which Lunar assassins and irate shrine maidens failed to erupt out of thin air, Seiran settled in for the lull usually succeeding the most critical human activities being done. Which – and she knew this with the chronic certitude of a rabbit for whom the universe had once run like clockwork, with the first verses of Beloved Be, Lord Tsukuyomi mumbled every big notch – meant, somewhere, a biological timer had struck zero.
And, right enough, she hadn’t but put the pre-boiled mitarashi dango on the charcoal box when out – perhaps not of thin air, but someplace in Seiran’s blind-side – turned that heel, Hisahito.
Clad in one of his loungewear yukata that would’ve looked like a pall on Seiran, he weaved out of the way of a previously dango-issued family of three, ahead correcting course for his daily happy chemicals. And there, up on his unopinionable face, was what the ticked part of Seiran designated as the look of a man who’d done well for himself and now strutted the good-deed of having done some else poorer soul the same. Somewhere, the stew leaked.
“Good day, Miss Seiran,” came the conventional observance. And then, with a surreptitious lean-forward, Hisahito sprinkled in: “You do look good today. Peppy. It’s lovely to see. You’re lovely to see, Miss Seiran.”
That was almost a blush, Gunner, thought Seiran. Twiddle your braids next, why don’t you?
Hisahito, who’d unerringly taken her unresponsiveness for her being Seiran, let it slide. He delved into his pocket, undaunted.
“Stop,” said Seiran.
And he stopped. Stopped, smiled and looked up.
Seiran had not calmed down. Not really. And nowhen since the first sizzle had she felt it keener than when she saw that uncomprehending, but endlessly cordial, smile. Like nothing had happened. Like he hadn’t tried to invalidate all her gruelling, everyday work. Who she was.
Her foot could as well have been a machinegun emplacement for the noise it provoked from the stall’s platform. “What were you thinking?” Seiran demanded. “Why’d you pay for them?”
The man canted his perfunctorily kempt head. “Afraid you have the advantage of me, Miss Seira—”
“The supplies!” she spat. “That – confounded – requisition of yours! These!” She flagged down the fresh, steaming dango.
Something descended on Hisahito’s laugh-lined face, although it was neither understanding nor the corners of his lips. “Firstly, Miss Seiran,” he explained, calmly, “because that is how it works. You file an order, get an estimate – and pay up front. However. Secondly. I’ve said before. Money is no problem—”
“YES, IT IS!”
She sensed, more than saw, necks around the street tweaking. The subtle, acid touch of unwanted attention on the skin of her psyche.
Moreover, she saw the smile crack. For the first time. Now.
She hadn’t even thrown a bullet. She’d just raised her voice. That had been enough. A constant was broken.
And just for a heartbeat, a cosmic microsecond, planet Anger wobbled.
( ) Meet him later. Nobody needed a scene. ( ) A scene was exactly what was needed!
(X) Meet him later. Nobody needed a scene. I think Seiran is in the right to be upset. She's made it pretty clear that she wants to be as independent as possible and Hisahito really should have told her up front that he'd be paying so she could pay him back properly.
Well, you need a bit of drama in these stories. It adds spice. Mmh, tasty.
A scene was what was needed. But the wobble recalled to mind various tectonic plates of life. It wouldn’t do to rub them the wrong way.
With difficulty, like tugging a bur out of her tail, Seiran withdrew the fist poised to quake the tip jar on the counter. The spill wouldn’t have been catastrophic; else than a sportive twig from some precocious, human juvie and a – ha ha – fresh carrot, the contents were for the most part what Seiran had thrown in herself at the start of the shift as bait. The tactic was barely operative, but still, each carrot so-earned was a carrot so-saved. Because…
“Money – is – a problem,” Seiran enunciated, arms falling along her sides. “You – you – may not realise, but it is! There aren’t two days I don’t crunch the figures and squirm. But did you know something else?” She gripped her dress. “This is my life. Mine. I chose! This stall is Gunner Seiran, now. And I don’t need help or handouts to be me. Not yours. Nor anyone’s.”
The stupid man slumped. “Miss Seiran—”
“Stop!” Seiran barred the excuses from flying with an upturned palm. “Save it, whatever it is. I’m coming off and going back in the wire once the schoolhouse bell strikes sixth. If you must, see me then. No. You must,” she corrected herself, “because, that money? I’ll be giving that back, to the mon. Non-negotiable. I refuse. Here! This is an instalment. Paw!”
Commanding which, Seiran skewered a number of the timely, purple dango – and thrust them out at the man. Hisahito received the treat, it seemed, on a deeply-ingrained reflex, because he breathed in sharply when their fingers made inevitable contact. His already crumpled, smile-less expression sagged into open-mouthed helplessness as he stared at his favourite.
Two in the chest… thought Seiran.
“There,” she said. “The festival earnings are back on base in a strongbox—” a sock, actually, “—so this’ll have to tide you over. Now beat feet! You’re interfering with my job. Quit standing around like a dumb buck! Hop, hop, hop!”
Hisahito cast about as though for something to clutch.
“Hop, I said!” Seiran pressed. “And bring whatever red tape there was: invoices, bills, whatever. Let’s be exacting about this. Like business partners. Now beat those dust-plastered feet! Go. Go!”
… One in the head.
Hisahito hammered out a bleak nod, oblivious to the self-sufficiency of military protocol. Without another word, but with a face to fit, he turned about and took off down the street at a stiff trot. Seiran walked his tense shoulders and back with her eyes, not knowing why or that she did, till her best customer and alleged suitor rounded a far corner. Though, not ahead he’d near crashed into several passers-by.
At which point, Seiran’s legs folded neatly in half. She crouched behind the counter, mumbling oaths under her breath. She curbed the psychic jitters itching her ears.
Lords on the Moon, she’d loathed that. Gunner Seiran wasn’t wired right for these non-combat, social confrontations. Neither, for all her lately stumbling into such, was Seiran the dangonista. She touched along her stomach for the planetary core of anger formerly pumping her guts full of magma, only to find it doused in cold shame. It’d been wee buns to keep it stoked on her lonesome, but she’d had only to look away and observe Hisahito’s uncompromising smile melt from his face like filling out of botched mochi for the whole thing to go astronomical. Talk about Situation Normal…
Seiran reached into the storage cranny of her stall. The ahp’s grip slipped comfortingly into her hand.
+Was that lovely to see?+ she pulsed.
The weapon roused despite the nonsense query. The defence force dust-sloggers, even long-toothed Eagle Ravi, operated their devices via deliberate, lingual commands uttered into the Lattice; Seiran had trained herself early on to do so with precisely modulated, emotive pulses instead. The equipment knew no difference. Subjoining an articulation – often unrelated, e.g. the example present – had been a small, personal amusement of years. She’d gotten some laughs cussing out the crawler to pop its accumulator cells. One of that jarful of memories that hadn’t soured.
+Conductor coils meshed. The trigger is yours in five, Eagle Ravi+ reported a facsimile of her own psy-voice. +Four. Three—+
+Mhm+ mused Seiran. +That’d sure do someone good.+
+Illegal intent+ chided the Seiran-gun in her Lattice. +Self-impairment unsanctioned. Loop shutdown down in—+
+Go to Earth, why don’t you?+
The Seir-ahp was plunged into silence, ejected from her mind. The spurned Moon rabbit tossed the gun, pulsed the safety on and righted up, feeling what could, to a degree of verisimilitude, potentially, should you array your ears just right, be called better. A count of heads in the street swivelled in great haste, eager to demonstrate they hadn’t been anticipating the peeved dango peddler to bob out from behind the counter with an electric rotary cannon. No, ma’am. Gossip resumed at speed and, surely in places, got a nice, new head-start.
Give it a day, and you’ll have had a bloody spate, Seiran ironised inside, lining up more dango on the grille. Give it, what, two, and you’ll have been a jilted human wife perpetrating domestic violence with a fistful of skewers.
In this respect at least – or lack thereof – Moon rabbits and humans were in sync. Simplicity was the enemy. Boredom, a killer.
And, since a Moon rabbit she tragically was, Seiran took a tip from a more successful colleague’s primer. She’d look a fool with an empty savings sock at the end of the day after boasting her accounting.
“HEY! YOU BASTARDS!” she shouted at no one in particular, trusting particularisation to occur glandularly. “What? Want to end up like that blighter? Come, get your dango! Cures impotence, it does! Probably! Your wife’ll be happy anywise!”
There were stifled chuckles. And then, more than one wife was made happy.
Till the sixth stroke, as declared, the Moon rabbit had nursed the ailing humours and relationships of Gensokyan humans. Then, time turned high to mend her own. Seiran packed away the unsold remedies in wax paper, spread the cinders around their box, kicked the chocks out from under the stall’s wheels – and embarked on the slow journey to doing just so. And all the while, she fell short of recapturing the solar wind Hisahito’s appearance had snatched out of her veil. The fiery injustice she’d felt: now a residual, rocky bolus, rattled around her craw as she trundled her livelihood home.
The dosshouse yard was mercifully void, insofar as the description was ever close, of prying eyes; and Seiran, in a self-directed huff, stashed away her wares and tools, winding down business for the evening. The leftover dango went under the atmospheric regulator, the ashes in a bucket whence the earthier neighbours would collect them for fertiliser, and Seiran indoors – where she ministered to her mood with a change of clothes, a comb and a few crumbs of chocolate.
That had been a flat-out bunny mistake, because, once the door was discreetly knocked, she had to lick her fingers clean in rather a hurry. She didn’t bother signing and countersigning; the knock had as good its name spelled out in Morse.
The head-and-shoulders taller man backed off as she came through, snapping the door flush on the secrets behind her. As though a Moon rabbit was someway the more condensed threat. Which Seiran was; still and all, it struck her as inane. For some reason.
Giddy times, she told herself. Giddy thoughts. They dumbfounded even the wariest of rabbits.
“Miss… Seiran,” said Hisahito, haltingly.
Seiran verified the theory with a nod. “Hisahito. Sir.”
“Right,” he supposed.
The self-taught Moon rabbit taxonomist looked, in a word, miserable. The anomalous dearth of smile on his permanently smile-creased face was only the most cutting edge of it. It’d been dissonant enough to see him lose it; now, Seiran almost distrusted she was met with the same, incorrigibly laid-back man at all. The one who’d amused himself by blithely banging away on her sole means of support. Then presumed her too ineffectual for even that.
Then he knelt.
And Seiran registered, over the numb astonishment of being knelt before, that it was a gesture he must have performed several, perhaps dozens of times to get so down pat. It was a kneel with practice in it. Submission exuded from every bent and angle: from that of his legs, tucked tightly under his hind, to that of his back once it was bowed, an extension of his scruffy head. He laid his hands upon his thighs and stooped lower still, penitent as no Moon rabbit Seiran had seen court martialled. It was regret if regret had a spine, knees and a voice box.
“I am sorry,” it said, softly.
And a Lunar Lord alone could have contravened he was. There was no feigning defeat this confident. This entrenched. At least, not as a Moon rabbit. But, if she was being lied to, then, in a universe-first, she was heartened not to know the thoughts of men. Seiran hugged her arms around her belly.
“What is it you’re sorry for?” she asked.
And watched Hisahito’s shoulders shrink.
“… For obtrusion and indignity,” he said at last. “For the offence I’ve caused you, Miss Seiran. Intended or not. I am sorry.”
Seiran breathed in, gazing skywards. Then shut her eyes.
It would’ve been so easy to cut him off. Right here. Now. For good. Yes. You have insulted me. Never show your patronising smile to me again. By my gun and my mallet, I warn you. Stay away. The words were primed and cooked ahead she’d put in two thirds of a consideration. She could be rid of this human and his meddlesomeness with a flawless excuse. Ringo might twist her ears off, but that was the default with Ringo. A moment’s shame, a small lie – and this whole human mishap could be over.
… Only, of everything Seiran was, she was no hypocrite. Never would be turned into one. Never. This, she had vowed. Not on the Lords, either. On her own honour. Seiran’s. Her very own, inmost principles. Her Moon rabbit’s pride and self.
Would she really forswear those now? Really? Because of some human’s unhealthy interest? She didn’t even have to.
Earth it. She didn’t want to. Losing his custom would’ve been a big red on the bottom line, yes. But it was also gratifying to have one up on Ringo. It was vindicating to be noticed. Appreciated. Complimented. What worth an Earthling’s compliments amounted to could shove off back to the Moon. They were here, now. Weren’t they? Same rules of engagement, and no chest candy to win, either. No? Yes. They made their own sweets these days, after all.
Was that a funny metaphor, Gunner Seiran? You?
Seiran bit a lip. Shush. It wasn’t even that funny.
She breathed out at length and looked once more upon the genuflecting man. The sight of him – that airy, filthy, yet dango-loving soul – brought this low tore out the last of her anyway contrived hate. This whole planet is an insult, she thought. My being here is blasphemy. How could you ever compete?
It was a small thing. Such a small thing. A misperception of elision. Yet, she’d flown off the handle like a hormonal juvie at draft. Why?
Seiran could no longer say. The foot-thumping anger had drowned in time and chocolate. But she could yet find out other things.
“… So,” she spoke, carefully sceptical. “You’re rich. Is that it?”
Hito’s— Hisahito’s posture flickered through that of discomfort for the space between heartbeats. Then, aggrieved, he came clean, “… Well off, Miss Seiran.”
“Well enough to frivol away on some dango salesgirl?” Seiran wanted to know. “Is that wise?”
Now came his turn to be blunt. “You do not have the half of it. Not the half. With respect.”
No. Not a quarter of it, come to. But maybe it was a question of, well, the right questions. A bit of that rubbed-off Ringo fluff.
“Was all this meant to impress me somehow?”
The man made an indeterminate sound. “No,” he said, more distinct. “I hadn’t nearly so overthought it, Miss Seiran. It was an idea. Seemed a right one. The money was… not a factor,” he finished, with tact as much as tart. “It just went. Nothing impressive to it.”
Seiran braced her arms under her chest. “Not some courtship flounce, then?”
For no ultimate need. Hisahito’s coughed reply was more embarrassed than she could have been for wondering. “Miss Seiran,” he managed to say, “I promise, if I court you, I shall make it plain. With respect: I’ve known you.”
Whichever part of that had been “respect,” Seiran slated it for later de-discombobulation. “Never do it again, then,” she said, sternly. And, further overtaking another miscommunication, added: “Never pity me. This is me. My life. Mine. I have been making it, and I can keep making it. I am here. Seiran. There is nothing else I can be. Understood?”
“… Will you forgive me, Seiran?”
The plea was sudden, even abrupt, though not in the slightest unanticipated. And, for once out from behind her stall, Seiran hadn’t to mull the correct answer.
“… I will,” she granted, offering up – or down – a palm. “That is, if you can promise to ask before having future ideas. No more help. No charity. If you want to treat me, ask. Take it or leave; I’m not budging.”
This was given due hesitancy. Then, not unpredictably, Hisahito took her hand.
“Then, on this filthy Earth I call home,” he pledged, “I promise.”
Maybe he had been listening to her. Closer, if anything, than she had.
These and other half-conclusions were floating around Seiran’s placated ears. Or, they did – till they were catapulted across the yard, courtesy of her palm being reversed, and its top – touched to the kneeling man’s forehead. His outgrown, flaxen hair tickled her work-roughed skin: a sensation which should’ve been well familiar, Seiran being a hair-fiddler of proficiency, yet, even so, refused to be. She could have and would’ve let go of a squeaked, but nevertheless protest. Would have – but for she realised the humiliation this time wasn’t hers to have.
It was Hito’s. The man exhaled and exhaled, all but deflating in front of her eyes: until, it seemed, kept together merely by Seiran’s still-clasped hand. The honest, wretched relief was, if not palpable, then certainly palmable.
Lords on the Moon. He’d actually been worried. This brash, god-tromping, fat cat had actually feared he couldn’t go back to being on her good side. Hers. Seiran’s. An Earthed Moon rabbit’s. Over what? Money? A misguided gift? Was he stupid?
… Was she?
“… May I treat you to dinner, Miss Seiran?”
No. He was. Categorically.
Seiran made what could rightly be called “a face,” although a number of other descriptors also sprang to mind. Which made it retroactively as well that Hito’s brow remained sweat-glued to her knuckles.
—man, whom she owed strings and strings of money and not a thing above. Or below, or wherever all those dango went.
Confident in this – if little else concurrently – Seiran swelled up to issue the only fair answer. Fair to him and her both.
“No, I may not,” Hisahito put his head in front of the loaded barrel. “You’re right I may not, Miss Seiran; I did offend you. That cookie jar – so to say – ought to be out of reach for the nonce. Should, by rights.”
Seiran’s bullet-train of thought ricocheted off that analogy. “I… am a cookie jar?”
There was a spell of delicate reappraisal. Then, Hisahito obliged: “In contents, Miss Seiran, in contents,” immediately leading on to: “But, please, don’t prod my funny bone. I erred; I know where I erred; I know I deserve a chop of the wrist at least. I should have asked you. That should have been more important than seizing the opportunity. I have seen that.”
“You should have,” Seiran agreed. “And it should have been. This is important. To Seiran.”
“Too busy thinking about you to think… about you,” he explained himself, a little feebly. “It’s a fault of character. Been grappling with it since… years. But, yes, I won’t ask you go along. Nor to strain your manners on a dinner with me.”
“That so?” noted Seiran, taking on a phrase she’d heard of late. “You just did, though.”
“That was more to plant the idea in your pretty head, Miss Seiran,” assured Hisahito. “… Well, no. I lie. That was because of aforesaid character. But I’ll take any excuse that occurs at this point; I’m sure you’ve gathered.”
“Yes. I have,” Seiran lied herself, if but half-so.
She choked down the addition of: And I was really about to say I would’ve paid for myself, you buffoon; because, really, what would it have accomplished? He’d made his determinations; and they weren’t her determinations, but they weren’t inaccurate ones, either. Might be, even, that had been Seiran’s discipline yanking the gun, and he’d hit closer the mark than the crack-shot she was – ha ha – cracked up to be. How many funny bones would that have poked?
Still and all, she threw him one of a less comedic kind. “But I’ll think about it.”
She felt his brow crease against her fingers. “Think about…?”
“About dinner. I’ll think about it.”
The silence ensuing could have been used to line bunker walls. Then, just when Seiran had reconsidered doing much the same with her obsequiousness-trained brains, the man surged up from his knees. He held her hand throughout: less a physical than purely moral support. It was a precarious process for that cause, but, on its finish, Hisahito stood before her a restituted man but for the smile at other times unpeelable from the bottom of his face. That one quivered once or twice on the corners of his lips ahead being heaved, all at once, back into its designed place. And then he was whole.
A man almost riven by Seiran’s frown – yet, somehow, not her ears.
A whole, bona-fide idiot.
He opened and raised his palm, leaving her fingers curled round the edge of it. The good-humouredly lifted brow could not quite distract from his fist closing on the emptiness Seiran subsequently left inside it. But the only human she narrowly knew would not be melancholy’s POW. He took a backwards pace and bowed his gratitude.
“Now, Miss Seiran, you’ll want I disappear,” he acknowledged. “This will be done. For the meantime.”
Seiran opened her mouth to speak. Then didn’t. Hisahito’s upthrust trigger-finger parried her countermand.
“Maybe I’m rich and rash, Miss Seiran,” the man conceded, “but blind, I’ve said before, doesn’t feature among my virtues. Neither does suicidal. I need a lie-down and so do you. We will meet again. I’ll well wager. There are only so many good dango stalls in town. Right?”
And she’d thought she joked badly when nervous. “Two,” Seiran said evenly.
Hisahito faked surprise. “Only know one. Fancy. Good evening now, Miss Seiran. I’ve got a bloke to kick insensate. Thank you for that.”
You want, I’ll help with that, thought Seiran – at precisely the juncture at which she would have had to shout it. The hurried, clog-clad steps of a man not blind but perhaps vestigially suicidal had blended into the afternoon street ruckus. Lives went on nonetheless – in undiminished numbers.
The Moon rabbit sidled back into her burrow and pulled the door shut.
And then she was whole also.
A spark of irritation arced tardily across the surface of her mood. She’d figured it isolated, but there again it was. Fuzzier, but definite. A twitch on the side of her pride where a man had dared to dare. Logically, she had cause enough to annoy… the lightning-fast compromise notwithstanding. But logic didn’t supply why Hito had been spared the jolt.
It just… wouldn’t have been upright to lash out at such dejection. Would it? Purity may be paramount on the battlefield, so too that of purpose, but when a man was already beaten into genuflection before the opening salvoes…
… A Lunar Lord would’ve pressed the attack just the same. But it wouldn’t have been soldierly. Never mind Seirany.
Being appeased by the sight of Earthlings on their knees, however, was evidently still well within fair play.
How Moon-pale Lunar of you.
Seiran heeled off the sandals and shuffled to the bed. She hadn’t realised something else had been carelessly neglected in the rush to patch over a shot-up customer relation till a very nearly accordioned toe reminded her of being, for the fleeting moment, somewhat of an affluent rabbit. The coin-stuffed sock was almost too heavy to shift back under the bed with just one foot.
But that, too, was fine. Hito wouldn’t denigrate her the same again. He hadn’t even meant to – not premeditatively. They’d drawn the line. Hadn’t they? Like adults. Which, amazingly, they both were.
The idle revelation did, actually, amaze her. Seiran fumbled a bit for a why, but gave up the bead before long. She could return her dues next time, anyhow. Which there would be. That was the essential part.
And maybe, by that time, they would have learnt to treat each other a little more like said adults.
So buoyed up, Seiran fingered the crumbs of chocolate off the plate she’d left on the bed. And rued the results with a flop of her ears.
Another bar down. Two to last. And she hadn’t yet had dinner after clocking out.
If a Moon rabbit could subsist solely on a diet of her words, then she might’ve needed socks thrice the size by now.
Come next daybreak, Seiran rolled out of her sheets feeling the weight and a fickle urge to tip the balance. Either way it would.
( ) She ate out (in a familiar place) like so moneyed a rabbit. ( ) Ate in, modestly, and raced to unseat the competition.
(X) Ate in, modestly, and raced to unseat the competition.
And toward moderation would be favourite. Seiran hopped into fresh togs, splashed her face from the basin, primped her ears and, finally, set about the most consuming of morning necessities.
A cursory reconnaissance of her small-scale, personal food-cache advanced the possibility of rice porridge with an off-chance of pickled plum topping; Seiran, therefore, retrieved the micro-furnace from her trunk, thumbed closed all but one vent and pulsed it to stress-test while she went to wash the rice. A real fire, such as practicable with the stove out in the yard, would have been any Moon rabbit’s first choice. There was something therapeutic in watching the smoke reach for the sky. But it really was as Ringo so fondly invoked. Traitors made do.
And, what they made do most of the time was more time to make do. The furnace was just such a timely do-maker.
Minutes later Seiran stirred the pot – its steaming, cloudy contents now browned by a chip of portable soup and disrupted by the occasional sheaf of carrot. Nonplussing herself, she was humming a cadence. It was no specific one: a verse or two of Beloved Be and then three more of Old Heron Calls as focus skipped, but it went a ways to help Seiran grasp she had been taken unawares by a strikingly bright mood. The scents and acts of cooking put yet a further shine on it – up to an intensity which could blind the un-blindest of human buttinskies.
She felt a prick of shame at that harsh sidelight… but didn’t fool herself for a flash one wasn’t at least partly culpable for whatever eventual damage to his vision. Teach him to lavish praise on a Moon rabbit willy-nilly…
A glowing Seiran thusly dawned out the door of room 3, stacked materiel up on Dango Seiran-ya’s platform and wheeled it out for an early day.
The Runaway Eagle Ravi Dango Sales Pact (or RERDaSsP for a short which somehow rolled even worse off the tongue) hadn’t proscribed a lot beyond interference. The pick of the site was, consequently, in the hands and boots of whichever rabbit deconvolved herself from her beddings first. More than once and more than five times Seiran had pulled her stall up to a prime location only to bounce off the net of Ringo’s promotive cries. Which was all very well. Competition wasn’t something to jink from. It made you a better rabbit. Or, in Seiran’s tendency, it made you the worse rabbit, but not as far worse as you could otherwise have been. The overall resultant curve was upwards, and that was what counted on the self-debrief.
This morning, however, was Seiran’s ascendancy. She hadn’t hardly chocked her stall by one of the main market’s inlets/outlets – overrun by still-arriving merchants but no rival dangonistas – when her first prospective customer waddled up to the half set-up shop.
Seiran fitted on her least rumpled smile and leant down to level with the staring, human stripling.
“Hey. Hello there,” she said, conversationally. “Sis rabbit isn’t ready yet, see, but will be in fifteen. All right? Have a run around the market, get your mother, and I’ll have your dango all sticked up. Go on, now. Hop, hop, hop.”
The child bobbed their little head and did as told. Sans, that is, the proposed method. Still, it did. If only elder ones were as simple to herd, perhaps the Moon rabbits needn’t have contended at all. But then, the single occurrence of them hawking their sweets nearby the town’s school had been met with a swift, bottom-line-upfront response from the teacher. Seiran had not seen anybody before split a signboard with the front of their skull, let alone precluding a wager, and had no real wish to stake another one of hers. Not least because blue paint went at a premium.
Today, though, Seiran’s only contention was of that which she’d conscientiously saved. Time and hands operating the stall: meting out dango, taking coin in exchange, being unencumbered by ambiguously handsome, Earthling men holding them in promise.
“Yessir. Thirty per, yes. Thank you. No, ma’am; pickled plum, and I don’t know either. Some like them. Three and three, roger. That’ll be one and eighty. Sorry, no, only do mochi for fairs. See the biceps? Me neither. Come one, come all, dango, dango round and sweet as the Moon!”
And so on it went. The market’s opening hours alone and its unremitting wave of sweetness-craving mouths had seen Seiran’s supply halved and her time bled into noon. She was capitalising on a moment’s respite to reorganise her change tray when an unlooked-for, though not unwelcome, figure blipped on her visual radar.
Seiran’s sister-in-arms, ex-case officer and, now, debatable friend cut a nonchalant swath through the swarm despite her vertically undaunting stature. She carried, slung over a shoulder, a matter of Seiran’s low-key gratification: a merely 2-kan sack of all-important rice flour; in the other hand, kneecapping every odd passer-by, was a wicker basket of, to be hoped, less vital victuals.
Ringo homed in on the dango – Seiran being at most incidental even to less sugar-starved of her customers – never looking. The laden Eagle Ravi XO advanced athwart the human current, knocked aside hips and shins, finally to store her purchases in the interim safety of the rival stall’s shadow. She was robed in a plain, yellow and plainly overcut summer kimono, the skirts of which climbed the backs of her thighs alarmingly as she bent down to prop up the toppled sack. The old, pre-deregulation Eagle Ravi beret, so inseparable you’d be excused to suspect she was hiding a bald spot, stayed mercifully on as if pinned.
Ringo adjusted it as if it wasn’t once she righted up, ears swishing around her cheeks. A part-chewed mint leaf was politely retracted into her mouth, masticated and swallowed, all preceding Seiran’s first acknowledgement.
“Heyaaa,” Ringo said, sing-song. “Working hard or working hard?”
Seiran studied the sentence. “Or,” she chose, meticulously. “You?”
Ringo shrugged – winced – and rolled a shoulder. “Owie. Running supplies, which you see,” she reported. “Burning a big, fat fry-up, which you don’t. Uhhh, can I have two sticks of mitarashi with that sauce? You make it such a damn sight better than I.”
Seiran curbed a smile. “After a fry-up? Is that wide— I mean, wise?”
“Need me carbohydraaates,” whined Ringo, stamping a sandal. “Give, give, give!”
Seiran gave – in. “Copy, two sticks of mitarashi – in oodles of soy sauce. Will Miss want a restaurateur’s discount?”
“Would be derelict in our duties if we didn’t undercut the Lords’ tax,” agreed Ringo.
Neither Moon rabbit had paid the town a mon of tax as far as Seiran was privy, but, as she’d so lately overheard, not everybody was so (under)privileged. The sentiment had to count.
Ringo waited her dango to be stuck and dunked in the sauce pitcher, all the while cashing in on the welcome acquisition of elbow room. She had the look of a rabbit on the wrong side of a wringer, but so too did Seiran after a round in one of these crowds, and she was the leaner one.
Suddenly, in the laggard mode of green shopkeepers who’d tallied the total wrong, Seiran registered how un-crowded thus far her week had been. Logistically – if not emotionally. She’d had every requisite and above trundled straight up to her kitchen; she had taken a day off (all right, half-off) with little adverse effects to her schedule’s continuance. When last had she done that since the radio silence season and standby up on the mountain?
Work had been Seiran. It’d been everything she had been loyal to since the Lords had forsaken the Eagle Ravi… and the Eagle Ravi had forsaken them in turn. All two of them, anyway.
And she’d taken an Earthed day off. Half-off, fine. Or, rather, not whatsoever fine.
For this guilty cause, Ringo received her dango from slightly numb and slightly sauce-spattered fingers. The latter went unmarked and unremarked in favour of the former and readier palatable treat at any rate, and Ringo rummaged up her purse. Courtesy coins changed hands.
The opener dango hadn’t made it halfway down to her anyhow bottomless stomach when Ringo spoke again.
“So, how are—” another bite waylaid the sororal care midsentence, “—mng, how are you keeping, girl? Couldn’t get jack-all the day after the festival myself; ran dry on reserves in two flat. Been the luckier feet this time, have you? Still on the ball.”
Seiran assessed her options. She could bluff toward humility and hold the advantage... or she could be a friend.
Tactics lost out on that one. “... Not as straightforward,” she admitted. “Had mine delivered. Got the pick by proxy. Just how it works, I’m told.”
Ringo’s jaw paused. Fractionally. “Wait. Mg. You mean – with the wot’s-names? Those nobs with the cartin’ op or what was it?”
Seiran’s ears slumped atop the kerchief helm. “You knew about that?”
“Think I did. What was the name, again?”
“Sure did, then. Mg.” Ringo snapped the emptied skewer – an old-hat rabbit bid for fortune. Then assaulted the remaining. “Had a bump-in, mg, with one of theirs,” she soon explained. “He clued me in to the job. That was a while, though, and when I tried more of late there was a line from here to the Moon. Mg. Hate those, so I canned that road.”
Seiran nodded. “Complies with what I heard, too.”
There was a sharpening of the gaze. Then Ringo gulped the momentary obstruction clear.
“… So-ooo,” her sister-in-grind crooned. “How’d you get your ugly nails in?”
The question had a pat on the back in it, but Ringo could hide a knife in a cleavage.
( ) “Well. It went something like this...” ( ) “Better question: why didn’t you, if you had an in?”
(X) “Better question: why didn’t you, if you had an in?”
Of which she was blessedly sporting none. Odd, really; that kimono skirt would’ve else been an unimpeachable distraction.
But if Seiran was to be embarrassed, she would rather it was by Ringo’s business prevision than personal scrutiny. She fixed her chewing senior on a (respectfully) skewering stare.
“Better yet: why didn’t you?” she posited. “Spooks get the training, right? I’m just a boot what got lucky. No nails to sink in, so to say.”
Ringo wagged hers, dismissive. “Told you just then. Mg. There was a line.”
“But you had an in, earlier. Why didn’t you get on it? Something iffy about the service, what?”
“Wasn’t thinkin’ about work.”
“You?” Seiran’s ears were askew with scepticism. “Not thinking about work? You’ll ditty-bop a customer’s entire psych-eval from him picking dango out of your hands. Not even your customer’s. Sorry.”
Ringo slanted a curious brow while mental Seiran was hauled out of the barracks and punted down the pit for that comment. The last surviving dango was plucked by unhygienic and untroubled fingers, and the vacated skewer – offered to Seiran. The lower-ranked Moon rabbit accepted it – humoured the superstition – and cracked it in half. Ringo wiped her hands on her thighs, champing savagely.
At last, the well of wisdom was freed of the glutinous blockage.
“... Got me there, girl,” Ringo owned up, unbegrudging. “Grass-green mistake, that. Should’ve been securin’ the job. But, here’s a tittle-little thimbleful of facts for your advisement. When I bumped into that Hieda muscle? It was late night. At a bar. We had us a nice, back-corner table, very private-like. Sittin’ on the same bench. Some drinks between us. Some words past us. He had the toughest pecs, the brawniest arms, the nimblest fingers, and the buttons on my shorts were undone.”
Seiran stared at her former officer, blankly.
Then the blank cooked off.
“You’re out of sorts,” Ringo admonished. “Tiptop Seiran would’ve had a face like a lettuce by the ‘bar.’ That there’s what we in the know call a maidenly blush. Those don’t work on other women. ‘Yanno?’”
A grin and a drawl bracketed the word like an amusing quote. Seiran spluttered – ahead remembering the vicinity of edibles. She permitted herself one final one.
“And you’re a prude,” retorted Ringo. “Which one of us sleeps easier? You needn’t answer; pure rhetorical. And, I don’t really reckon you are, besides. Not low down.”
Seiran binned the halved skewer with some vehemence. “We’re supposed to be better than this!” she shrilled. “Purer!”
Ringo stretched her strained shoulder. “Never was,” she disagreed. “So. Can’t aver. I was what I was because I was disgustingly good at it. The other stuff? The brass could kiss my fuzzy. Here? I’m here to do what I like. Whatever that ends up being.”
“Or whoever?” Seiran failed not to flout.
Ringo welcomed the accession with a beam. “Why, but you know the naughty words, Eagle Ravi!” she praised. “Wanna know where my money is? My money’s on if you just ate righter— Ah. No, please,” she said, stepping aside; “I’m just harassin’ a colleague. Come, we don’t bite. Less you’ve got a carrot. Soy sauce this girl makes – between us? Finger-licking. Wholehearted recommend.”
Seiran’s drive screeched from pique to politesse as she discerned what, bother Ringo, she hadn’t previously: a customer hovering around within the scents’ but without intrusiveness range. Her sister-in-arms (although, whose arms appeared a changeability) hung fire while the regular “Good day”s, “These are twenty, these thirty”s and “Sauce is included, no worries”es were exchanged, and a customer walked away lighter of coin but happily not of themselves. And then another, pulled in the meantime by olfactory suction.
Seiran sorted out the change. Then her tack of defence.
“… I am not a prude,” she grumbled at last. “I just… don’t think about these things. It doesn’t behoove.”
Ringo, who, in the truancy of dango, had been nibbling on the firstly split skewer, gave her a look. It was one of those unrequiring an adjective. “… Listen. Seiran,” she said then, pocketing the oversized toothpick. “You don’t have to approbate me. We don’t hang our heads the same on many issues, either, and that’s all well. I respect you. That, about my shorts? Been bottling that shame up for months. Wanted to tell someone – even in jest. I’m sorry if it was overboard. Wasn’t to upset you. Or to one-up you. You’re your own rabbit; I’m mine. Never forget it.”
Seiran sighed. Her sloppy senior had the right. Of course she did; and Seiran had been too recently quit by irrational anger to serenade it anew. She ushered in calm.
It trickled in shyly, but readily. So readily, she was instantly sorry for dismissing her high spirits. Because of what? Ringo being Ringo? She’d known she was Ringo since she’d been Ringo. Which was to say, since the first Ringo had Ringoed on the Moon.
Seiran inclined her chin to her once-commander. “Sorry. Shouldn’t have blown a phase,” she admitted. “They just crept up on me. Um. Your shorts.”
Ringo nodded, shouldering the fault, but cautioned, “And I very well don’t want you apologising, Seiran. Have I ever apologised to you for anything? Hmm?”
Yes. You were the only one who did. “… Just then?”
“Ack.” Ringo clicked her tongue. “Earth it. Muggins I must look, now. Well, in self-defence: you are cute as a button when you blush, Gunner Seiran.”
“… One of them on your shorts?” ventured Seiran.
Ringo actually sucked air through her teeth. “Oof. Ow. Augh. Ooh Lords, my tail. This girl with a secret…!”
Seiran had to smile. She, therefore, did. “I’ll keep it safe, chief,” she vouched. “In a memory quartz somewhere.”
“Ooh. Why not the full mile, girl?” derided Ringo. “Why don’t I enmesh the whole shebang for you? So’s you can watch and refresh whenever?”
A flash of pumpkin-orange shorts – unbuttoned all the way – and sturdy, male fingers seared a path through Seiran’s grey matter. She diligently marked the area down for Moon-white scrubbing after hours.
“... Hard pass,” she declined aloud. “Perverts enough out there; I don’t need any in here.”
Her ex-XO gave her another look. And this one went on amply long to whet a hypothetical, even speculative edge.
Though, it tapered off to, ultimately, no point. Ringo shrugged, palms up, and shook her bereted head in a manner which could’ve intimated anything without them pulsing emotives across the Lattice. She heaved up the flour sack and hoisted it to a transportable position.
“Someday,” she said, by way of good-byes, “you and I are going to have an ear-to-ear. In the event, I asked but protocolarily. Got a decent notion who smuggled you up that line. That amateur of yours, wasn’t it?”
No! No more blushes, Gunner Seiran! Hiss! “How...?”
Ringo touched the tip of an ear. “Spook. Remember? You cook; this is how I get off. Turns out, the man’s a left-handed nob. Stands to guesswork he’d have a bit of clout. Told you, Eagle Ravi. Good catch. Good, proper catch.”
Seiran sulked. “It wasn’t my idea.”
“But you arrived to it, just the same,” argued Ringo. “Leveraged yourself. That’s how freedom is played. You put in – and take out proportionally. The army isn’t stellar at that last part, so you may be unused, but them’s the breaks. You’re Seiran, and you ought to own her.”
“I own her laundry, at least,” warranted Seiran.
Ringo hefted the shin-shattering basket. “Wise. Could do in an emergency. Ta-ta, Seiran. Stuff to do. Give me a prog-rep next time, hmm?”
Emergency...? “Er. Right...? Will do.”
They snapped off varying accuracies of salute, and the traffic accident classified as Ringo began occurring farther and farther down the congested street. Seiran watched her go – or, closer, the consequences of her going.
Miffed, but none too so, she caught the peripheries of her lips mid-quirking up. Talking to Ringo had been, like always, a balancing act; and, even now, Seiran wasn’t positive to which side she’d tipped, but... it made no terminal difference to Ringo, and that was the quieting thing. Wasn’t it? To rest assured the worst chastisement awaiting was your blood being made to race where it shouldn’t? It was well worth the trade of, well, having your blood made to race where it shouldn’t. Again and again.
Seiran eyed the steadily unpopular, heated and re-heated, pickled plum dango on the counter. Truly, she needed only for Hito to come by now, and she would bed down a well-raced rabbit at night.
Oh no, inner Seiran groaned from down in the pit. Was that a Ringoism just now?
She hadn’t to make much, because Hito (all those syllables really were a bother…) hadn’t shown.
Seiran closed up her shop and rolled it home, for this reason, at a demurely even heartrate. Helpfully, someone’d been burning the bottom of their water on the outdoor stove, evinced by the tell-tale tongues of damp smoke, and Seiran hopped on the advantage. She parked her stall, stoked the embers, stored her diminished supplies and brought out her requisite cooking kit.
Later, with her stomach and disposition done no end of good, the hardworking dangonista hurled herself headlong into a dust-devil of industry: palming and pre-boiling dango, pestling herbs and dried fruit, squinting critically down the jug where the soy sauce mix was fermenting – and all the sundry, backstage motions of a successful sweets business. She went to sleep later still – not quite raced, but nevertheless snug in the wearying arms of routine.
And rose with the dawn. To a day not at all dissimilar to the last.
Which was to say, containing not a hint of Hito.
A moue of consternation was therefore present throughout the morning and the noon of yet the next on Seiran’s lips. The bigger cause of which, to be sure, was that some of the essentials were fast being drained and threatening a return to the press and shove of the market. The least of these being the chocolate – unobtainable, anyhow, even through dusteel-tipped clogs and kidney-seeking elbows. The very, extremely least. Yessir.
To her painstakingly rationalised relief, the usual afternoon lull at last lured out the inveterate figure. Who, in the nature of things, dawdled at another stall down the street (this one vending shaved ice), perused almost certainly the entire notice board (twice) and tripped on a stray cobblestone (it was jutting out) ahead making the approach. The perennial smile of a man after dango looked, in its two days of absence, to have attenuated a little along the edges.
“… Miss Seiran,” said Hito.
A flurry of feelings prefaced – then reciprocated, from the opposite end – his hand being offered in greeting. Seiran took it, pretending very hard no such exchange.
“Hito,” she returned, a degree of warmth, which surprised her more than her fingers being softly squeezed, elbowing into her tone. “Um. Sir.”
Identifications satisfied, Hito gently let go, cleared the counter of his robe’s expansive sleeve and grubbed inside his pockets. Out of which issued a folded – and understandably foxed – sheet of paper.
“See? I have not forgotten,” assured Hito, sliding it across to Seiran. “This is the original bill for the order. This is what you owe me. To the mon.”
That you may terrify at and pay at your complete leisure went unsaid, if betokened by the document’s tightly doubled state. Seiran filed it away (in a cranny beside her gun); not that she dragged the whole sock-coffer along each day, anyhow. It’d have to wait, yes, indeed, her leisure.
Await it would do, then.
“Thanks,” she said, fixing up her kerchief. “Um. So,” she went on, by way of shifting focus. “You haven’t been by. In days. Trouble?”
Angry rabbits? she thought.
Hito escorted his attention down to her face. “A bit, yes,” he admitted. “Got into a right spot of it, I did.”
Seiran stared, mouth agape. The straightness of it had cut down even further whatever half-witticism she’d meant to make of it.
“Um. Was it to do with…?” she began.
Hito noticed her humour bleeding and donated his own. “No stocks nor whips,” he reassured. “Some unpleasantness was about everything. And, yes, to do with what we did. Nothing’s lost, mind. I got right upset, though, and didn’t want you to have to deal with it. I was swearing, oh, somewhat loudly. Which, I’m told, you don’t tolerate.”
Seiran gawked at that smiling face. “You,” she said. “Upset.”
Hito refused to corroborate even so. As did the smile. “Miss Seiran,” he insisted; “I am perfectly capable of the upset. Your vote of confidence notwithstanding.”
“Forgive me if I’m incredulous.”
That – somehow – caused him to chuckle. “Godly coincidence you haven’t had the chance to see,” he granted. “I’m sure. In any case, Miss Seiran, words had crept up the vine that I had to yell a few explanations of, but that’s all right now. You may continue using the service. I’m only going to have to sign and stamp for the order to go through.” He coughed, delicately. Then put up his palms as an impromptu bullet catcher. “Not a… courtship flounce, Miss Seiran,” he promised. “I promise. It’s part of that back-scratching I groused about. Would gladly skip the middleman and gift you the stamp – wrapped in ribbons – but the hand, well… rather that stayed attached. The spare alone isn’t enough, sometimes.”
Seiran blinked. Oh. A bodily harm joke. We do those, do we? And an oddly familiar dance, besides. “No, no, no, I get it,” she said aloud. “Can’t leap rank or red tape. That’s a bur I know.”
Hito play-acted polite ignorance. “You do?”
“Um. Yes. I have known it. My tail, too.”
“… Suppose humanity does that to you.” He ratified such a reality with a stoical shake of the head. “Well, Miss Seiran, these are the unfair terms. Falls to you whether or not you want to grapple with. You know where to find me, regardless.”
It was Seiran’s turn to question, “… I do?”
Hito nodded. Then, he pointed down – in front of the stall. “Right here – right?”
And that, Earth it, made her sputter like a nincompoop.
Content with having coaxed a Moon rabbit to titter in the face of decorum, Hito sprinkled some coins on the counter. An exact and exactingly uncharitable amount.
“May I have the regular?”
Seiran marshalled her on-base shopkeeper. She swiped the coins. “Yes. Khm. Give me a, khm, minute. I wasn’t positive you’d be by, so, um, haven’t kept them ready.”
“My fault. Take as many as you need.”
Some constraints grew appreciably lax as others tightened to a noose the higher you were on the social ladder. Time, for that, only being one at the rung whence all the small business owners hung by their pinkies.
Seiran sighed away the lopsided comparison. At least you answer to nobody but you – do you? she reproved herself. Is that better or isn’t it, do you feature? She tonged six orange-pink, pickled plum dango onto the charcoal box’s grille. These were fresh – made the previous evening after Seiran had gobbled down those which hadn’t sold in the day. Meaning, nearly every one. Silly thing, that; who said dango couldn’t be sweet and sour and salty all in one savoury package? Not enough buds in some of those Earthling tongues, that was the problem. Hito agreed, anyway.
At whom Seiran presently peeked over the stall’s intervening counter. The dango connoisseur had neglected for the while the other extreme of Seiran’s aural dislikes and was peering silently at somebody or something up the street. His – she figured – sub-middle-aged face was one of those cursed with approachability over out-and-out charm. He wore his smile as if it’d been his laugh-lines’ sole cause, but Seiran had seen how easily it was rubbed out. He was handsome how a worn uniform was handsome: the rookie newness, starch and edges buffed out, with a fray of experience over all. A light, firm push rather than an instant chokehold.
On which subject…
There wasn’t a terrible lot of room to wrestle it. He may not have had the brawniest arms – and Seiran but a flimsy acquaintance with the nimbleness of his fingers – and perish the thought of the toughness of his pecs – but Hito was beyond all differing suggestion a fine, male figure. Finer than his hobbies apparent might stipulate. Seiran wasn’t definite on why these – Lords, were they months? – of more or less passing affiliation hadn’t wised her to this conspicuous fact. The lack of ears must’ve thrown her off harder than she had Ringo that one time they’d sparred.
But, maybe… maybe if she obscured the top of his head with a finger, like this… and poked two skewers up at an angle, like so… and squinted really, really, really hard, till her eyeballs ached…
… No. It would still do nothing much except make her feel a stupid fool.
The consequent thud swivelled Hito’s head like the report of a rifle.
Seiran screwed the kerchief down to her brows. “Nothing. At ease. Um. Sir.”
Hito tweaked up one of his. “… All right, then?”
“A—Actually,” Seiran struck on while the self-chastisement still throbbed. “Since we’re here. Waiting. I’ve racked out on it a bit and, um… thought about it.”
“Our dinner. I’ve thought about it,” lied Seiran. “The answer is yes. I’d like to go.”
And she was stunned to find the lie contained to the first statement alone.
There wasn’t anything impure about it; each one of her small associations with Hito had, after all, ended in a net gain. Which was perhaps a brutal way to hack it, but the Earth was a brutal, hacky place. Hito, too, seemed to have gleaned quite a deal about her, while she knew hardly a thing about him, and that wasn’t the most strategically sound situation, either. Know the Moon’s enemy, a Sage had once said… and then keep them closer than friends, advised had another. Or something to the effect.
Ringo was her only friend by a hair, and they’d dined together all right. The tactical least to do was to bring Hito up to the same scratch.
Going with that, are you, Gunner?
Seiran tonged herself on the thigh. Shut it. He does have nice fingers, fine? And taste. Taste. Taste first and foremost.
But if she’d been stunned then Hito proved liberally dumbstruck. He gawped at the Moon rabbit as though she’d tendered lifetime freebies – ahead slapping a hand sharp over his mouth and turning four o’ clock.
Seiran craned to see. Hito craned so she couldn’t.
“Um. Hito…? Sir?”
“Mm?” he murmured, not looking.
“Have I… um, breached protocol?”
“Mm,” he volunteered, calmly. “Mm. Mmm…”
In time, whatever debility had come over him had run its course. The hand flaked off of his chin, and the man who would court a Moon rabbit faced the present specimen with a slightly stifled smile.
“… Mm. What?” he asked. “Protocol?”
Seiran hooked a finger around a braid. “Um. Courting thing. Isn’t it? I’ve never been, so…”
Hito’s jaw hinged open as if to sympathise. Then, with a sensible clack, he thought again. “To be candid, if I may, Miss Seiran,” he said, “a man in my position is long over the comforts of protocol, anywise. The traditional thing, I guess, is to agree on a place and time.”
“So. Courting thing, then?” Seiran wanted to ascertain.
“On my part?” said Hito. “Yes. Couldn’t help it. On yours? You’re free to decide, Miss Seiran. That’s the beauty of un-… non-protocola… larity. Somewhere not too busy?”
Seiran, who hadn’t been done wringing one question, was suddenly tussling with another. “… That. Yes. Quiet would be the choice.”
Hito tapped a temple, wondering. “Have you been to the Geidontei?” he asked. And then, once Seiran had shaken a no, “Come. Must have been. They serve up a lotus root with pork to swim across the Sanzu for. Thereabouts—” he motioned, “—through the market, toward the southern gate, by the big bridge on the river?”
A bell was pulled. “Oh. The place with the waitress with the big—” Seiran demonstrated.
“Was there a waitress…?”
“—hat,” Seiran finished.
Hito stared. “… Well, they have fried lotus root, if not hats.”
“Copy. Um. I’ve been there, anyway,” said Seiran, caught out. “Quiet it wasn’t.”
“They do half-off piss-up nights every now and then. Gambling, too, nowadays. Those’d be the rowdy times. Cosy little grease pit almost every other evening. Hmm. Where else…”
The thought tingled Seiran’s ears that she should interject, that any old yakitori stand would’ve done as good, but Hito was obviously too old a hand not to trot it out for the occasion. And, really… what Moon rabbit wouldn’t have been giddy to be pampered once in a blue Earth? As long as it wasn’t, yes, right, too often…
… Then even Gunner Seiran could suck in her belly and bear it.
Hito gave her a sidelong glance, in which much weighing was un-psychically encoded, and Seiran went still amid madly twirling a braid. It thwapped her cheek.
“… There is one place, Miss Seiran,” said Hito, sounding faintly ashamed to advance it at all, but soldiering on, “that I can guarantee will be calm and quiet as you like. The caveat being… I live there. In there, anywise; on the bright side,” he hurriedly affixed, “we may eat whatsoever you wish. That I can, er, pull off.”
( ) An old-fashioned house date, huh… ( ) Neutral ground. Neutral ground!
Truthfully, I'd say that we might still be a little too adjacent to 'early days' territory to be doing house visits, but I'm not sure Seiran knows that, so I think it should provide some good and ripe entertainment.
>"Was there a waitress...?" It's also kind of funny that Lotus Eaters itself seems to have forgotten that Miyoi being forgotten was even a thing, so she just shows up and everyone remembers her now.
A house date. Seiran should surely not have been familiar with the term, but those were the boots speaking. She wasn’t il-literate – merely ill-disposed to book knowledge. It didn’t mean she read none; it meant she favoured those propounding knowledge she couldn’t have carved out of hands-on practice.
… Such including house dates. Somehow.
How, Gunner? Huh?
Anyhow they had, what was the worst that could happen? The heat-death of the Universe from her blush hogging the majority of it was an imaginable outcome, yes. An altogether decent house date – with feed, courtesies and small talk – was another. Of all three of which Hito was a proved provider.
It wasn’t a no-brainer. Not totally. But maybe her brain hadn’t called these shots in the first place.
“Copy,” said Seiran, steady as she went. “That’d be practical. I think. Your place.”
Hito’s face flickered through a surprised range of visual emotives in a heartbeat. “Er. Right. Practical. Really, look—”
“It’s all right,” Seiran said.
“No, look, Miss Seiran. Remember the character fault—”
“It’s,” she pressed, “all right. If I – we – were to ball something up,” she explained, “I’d rather it was without an audience. A house date’ll at least let me – us – bumble it along. Please.”
Hito inhaled, laboriously, caught on the hop by her tenacity toward the off-the-cuff idea. He recovered before long – somewhat. “Very… right, good,” he consented. “That is the place named, then. What about the time?”
“How about today?”
Seiran feigned a searchlight blind spot where his wide-eyed expression had broken out. “Mm. Well. I was running onto black with some things, so,” she proposed, “it’d be an opportunity to draw up another requisition while at it. No good?”
He rallied magnificently. All missing was a sunrise and an army at his back. “No. No, no, no, Miss Seiran,” he said, the hook of his nose describing many horizontal crescent-Moons per second. “It is all right; it is very all right; when do you go home, please, that I may, er, dust some tops and shelves?”
Seiran consulted nothing at all. “I can clear out at sixth,” she supposed. “Give me another to make ready – and ta-da.”
The phrase swinging back at him didn’t so much as dent Hito’s shining armour. “Should I come escort you, send a rickshaw, or…?”
“I can walk. Got boots. Give me the address.”
Hito’s nose sketched another forty-five-degree horizon, vertical in this phase, and the jade pen Seiran had once entertained sticking someone’s spleen with made a reappearance from the coves of his robe. He bobbed for something to write on, of which he found little in the way, scanned lengthwise the stall’s counter for elusive napkins and, lastly, noticed Seiran, who had rolled up her sleeve. A smidge of sheepishness swirled his already flurried smile as he tried the nib firstly on his own skin.
Seiran held still while several Gensokyan logographs and a number were inked onto her forearm. The curious, scratchy sensation was over ahead she’d determined how – or if, at all – to feel about a man coolly gripping her wrist immobile. Hito let go and capped the pen.
“… Artisans’ quarter?” Seiran asked, deciphering. “That’s along the main market avenue, isn’t it?”
“Opposite,” Hito corrected. “Opposite the Artisans’. Two streets before the textile mill if you’re slogging from here. Start smelling lye? Take a right, and the chances are you’re home free. There are signs, anywise. Worst comes to worst, yell something about sweet, round dango. That’s a history of working.”
“Or,” said Seiran, drily, “ask for directions.”
Hito nodded, very seriously. “Or you could do that.”
“… I’ll use my discretion,” she promised.
“And so, the food…?” Hito quizzed the uppermost parameter.
With the sole, simplest answer. “You use yours,” said Seiran. “You’re the host. I’m deferring.”
“No preferences, Miss Seiran?”
“Whatever you select will be great. Um. So I trust.”
And the Universe edged ever-so-closer to dying, because Hito burnt a pink to make a cherry blossom envious.
Her fellow entropy chaser dissembled this vocational clumsiness behind a bow.
“In that case—” he cleared his throat; “if so, Miss Seiran, I’ll need to run. The... whatsit. Supplies. Route. The market’ll have been scoured clean by now, but I know people... I’ll get it done,” he vowed. “I’ll have something on the table. Man’s word.”
He embarked on the dangerous operation of running in clogs with valiant injudiciousness. Then froze mid-stride as Seiran called out.
Hito skidded on the cobbles. “Ye—Yes, Miss Seiran?”
The Moon rabbit kept her lips in line and her ears professionally straight as he did the walk of shame to receive his paid-for treat. Two lightly charred skewers of the most shunned variety. Seiran proffered them in one hand while, on a rogue whim, extending the other, palm-down, to be squeezed. Hito complied as if he didn’t want to, even though plainly he did, going so far as to brush a thumb all across her knuckles. Then he took the dango, which also was telling.
And made off.
More than a mote lightheaded, Seiran turned her back on the street clamouring with his passage. She released the smile – and pretended a kink between the shoulder blades. She stretched, remembered the bulging of Hito’s eyes, and stretched harder. Lords. That look...
She would never have imagined she’d needed that look. It made her feel... not in control, per se, but... there. Like a rabbit. With agency. She had made the frivolous man feel things – positive, intrinsic things – even with an unmeshed Lattice, and that was... invigorating. A sorry substitute, but one. And at what expedient? Saying what she thought? Thinking whatever she said should never have caused a grown man to blush like... what little human males were called? Then unsubtly enjoying it anyway?
There’d been no specially baked plan to take it beyond agreement to his submission to buy her dinner, either, yet there Seiran was. A date and a stubborn, indelible smile to her record.
… Was that fun she was having? Her? Gunner Seiran?
Also, the bit about hungry boi writing his address makes me wonder if there's a postal service about. And what the hell kind of addressing do they use? I guess a Kyoto-like system of "down that street x ways, over this lane y ways" wouldn't be beyond ken. Then again, maybe they've done things systematically enough to designate districts, blocks, and building numbers.
Accordingly, Seiran did as little as she could get away with up until back at basecamp and confronted with a spread of clothing on her bed. She’d bolted the door, pulsed the glow-globe to sundown, which was an hour off yet outdoors, and disembowelled her trunk of every outfit not discoloured by brown sugar or potato paste stains. This was the trouble with utilitarianism. You dressed for it.
More critically, you didn’t dress up for it.
Seiran tossed what would’ve been a presentable one-piece dress acquired a while back for its habituated colours – if Seiran hadn’t disrespected the rule and pounded mochi in it last Summer. The recon-issue purifying solutions had kept her more prized ensembles pristine as long as they’d lasted, but every errant smudge was now as potentially permanent as a metaphor. Seiran groused under her breath.
+This is what routine Earthed does to you+ she pitched into the Lattice. +Keeps you safe, complacent – up till you stick your neck out the margin.+
+96+ relayed the glow-globe: more a cognisance of the number in Seiran’s short-term memory than a distinguishable psy-voice.
+I used to twist Ringo’s ears about this stuff. Well. In my head, anyway.+
+96+ repeated the globe.
+She gussied up for a regular supply run+ Seiran complained. +Where’s the sense in that? Same for that kimono. Where’d she get one cut so short? Who does that?+
Seiran sighed. “Point taken.”
She pulsed the globe off, feeling as put out herself. Nonsensically.
He sees you each day in an apron and kerchief and that awful slump, she thought, piecing together a tolerable combination of long-sleeved thermal underwear, slipover and shorts. You’ll never un-be a tubby dango seller with flour under her fingernails in his mind. Why try?
Seiran wriggled out of her work-clothes and began the ignominious process of fitting into the skin-tight thermals.
At least I’m not as tubby as Ringo, she argued, struggling into the tall-collared top.
And the roused sense of fairness posited: Where?
Half an hour afterwards on the timer, Seiran stepped out onto the orange-bathed streets a comfortably- if unimpressively-dressed rabbit. Sandals clacking on the hardball, she navigated the evening ebb and flow of people toward the main market, clutching a satchel of rudiments to her side. Not money; she’d snuck a peek at Hito’s documents, and the sum, while effecting a pucker of the lips at having tipped the purported excess to the porter, wasn’t so onerous she had to be rid of it at once – not to mention, would’ve been onerous to tow along. Odd, how light it weighed now, undeservedly, on the floor of her room, that the fault had been admitted and her dignity propped back up. Almost as though something else had been the real bur.
The address, transcribed onto her forearm in its disorganised, Gensokyan code, wasn’t tough to stumble into. The truthfully well-indicated street branched off of the main thoroughfare; it was narrow, though lantern-litten, with cleaner cobbles and the rear walls of the adjacent street’s buildings straddling one periphery. The other was a winding file of shadowed front yards backed by broad, squat, slant-roofed housings typical of the better-off residentials of the town.
The third in a row of these was Seiran’s destination. It had a hedge in place of the ubiquitous koshi screens and a wide-open, gateless entrance. A wide, wood-panel patio fronted the residence, bare and empty but for a stray cat, which up and bolted the moment Seiran’s shoes rasped the gravel of the entranceway. No knocker or doorbell eventuated themselves to ease along the awkward part of the ordeal, although, luckily, a windchime did hang from a rafter-tail high above the front door. Seiran thumbed the inside of her wrist and gave it a telekine swipe. The Sun dipped behind the surrounding eaves, lending the lanterns a little more premeditation.
The dull, bamboo tinkling hadn’t subsided when Seiran picked out footfalls beyond the door. It was slid aside curtly, ostensibly omitting any sort of lock. The frame filled out with the shape of a man whisked away in the middle of kitchen patrol. He wore an apron over his komon, wielded a wrought iron poker and sighted out at the world from behind vaguely mystified eyes.
The tips of rabbit ears wobbling near the bottom of his gun port cleared some of the mystery up. Not all, testified to by a puzzled, upward glance, but enough for recognition.
“Miss Seiran,” said Hito, slowly attiring his identifying smile.
Seiran returned hers, faster and no less nonplussed thereby. “Mm. Am I in the right place?”
“I wonder,” Hito doubled up the joke. “A bit early, at any rate. I am still in shambles.”
Seiran opened her mouth to speak. Seiran then bit her tongue.
This proved to have the strange property of being the correct thing to do in order for Hito to shrug, stand edgewise and motion her through the door.
“Come in, anywise. It’s just the food that’s tardy. Keep the shoes on.”
Seiran nodded a hands-free salute and passed indoors by the man.
The floor opened out immediately to a vast, wood-lined hall. So vast, it seemed to span the whole breadth of the building; a once-lobby or gathering hall, now derelict, unlit and featureless but for intermittent cedar columns shoring up the ceiling, its ends were lost in the pre-night gloom. The door tocked closed behind the Moon rabbit, stripping away the last of outside light, and she felt apprehension tug at the roots of her ears…
… Until, with as much reprieve as chagrin, she spotted the seep of steady – and rare, in Gensokyo – electric luminance from a side-exit in the hall’s dark wings. It was there Hito conducted her presently, in the intrepid gait of someone who’d walked the indoor forest a hundred hundreds times and retained most of his skull. This plunged them down a bright, if rustic-looking, corridor with a series of doors on either side. Some were open. Some shut. The nearest spewed the nutty smell of burning butter.
Hito muttered something un-self-flattering. “You turn your back one moment… The washroom, Miss Seiran—” he designated with a whip of the arm, “—should you wish to refresh yourself. Very end, door on the left. The cistern’s full since morning; don’t go dry, aha, on my account.”
Saying which, he dashed past the buttery-smell door. Seiran dismissed for the while the contention of few enough places in Gensokyo sporting plumbing to bear a mention in either tone – let alone a dedicated washroom – and similarly followed her nose. This deposited her in a room which could only have once been a pantry. Shelves and cabinets lined every wall but one, where a further opening gaped, and wherethrough which Hito must’ve presumably disappeared; a handful of ropes of garlic dangled still from the low beams: age-bleached but likely yet edible.
A simple table and a pair of dining chairs were placed, slightly out of arrangement, in the empty middle. Seiran stalked by, trailing a finger along the top. She buzzed a low-report, psychometric pulse.
Yes. There was newness/wrongness to the room, concentred at the table. The scuffmarks on the floor were tell-tale; people had trod through and buffed their soles right where it stood. The dust and dirt may have been swept away, but leftover grains betrayed the disturbed tideways. The table hadn’t been there till today. The chairs were deceptively of a set, except upon close inspection, where the varnish differed. And the vacant shelves—
Stop that, Seiran rebuked herself, reeling her mind back where it belonged. Some new environs, and you fall back on the training. You loathed being recon – didn’t you? You did, right?
Yes, she thought. No.
Seiran refused the answer, albeit dropped the matter nevertheless. Sounds of industrious scrubbing, the crackle of fire and a man’s consternation drew her toward the far opening.
And therein was a Kitchen. The capital K was warranted; the low-ceilinged chamber was all but dominated by the massive, central, L-shaped brick stove; girding it were barrels, kitchen tops and utensil racks in abundance. A bellied chimney ran through the ceiling and the soot-blacked bricks, explaining away the absence of smoke despite two of the stove’s four fire boxes going strong. One of these was covered by a cast-iron hotplate, not unlike Seiran herself used for cooking in pots. The remaining was plugged entirely – and, Seiran assayed, efficiently for escaping heat – by a steaming, bulbous cauldron: secured there by a thin, hat-like brim sitting flush with the port.
Hito stooped at the basin, rinsing a saucepan. He acknowledged her entry with a look, but forbore to interrupt her tour.
Seiran rounded the stove, slicking an envious eye over all the tools she would’ve shot the man for back on the mountain. Or, maybe, even now. The cold slab: a thick namesake of polished basalt worked into another top away from the stove, snatched at her hungry attention. On it, laid out in a neat assortment of clay bowls, were the pre-prepared ingredients. Onions in shallots, slices of carrot, unpeeled, diced potatoes, honey in a little sake cup, and there was that garlic…
Seiran sniffed at the powdered mix of spices off to the side. Cumin, she catalogued. Mustard seeds. Ginger, I believe. Turmeric…?
+Curry?+ she pulsed.
And caught the mistake by the fluffy tail.
“… Um. Curry?” she asked aloud.
Hito wiped his hands on a rag and approached, picking up a notebook from a furnitural outcropping en route. He fanned his chin with the stiff covers.
“With a twist,” he said, looming even bulkier over Seiran in the cramped room and the voluminous apron. “Somewise, I managed to burn the butter for the onions and garlic,” he confided, “which is, on my soul, Miss Seiran, not a regular phenomenon. There’s still half a crock in the cellar, however.”
Seiran bit a lip. “No meat?”
“With the butter,” Hito calmed her. “Nice beef from a pliable friend of the family. The stove, since you were frowning earlier, is a custom job. We had an artisan build it – then this annexe around it. Some architectural black magic in that stack. Never backdrafts. Only had to pull a fairy out of it, once.”
Seiran bobbed her ears, half-listening. She was watching the honey and the expensive spices.
Hito said nothing else, watching Seiran in turn. The stove’s two fires crackled in the backdrop.
Over those moments, a decision was, if not reached, then tagged for recommendation.
“… Miss Seiran?” Hito cleared his throat with vengeance. “Stupid question, but… would you, maybe, like to…?”
Seiran peeked up and, this time, wilfully, didn’t bite her tongue.
“Um. Can I?”
Hito hesitated. He eyed the notebook, then Seiran, then again the notebook.
At long, long length, with slowness contravening his next words, he handed the first and the last to the hopeful middle. The hallmark Hito smile, which’d melted unnoticed from his face in the kitchen heat, took rein of the corners of his lips anew.
“Of course,” he said, an officer’s snap in his voice. “Of course, Miss Seiran. Sixteenth page; Kuufuku Curry. Here, the apron. I’ll go – and don’t smack me for this, please – grab the meat. Thank you. For the assistance.”
Seiran hadn’t smacked him. Not even when he’d brushed her butt helping her tie the apron up so it wouldn’t drag on the floor. And Hito, who had retrieved the missing ingredients with dispatch, had been free to wedge a chair in the doorway and sit on it the wrong way, arms resting on the seatback. He’d prattled at her about this and that, where the foodstuffs had come from and whatnot, till realising the Moon rabbit had been so far in her solitary element as not to require continued affirmation. He’d retreated to the pantry and waited.
For her part, Seiran had followed the notebook. Hand-penned and punctilious, she could as good have had Hito yanking her wrists throughout. The writing was eerily as the Moon manifest: all fussy calligraphy brooking not the least deviation. It’d had that touch of rigid-yet-not-unmerited pride that’d shut Seiran’s mouth and had her fall in step with the one true recipe. An unforeseen boon for a Moon rabbit in the contested territory of somebody else’s kitchen.
Quitting which, for this reason, a time later, Seiran was at familiar ease. At however much she could be, anyway, still wearing a man’s apron. Who, for that time, had been resting his brow in clasped hands at the table. Seiran drew the chair opposite and sat down.
“Um. Hito? Sir?”
The man stirred. He sniffed – at volume, as if plucked out of a needed nap – rubbed his eyes – and peered out across the table. At the notebook first of all... and then the Moon rabbit who’d brought it back.
“... Miss Seiran,” he guessed, quite correctly. “Right. Hmm. What is it you ask in these situations?”
“Um... ‘Status?’” supposed Seiran.
Hito gave a nod. “Status, then?”
She gave it back. “We wait. Till this is down.” She nudged the small, sand-based timepiece marked “10” she’d scrounged from a drawer in the kitchen. “Nothing else to report. No catch, no harm.”
Hito smiled in reply, readier to be satisfied by blanket statements than his notebook.
No, she did, really. She propped a cheek in a palm and closed her eyes. The concession was twice less easy to make than its matter, but... Earth it, perhaps Hito did know her. That a monothematic bore such as Gunner Seiran would’ve had to have her hands in something to be at peace. What did that make of her own cluelessness? She didn’t even know why she was here, ultimately.
Seiran looked, being in turn tolerantly looked back upon. By an earless man more well-off than he let on, rasher than a young buck, and yet tacitly content observing an Earthed Moon rabbit cook and eat and sit in silence. He was affluent, effusively happy to be alive, in the prime of his lifespan as far as she could tell, and had no business with a rabbit of Seiran’s station. Nor she with his species.
Holy cow, that's one hell of a choiceset for a CYOA.
(x) "Why you?"
Let me digest this update a little. So our bunny-shaped ball of nerves falls into habits and commandeers the kitchen basically first thing. Hito encourages it (he realizes it'll put her at ease?) but then our lad...
a) instead of staying around and helping (it is a date, for Christ's sake), he just buggers off to the pantry?
b) has the absolute audacity to conk out while a guest prepares dinner, alone, at his house?
Those are some pretty vague choices. I suppose the first one is more about learning what attracted Hito to Seiran, and the second one is more about learning what makes Hito tick? Out of those, the former seems more "guessable" than the latter, so let's go with...
43763 here, I probably used wrong phrasing. What I meant to convey is that the choices presented here are deep, from a character standpoint.
Like, the last seven paragraphs really hit me like a wall of bricks. It seems to me that Seiran is really looking at what she has with this man, head on, and asking herself what (and why) it is. It's a pretty significant moment, or so is the impression I gather anyway.
I really don't think the choices are vague either, though they certainly don't lock the plot into going in any given direction. The second choice reads to me like Seiran will perhaps have some self-doubt, or wonder what could possibly have led Hito to being so dogged in pursuing her. The first, on the other hand, looks like it will have her questioning why it is that she has decided to go along with his courtship. Is it because she's genuinely interested in the man, or has she just been caught up in the novelty of receiving such attention? However she's ended up where she is, are her reasons for continuing geunine? Or should she reconsider?
Anyway that's kind of what was in my head when I wrote my post. Maybe I'm overthinking stuff or reading it all wrong, but for what it's worth I'm enjoying the story a lot. Cheers!
(X) “Why you?” I feel like I can understand the other choice, which makes it almost uninteresting to ask in comparison to this one. Unless I'm correct in assuming that it's her asking herself why she's doing this for Hito. Which is what I'm voting for.
>komon I believe that's a women's kimono. Guess Seiran has caught a glimpse of some of his proclivities, eh?
That bit of amusement aside, I'm starting to think there's more to this guy's situation than meets the eye. Maybe he actually is wealthy, but he sure seems to be hanging around an empty house. Perhaps the last scion of an otherwise ruined family? Or maybe it's a secondary holding that was disused.
I wonder if he's on the outs with his fam; seems likely if he's the type to fritter away money on sweets and chasing rabbits.
I won't even comment on the idea of dairy cows in fairyland Central Japan.
Incidentally, a lot of smelling going on this time around. Is a certain someone rubbing off? Doing a lot of imagining, are we?
More seriously, I wonder if Hito has ever cooked in his life. Sure seems as if he wanted Seiran to take over to save himself the embarrassment of an admission.
As to votes, I can't say I have a clear guess as to the significance. I'm not one-hundred percent convinced by others' guesses, but I've none of my own, so I suppose this is going to be more of a question of gut appeal in the end.
[x] "Why me?"
If this is indeed a question of attraction, I would like to know what this lad has to say for himself. The easy, off-hand answer is, of course, that he's a G-word and probably drawn to her by familiarity and positive association — but I'm left wondering, given all else, whether things are really that simple. It feels like there's a lot of things he's not letting on about.
A question denied to enlisted Moon rabbits as a rule. But she was outside the rules now. Wasn’t she?
Seiran tacked the man down with a measured, permissively sardonic look. Number 3, straight out of Ringo’s manual of putting an officer on the spot without coaxing the pit. It was a flimsy fit.
“… Why?” she asked. “Of everyone, why you?”
Hito didn’t take the out she didn’t want him to in any event. He mounted his thinly-bearded chin up on a bipod of laced hands – and grinned, delightedly.
“Yet again, Miss Seiran,” he exaggerated, “you have me at a disadvantage. Why what me was that?”
Lords. He was enjoying this. He was having fun having Seiran explain. This not-so-stupid, handsome, wealthy, complaisant Earthling. She could’ve assumed being fiddled with, except… she’d seen him kneel. Against every prejudice, once had been plenty.
Seiran shook off the thought and steeled her, until a better word comes, resolve. “When I came here,” she began, sensed integrity teeter and corrected, “No, even before – before I’d come here, I’d heard—” from those unrepentant squad mates of hers who’d snuck out after Ringo, “—that I was liable to rattle the POGs if I didn’t tuck up my ears. Um. The locals, I mean. You. Humans. That didn’t wind up such a problem, but all the same. I never expected… this. Maybe some… confused younglings… dumb catcalls, on-leave stuff. But instead, there’s this. There’s you. I don’t understand.”
All at once Seiran felt this was a supremely self-absorbed thing to release: the polar opposite of useful, never mind intelligence. And yet there Hito was, stropping his stubble on his knuckles like a CO over a hundred-page post mortem.
“That? That’s plain stuff, Miss Seiran,” he said, so incongruously Seiran had to suppress a nervous (?) snort. “We’re a cautious people here,” Hito proceeded, not unenlightened of the slip and smiling ever-so-brighter therefore. “Natural when you live so far abroad with gods and youkai for neighbours. We’ll engage in gentility, very good, but it’ll be for gentility’s sake as much as our own hides’. No one wants to get on a neighbour’s wick when the wick’s… er, I was about to say, like to take your head off, but…”
Seiran coughed, daintily. “I think I get it. No worries.”
“Which leaves you, Miss Seiran,” Hito went on, obliging, “with whatsits – firebrand bastards and god-tramplers like yours truly willing to, er, get on that… wick. I’m sorry, this figure of speech is going nowhere fast.”
“Unlike you,” Seiran couldn’t help herself. “Come back here and tell me again, please.”
Hito reconsidered. “… No one who’s all there wants to wrong a youkai. Not least with their attentions,” he rephrased. “Thus, you get me.”
“—bastard,” he confirmed. “Self-evidently. The evidence being, I am here. With you, Miss Seiran.”
That does answer a question, thought Seiran, but not the one I asked. Needs more Ringo.
“Aren’t you, though?” she gunned on. “All there? Take this house. That kitchen. You’re well off, you said it yourself; you’ve got friends, family, connections – which you’ve boasted. That komon? A touch smallish on you, but the patterning must’ve taken weeks. I see these things. Why is someone like you chasing rabbit-eared dango salesgirls?”
“… It does sound quaint when you put it like that,” Hito conceded.
“It does, doesn’t it?”
“It is just one dango salesgirl, however.”
“Yes. Glad. Why, though?”
A solemn re-evaluation ensued, incorporating a length of time, a tipping of Hito’s chair and a much-magnified frown for what eventually it would effect. Seiran reined in the sergeantal barks, privately awed by her own forbearance. Was it the evening fatigue? The culinary calm? Or had she cauterised the extremes of her emotional range for the man in her fiery, monetary fit?
Seiran couldn’t tell but for that she was curiously satisfied to wait.
In due course, Hito had arrived at something presentable – if not that remote.
“Maybe it is like so, Miss Seiran,” he put forward. “Have you heard the saying? The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach?”
Seiran sighed, smiling despite it. Yes, she’d heard it. Mostly mocked. “Also through between his ribs; also down behind the collarbone,” she amended. “It’s just dango, anyway. It’s nothing heart-arresting.”
“But it is sweets,” argued Hito. “Habit-forming.”
“You take yours sour and salty,” Seiran noted.
“But when that happens every day…” he pushed.
“Aside from those it doesn’t,” countered Seiran. “Aside from those I’m off stocking up or you’re busy, I hear, yelling at people. Aside from fairs I can’t afford to go.”
“Consistency, not constancy, is the mark of alcoholism. Why not dangoism?”
“Because rice flour isn’t an Earthed intoxicant. Anything else we’d like to bust?”
Hito spread his hands, capitulating, a man who hadn’t as much expected defeat as he’d left the gates unbarred and rolled out the fine carpet. Though, Seiran somehow imagined, even in these conditions he wouldn’t have let loose a word about the secret FOB on the mountain lake.
“Which is to say,” she guessed, sullenly, “you aren’t telling.”
“It’s not that,” disagreed Hito, righting up. “It is that there is little to tell, Miss Seiran, and the little there is is difficult to tell in pretty words.”
“That was a lot of serviceable words that could’ve been spent telling.”
“Right. Would you take a demonstration, anywise?”
And in her strange serenity, Seiran’s rabbit-eared head signed a yes.
Hito stood. Hito circled the table. Hito, moreover, stopped beside where Seiran was ensconced in her chair and sedate mood. He extended a hand.
With some surprise, somewhat less trepidation and not the least forethought, Seiran deposited hers in it. Long, masculine fingers curled, exceedingly gently, underneath hers, squeezing them between themselves and the heel of his palm. They felt tough, warm to the touch… and, as never before, safe. Secure. Like a snug, if slightly new, woobie for her hand.
Seiran didn’t speak. What could she? Hito did, overhead.
“To wit, Miss Seiran,” he said, “yours, if not mine: there’re plenty few men in these parts daft, desperate or callous enough to do this – let alone be happy to. Thus, me.”
Seiran stared, detached, at their kinked-together fingers. And what about you? she wondered. Which of those are you?
The wit, aforementioned, subverted its owner’s dishonour. “This makes you happy?” it asked with Seiran’s voice. “Holding hands with a rabbit?”
Hito shifted closer – the whole, male bulk of him – in doing so reaching aside with his un-Seiran-occupied arm. Seiran heard the coarse-covered notebook being surreptitiously slid out of sight, farther up the table. Like she hadn’t already leafed through it on the sly while alone in the kitchen.
“… You being here, Miss Seiran,” Hito replied, in quiet confidence, “makes me happy. Rabbit or else, I don’t greatly care anymore. So, here I am. I cannot put it more serviceably.”
And that was that. The useless, unpretty words.
Seiran exhaled. It wasn’t the wrong question, her wit relieved her. It was the wrong Earthed person to ask.
Of course. Of course it Earthed was.
The real interloper was, and always had been, Seiran. She. She, whose idea this very house date had been. She, who had first offered her hand. And now the target was locked, blue-on-blue answers piled on to blanket level.
Well? Why him, Seiran? teased her wit.
Because I, Seiran, thought Seiran, have let him in. Because, where she might’ve turned her tail easily on catcalls and confused younglings, here was a man doing it by the book. A hasty, filthy, Earthling man, who, by all accounts, should by now have been towing her around bars and undoing her shorts. Yet, he hadn’t. He’d instead waited weeks on her to come into the notion – and to him – by herself. Suggesting, jesting, yet – save one blunder – never insisting. And still, always open. Because she was a rabbit. Because slow and steady did win her race. It was behaviourism.
And the dustiest part of it was, Seiran would bet her gun, Hito hadn’t the first mote of what the word meant. He’d simply been his daft, desperate or callous self and, circumstantially, won over a Moon rabbit. Or, at any rate, whichever part of her queried him sarcastically on doing to her what she had, already, done to him first. Lords on the Moon. She’d done it again just then without a flicker of the ears.
She didn’t need this. She didn’t Earthed need this.
But… as far as next bests went… a fugitive Moon rabbit could’ve done worse. Maybe she couldn’t have done better. Net gain. Net gain, she was way afield, even of Ringo. She had a wealthy man’s regular business. She had his pen to commission her supplies. And, their tastes in food aligned. And, his hand felt nice cradling hers. And, he was steady, gentle, and she was just a filthy little traitor.
A filthy little traitor to rabbitkind. Here to die.
Here to die.
“… Are you happy, Miss Seiran?” said Hito, close by.
Seiran blinked away the darkness. She remembered to breathe and did so, despite the tightness in her throat. She hooked her jittering mind around the words – not these, but his preceding ones. The statement, if not feedback, of having made the Earthling man feel something inside.
She jammed her trust into it – even if it should trash and slip on the bleeding of her pride.
It was not what Gunner Seiran needed. Lords. It wasn’t… but it was more than she ought to have hoped for.
“… No,” she said, her voice small. “No. I’m not happy.”
So many things she could not tell him. But this. This could not hurt her.
He would not hurt her. It’d been laughable to fear otherwise.
Hito matched her sigh for sigh. “Was afraid of that,” he confessed. “Hence, Miss Seiran, I shall not flip over that timer. No matter that I might wish to.”
Seiran looked, panicked, ears bolt upright, at where the very last of sandy minutes was giving way to gravity inside a glass tube.
Seiran leapt to her feet, ripping her hand out of Hito’s. Instantly, she regretted doing so, and so met the Earthling man’s eyes, chambering an apology.
… There was no need for one. And there would not be, so long as she was Seiran and did not flee afterwise.
Saying not a thing further, the placated Moon rabbit rushed off to the kitchen to take the cauldron off the fire, which, the notebook had avowed, if it stayed on for a minute in surplus, would’ve made the vegetables in the curry mushy and unpalatable, unservable to all except the vulgarian customers.
>>43738 >“They do half-off piss-up nights every now and then. Gambling, too, nowadays. Those’d be the rowdy times. Cosy little grease pit almost every other evening. Hmm. Where else…” I've only just read the manga chapter where this became relevant. Started to question it at the time but figured it was just a tiny detail. Cheeky.
In time, and not unduly a lot of it, a Moon rabbit and a human were blowing at steaming bits of beef held totteringly in matching chopsticks over twin bowls of hot curry. Hito sampled his first, effecting a grimace of studied gourmetry, including a twist of the eyebrows and a flaring of the nostrils it would’ve taken rather a hard pinch to close. After an outward aeon of busy chewing, the hungry man swallowed and deigned a congratulatory tip of the chopsticks.
“Like they used to make it,” he reviewed, spear-fishing for another scrap. “Well done, Miss Seiran.”
“Mm. I just followed the recipe, though,” Seiran noted, mid-munch.
And an Earthed good job she had. The meat was but one tongue-pepping part; the carrots, retaining ever-so-slight crunchiness, and the thoroughly buttered and caramelised onions tickled further bliss into Seiran’s taste buds. The dish was overall quite spicy, certainly spicier than a sweet-tooth and miser of her ilk would be used to, but it hadn’t caused her to sneeze up a half-metre ribbon of snot like some of the things Ringo’d had her try. Which was fairly a success.
“Well, yes,” Hito agreed, sophically, “but then, so was I.”
Sooner rather than later, Seiran tackled the final tranche of kitchen patrol by washing the emptied bowls, while Hito briefly ran out, in his excuse, for responsibilities. The body of which comprised, Seiran found walking back out into the pantry-made-lounge, a familiar set of forms and Lordly pen.
Seiran made a face, tangling with the apron’s ties. “Um. I realise I myself said we could,” she told the man, who’d hastened to help, “but it was mainly to grease the idea. We don’t have to, today.”
Hito tugged the apron up over her head and – luckily – tossed it right onto a peg by the kitchen doorway. “… Miss Seiran,” he said then, with facetious sufferance. “This here is a house date. The goal whereof, may you correct me if I am not, is to test whether the prospectives can be comfortable around each other without the cushion of public etiquette. Also, to have fun,” he added, scraping his chair in beside hers as if to reconfirm this was, indeed, a date with loosened propriety; “and, it has been observed, stocktaking of things is both of those things for you, Miss Seiran. Making stocks, I presume, being close enough to fool.”
“Out of concern,” Seiran sat and wondered aloud, “by whom has this been observed?”
“Those with very little better to do,” promised Hito. He uncapped the pen and pre-signed the requisition. “All yours, Miss Seiran. I’ll now try and not to obtrude.”
A rather big lie was given to these words a mere couple of minutes afterwards, as Hito bade her run by him the purpose of some of the obscurer items on the list. This in a tangent gave rise to a lengthy debate on dango-making, hypothetical new flavours to invite further sales (none of which, Seiran explained, would), a lamentation of the townsmen’s indisposition toward spending less their masculinity was put beside an asterisk, and so on. Scintillating stuff that’d put a busybody housewife in a coma.
Later yet, once she’d re-treaded the conversation for every littlest indelicacy let fly without checking her sights in the moment’s stir, Seiran would recognise this for what it’d been. The only method blunt, human Hito was privy to, wherethrough not to let her backslide into introspection and its self-inflicted distress. Still, in the moment, she was all too keen to chatter on, now she had somebody to whom to harmlessly complain. Which she did expeditiously to about a million nods and one single, continuous smile.
In an uneven return, she listened to Hito explicate on how, a paltry few years before, the town’s restaurateurs had still constituted an informal syndicate wherein any newcomer had either to be a youkai or elsewise self-sufficient to keep abreast of the competition. A criminal state of affairs the young Hieda lady had contributed to dispel, albeit not soon enough for many. Thusly were men like Jirou, who’d roped themselves to the clans for sheer floatability.
Troubles did as troubles were wont – and attached to everybody, human or Moon rabbit. There was scant to do about them but to belittle and laugh.
It was their mugs’ third refill – of mugi-cha, what else? – in the course of such and close confabulation when Seiran yawned a yawn that’d left her teeth all but dry in the backblast. Hito halved off her mug and set the kettle down, while the Moon rabbit did not, definitely, nuh-uh, redden all up to her temples.
“Shall we call it a night?” Hito asked.
“Mm.” Seiran kneaded her fogged-over eyes. “‘unno. Time?”
“No faintest, but we’ve been a while. The stove’s almost gone out.”
“Maybe ought to I should,” she admitted.
It was the light, she figured. Where the glow-globe of her home-base would’ve reacted to her circadian rhythm and dimmed the hue, the constant luminance of electric bulbs had put one over her internal clock. Seiran got up to her feet – and swayed, tiredness descending as if it’d worked out the same thing at the same time.
“I’ll walk you home,” said Hito.
Seiran shook her groggy head. “I know the route. Not human, besides – remember?”
“Then I’ll have a stroll in broadly the same direction twenty paces behind,” he said, and Seiran sensed a theme developing.
Why it should tweak her mouth in a wan smile was anyone’s shot to make but Seiran’s, because she was duly sure it shouldn’t.
“… Belay that,” she threw in the hand towel. “Walk me home.”
Hito bowed, graciously accepting the assignment. Seiran sagged, but in a longanimous sort of way.
They each gave their teas a parting sup, and the Moon rabbit filed out after the man, who flicked switches and plunged his over-engineered home into darkness as they went. He’d grabbed a stiff, crest-embroidered haori overcoat and offered Seiran another, but she’d turned it taciturnly down, counting the debts already high enough. The first step taken out of the extensive, barren entrance hall to the great outdoors brought the error to bear. The night was advanced, with a stark sky and a sharp, cooled-furnace chill to it.
Hito shut the manor’s front door – forgoing any visible means of lock – and abstained from remarking on Seiran’s hunched shoulders. Instead, he presented an arm primly shored up on the belt. Which, one interior scuffle later, Seiran looped hers through. Arm, not belt.
Two streets down, and the Moon rabbit safely quit humming the tune to Old Heron Calls under her flagging breath, their mismatched strides having at last ranged in on a proper ratio. Thereupon, Gunner Seiran was free to focus on the incredible fact she was marching in the night beside a man.
It wasn’t… novel, as such. Seiran had been younger once and had done the things congenital, in particular to tenderfoots on their first leave from boot camp since months and susceptible to feelings of inadequacy. She had scorned the uniform by singing loudly in the Lunar Capital’s mirror-sheen streets, popped into confectionery parlours to ask about “happy ends,” and snatched a male out of the evening crowd when her bunkmates had, to approximate a dance in Lord Tsukuyomi’s thankfully inviolable honour. Then, the reeves had noticed the spike she’d made in her unit’s acuity tests, and all inadequacy had truckled to the Eagle Ravi holottoo. And males had turned as sparse in her thoughts as the Earth’s filthy own.
It was, hence, simply odd. Quaint. That a lifetime and four hundred thousand kilometres away, she would be doing the same rookie thing with one of aforesaid Earth’s own. Quaint and… at once, reassuring. To have somebody take over the rudder while she let herself drift off. Seiran tried, even, walking with her eyes closed for a stretch, though a near-date with the lumpy cobbles soon checked the inviting notion. Where this checking momentarily landed her would’ve been no less inviting for a drowsy rabbit, but Seiran’s den was still a ways away. She slogged on.
They ghosted by one or two belated passers-by and a team of lantern dousers, all of whom glanced generously with worry, but who judged the rabbit and the man’s arrangement as innocent – or in any case obvious – enough. Hito had attempted opening a conversation at some point, but Seiran had shushed him up ahead it’d depressurised.
“Ssshnn,” she’d mumbled. “Am listening for youkai.”
“… Right,” Hito had said, past an audible smile. “Right you are, Miss Seiran. Could be one nearby.”
And then, before long, albeit certainly not shortly, there came the walled yard of Seiran’s dosshouse. Hito chaperoned her under the gate, under the neighbours’ lightless windows, through the pitch darkness, up to the door marked 3. There he slacked the arm which’d kept a drooping Moon rabbit upright all along the way. A strong, strapping, masculine arm which could’ve wricked hers six ways to Sunday with one bad hold. It had not.
Though it did manoeuvre things around so that Hito might take Seiran’s limp hand – and lift it up to chin level.
Where he, softly as he shouldn’t be capable of, kissed the reverse of her palm.
A gesture which should’ve raised her ears and every hair thereon. That should’ve made her grateful the Moon was invisible on the other side of the building. A gesture which, nonetheless, elicited only a tightening of her fingers around their warm, rugged, steady support.
“… Thank you, Miss Seiran,” Hito whispered, muted by her closeness and the yard’s midnight privacy. “Thank you – even if you were only humouring this firebrand bastard. It was… heartening, having you over. You made it feel like… like everything was all right. Thank you, again.”
Seiran stared, blearily, at the golden crest on the man’s haori. It would’ve been nigh impossible to make out his expression in the second floor’s balcony’s shadow; she thus made no effort to. On the bright – or, ha ha, dark – side, the same held for her own face. Which was a gift from the Lords as, however Seiran fancied herself wary of being honeyed up, the bees bumbling around the inside of her head were very happy.
Yes. She’d done so well. Hadn’t she? Commandeered this funny Earthling’s kitchen, chowed down his food, bored him half to catatonia with her shoptalk and, now, received thanks and kisses for the excellent service. It beggared belief that an Eagle Ravi would’ve stooped to these lows at the first opportunity to strut her stuff.
Clearly, she hadn’t been thinking clearly – and that was as clear as clear things were. Or she had been but wasn’t, though that was best to figure out for a Seiran who hadn’t a full day of work, plodding and socialising pulling down her eyelids. Never mind those bees knocking about. Yes. She’d tune everything in in the morning.
The nodding Seiran of right now—
( ) Gave him hope. ( ) Gave herself a reward. ( ) No. It would’ve been impure.Way too late for that, isn’t it? Ha. Late.
>“Like they used to make it,” he reviewed, spear-fishing for another scrap. “Well done, Miss Seiran.” Getting the feeling there's definitely some estrangement or otherwise difficult circumstances with the fam here. Are we dealing with a prodigal son?
>A criminal state of affairs the young Hieda lady had contributed to dispel I wonder what sort of interests AQN was flexing there. Can't imagine it was for the good of the commons. Perhaps a certain fizzy lad's story is involved?
>mugi-cha What a splendid reference to the summer season and 2022's Red-Hot Contest!
>Seiran had been younger once and had done the things congenital, in particular to tenderfoots on their first leave from boot camp since months and susceptible to feelings of inadequacy. Sounds like a story that warrants explication on the order of, etc., etc.
>It beggared belief that an Eagle Ravi would’ve stooped to these lows at the first opportunity to strut her stuff. Hard to win against the old 要求不満.
[x] Gave herself a reward.
Let your ears down every once in a while, girl. The Ringus has been tryna tell you.
The nodding Seiran of right now gave into the descriptor. She wrenched aside their married hands and tipped forward. Forward and forward. Till her forehead rested against the man’s chest, which shrank, fractionally. A startled question gusted by her ears.
+Shut up. Coward.+
He smelled of… dust. Not the pervasive, boot-caking kind every Moon rabbit’s nails were intimate with. This was a closed-closet smell. Of a uniform shut away and forgotten. Of a man who hadn’t had to dress up – or a cause to – for months and months and months. Something she should have spotted, remarked on, maybe teased about. Not sifted dirt on the floor. And he looked good like this. In black and gold. Lords. He looked almost Lordly.
… Only, none of those would’ve suffered Seiran to use them for a headrest.
Hito endured it implicitly. It was an elementary mistake. You didn’t spoil Moon rabbits; they would let you.
“… Hito? Sir?” murmured Seiran.
Nerves gripped his fingers around her small ones. “Mm. Hmm. Yes, Miss Seiran…?”
“I don’t want to be a Miss,” Seiran complained. “I’m Seiran.”
He chuckled. His unfounded amusement was a bassy rumble in Seiran’s emplacement. “Sympathies,” he said. “I could do without being a Sir, myself.”
Seiran pulled an unseen face, as if he’d spun a gripe so hard around it’d turned into a glowing endorsement through air friction alone. Was he going to twist her every grouse into something light-hearted and mutually uplifting? Where was the business in that? Who was paying? Metaphorically?
Not Seiran. Not tonight. Tonight, she’d earned her stub.
“… Hito?” she tried again.
“When a rabbit does with her head like this,” Seiran said, demonstrating which head and like how, “it means, she wants you to pet her.”
Stillness. No rumble.
Hito remained statuesquely still, as though surrounded by a gaggle of fairies with innocence in their eyes and willow rods in their hands. Some of them were dual-wielding. And there were bees droning, too.
And then, slowly, conservatively, Hito winched his available arm up to somewhere on Seiran’s six.
There was a pat. To begin. A tentative scratch between her ears. A scruple being squashed. And then, finally, finally, a full, tender stroke from the crown of her head, down between her braids, to the nape of her neck.
The man’s broad, soothingly weighty hand continued, regardless, to coast her mushy head. Up over the scalp – conspicuously skirting the bases of her ears – then down round the rear, fingernails trailing across the bottom hairline, whence they provoked a tight, little shiver inside. It was bliss in a five-fingered package. Genetic-dross-turned-vice. The Moon rabbits’ deep, not-so-hush weakness. Seiran’s, lamentably, as well.
And it’d cost her only exhaustion, a tidy slice out of her rack-out time and a Moon-sized rent in her towering pride as collateral. For what? Some filthy male’s hand on her head?
Was it worth it, Seiran?
Yes. It had been. She would bang her head on the baking board something fierce first thing after daybreak, Seiran was confident, but for the while she was buoyant to rest it on the Earthling man’s chest. It was… so easy, to let loose. To flip the long-neglected safety back on. To let somebody bigger, in command, with preponderance, persuade Gunner Seiran for a blessed moment she was just a rabbit. A cute, simple rabbit. With nothing to apprehend. That all the little hooks and pins in her soul were someone else’s to pick out now. That everything would be… fine. Just fine. All fine. Lords. She’d go for half-fine all glad.
Insidious. That was what it was. A sweet, Moon-beautiful lie for a turncoat Moon rabbit.
It would not be fine. It will never be fine. It was not her lot.
Seiran heeled the thought till it squealed.
You are your own worst enemy, she called herself down inside. You are your own filth. Is there nothing you’ll not corrupt? Not even an Earthed head-pat?
A tremor of her stress had either reverberated up Hito’s arm, or it had not, but her expansive headrest emitted all the same a low, comforting, yet nevertheless discomfited sound.
“… Mm. What?” Seiran demanded, tilting her head that the next stroke bumped the roots of her ears. I got used to yours. Get used to mine, Earth you. “What issit now?”
Hito flinched as good he could without flinching actually. “Er. Thinking,” he confessed, even if he belied it by petting on. “Thinking that, a man my age,” he clarified, “shouldn’t be feeling this giddy. It mustn’t be good for the heart.”
You? Giddy? thought Seiran. Aloud, however, what she said, with certain authority, was, “Your heart’s all right.”
Hito breathed out. “It does feel all right,” he admitted.
There was a spell of silence. A spell of petting. A spell to make a Moon rabbit consent to protracted verticality in favour of a bed at night.
Seiran broke the one least binding.
“… You aren’t going to ask for another date?” she wanted to know.
But magic, unlike the rabbits’ psychic arts, was a fickle, inexact mistress. She, quite like the rabbits, broke herself at a nudge.
Hito shifted his cuddleable hand from the back of her neck to Seiran’s shoulder. And pushed her.
Gently, firmly – away.
“Seiran,” Seiran corrected, striving for a voice that wouldn’t sound as loafy as she still felt. “Se-i-ran – right?”
“This’ll take a bit to wean… Seiran,” he obliged. Then, resigned, agreed, “I am, too. But, please, we can take things at a pace. You’re asleep on your feet; I am a more nocturnal animal. Some sort of bird, I believe they call us. What I am complicating here, Mi— Seiran, is that you ought to sleep before we agree on something for which you’ll pointedly not swipe me sidewise the cheek tomorrow. After you’ve smacked your own round the world in the morning, most like.”
It was a whole heap of code for: too fast. Too forward. You are a rabbit. You’ll bolt when spooked. I know this.
Seiran glared fuzzily at the Kuufuku family crest, barely make-out-able among the benighted black, but he’d had the right. This Earthed man. She really would have slapped herself around with her own ears if she’d acceded to further courting without her full, conscious ego either pulling or leaning against the decision. Earth it.
… Since when had he known her foibles this well? And how came it she, somehow, knew so few of his?
The Moon’s elite reconnoitrer, the top Eagle Ravi in psychometry, grumbled. “You’re too delicate…”
Hito smiled. This, at least, she could tell without a visual. “Would you like me to be less delicate, Seiran?”
That sufficed – in Hito’s short, blunted ears, anyway. He unhanded her shoulder, which drew, and raised her own hand, on which he’d retained a grip the whole meanwhile. He bussed its knuckles, perfunctorily, and let go.
Seiran stood alone – roughly.
Hito faced about from having already about-faced to exfiltrate. “Hmm?”
“Want your… money… want it now?” mumbled Seiran.
The Earthling man weighed that. “… Tomorrow, please. Apart from footpads,” he explained, “which we get ill any, anywise, I’d refrain from, whatsit, jingling the entire way home. It is well late. Take it along to work tomorrow. I will give you the new commission, and you can pay me the previous. We might call it a business model.”
“Model.” Seiran nodded, not stalling, not at all. “Um. Copy. Model.”
As his barman friend before him, Hito spared her the spit-clap-shake routine concomitant and simply bowed to legalise the exchange. With one more instance – covering a somewhat formal “Good night, Mis— er, Seiran” – he was then gone. A distancing clip-clop of clogs on cobblestone in the night.
Seiran swivelled about and walked into the door marked 3.
A couple more tries and yanks of the handle after, and she remembered the existence of much-advised bolts. She rubbed her forehead, clutched the handle for balance, and reached out with her wilting mind.
The touch of latent devices in her Lattice welcomed her home. Seiran shut the door, not bothering to pulse any. She dropped her satchel, swilled some saline wash from a jar around her mouth, spat it out through a cracked window, and folded onto the bed. She’d refresh and change in the morning. She had means. They were not like Hito’s, but they were means.
Maybe… Maybe next time, she would use his and compare. How really spoilt he was beside a Moon rabbit who begged for head-pats – and got them.
You’re going to loathe yourself tomorrow, Seiran’s mind told her. You’re going to loathe yourself for thinking of asking. You’re going to loathe how it felt, smelt and how you sounded. You’re going to loathe that you enjoyed it. You are such a loathsome creature, Seiran.
Seiran squeezed her eyes shut.
+Shut up+ she pulsed into her dead Lattice. +Shut up. It’ll be all over in under a year. Why do you care?+
>“Thinking that, a man my age,” he clarified, “shouldn’t be feeling this giddy. It mustn’t be good for the heart.” Oh? Is our hungry lad not such a lad, then? Hmm. Makes me wonder a bit about his aims.
Poor Seiran if she ends up hit with "You're like a daughter to me."
And, of course, the blasted matter of a year comes back around. The poor little adorable fool. Hope is the thing that dies last.
Seiran woke full of loathing. But, in her self-defence, it was a tamagoyaki-sort of loathing: sautéed on all sides and rolled up on itself so many times you hardly recognised it for the baby chicken amniotic it was. She lay there in the sheets and the morning rays, an arm slung across her eyes, chewing it over.
To pick the lesser bur out of her tail first: yes, she’d had an on the whole wonderful evening. To locale had been homey and quiet, if a little jury-rigged; the food had been scrumptious and filling; the tea had been warm and plentiful, and the company had executed every flip and cartwheel possible to make her comfortable, including bent over backwards from the short notice. It’d been a prime, textbook house date. If, anyway, the textbook necessitated you stuff it under the pillow in your bunk after you’re done studying.
Earthed Ringo and her ears. Had she known? No, the nosy sleaze must have assumed, because she’d slept on a veritable library back on the home-world, that everybody else had as well. But it did prove, at least, Seiran was not a prude. She just hadn’t lent males very much headspace before… well, about a few days ago. Then, all at once, without especially cramming, a male there suddenly was. Filling in the vacancy. Which there always had been. Big thumping deal. His not doing so earlier and sticking solely to her dango was the actual puzzler.
Then why’d his petting where he already was been such a cheek-chomping problem?
Because, said Seiran’s rationale. Using his feelings as a crutch to stave off an… episode… had been private, covert and essential. Using him openly, however, and for personal pleasure, was…
… It wasn’t done. Not by proper Moon rabbits. Not to their Lords. Not even to lesser species, for all their due subservience. It was just Not Done.
Good job, then, she already had Done It. Giddied the Earthling man something moony and given her traitor’s brain something to serve up at night to boot. And, oh, no, she did loathe it. But all the more loathful was that she loathed having had it stop before she’d had her fill. She had every right, too, to loathe Hito himself. She loathed how often he caused her to say “Um.” She loathed that he’d made her to ask, however roundabout, for another date. She loathed that she’d wanted one, and she loathed not getting it there on the spot.
Loathe, loathe, loathe. She really was a loathsome creature when left alone.
There was a sure-fire way to mend that. Seiran pried herself off the bed and, in an ongoing campaign to admit even more Earthen filth into her life to dislodge the great Lunar virtue, flung open the single window of her den. The fug of mid-Spring heat, completely belying last night’s nippiness, plus pollinating crabapple on the adjoining property hit her square in the vanity. Seiran sniffed at her less sweetly-scented clothes – their bouquet of rabbit in chagrin, steamy kitchen and the faintest whiff of human on top – and, on this account, postponed the workday till a bath had been properly had.
Later, after she’d rinsed the rice-water tonic from her hair and dried it with the cooling micro-furnace, Seiran tied it up, for a change, in a fluffy, blue ponytail which would, apart from its aesthetics, hinder incidental head-pats. She slipped into one of her deregulated, off-duty pieces, because the Lunar Lords had long understood an illusion of freedom made for a less transparent prison, and Seiran did like her dresses on the looser side. She spooned up a breakfast of oats and parched berries in water and promised herself an after-hours spread to rival yesterday’s.
Lastly, Seiran wheeled her business out to the streets for another day of engladdening peckish mouths.
That she’d only truly be waiting for one was a small treason beside her hitherto charge sheet.
Several hours of touting and vending sweet dango in, and the wait was over; and Seiran wondered, hardly for the first time, how it was her daily changing of venue hadn’t thrown the man’s olfactory sense off a single one.
Which was, perhaps, explained as simply as coincidence in light of Hito’s dynamic shape despite the manifest fixation on eatables. A daily tromp (or five) around the town would’ve been doing his heart more good than Seiran’s whimsies could possibly do it bad. And, if his exercise looped him by the dango stall manned by one Moon rabbit who, with her current figure, wouldn’t have lasted five seconds afoot in a wind tunnel, well, just as well he let her make the more complimentary surmise. Not as if she moved about that much, anyway.
Thus, conceivably, the figure.
The thought alone made her want to kick off the sandals and run a circuit herself, but Seiran kept herself staunchly shoed. Hito’s quaint, loiter-till-sure-I’ve-been-spotted routine eventually ran him aground on the Dango Seiran-ya’s signboard where, with all the aplomb of happy happenstance, he offered Seiran an ident smile and a tough-padded vantage to place her hand. He looked, once again, as if he was auditioning for the part of a background burgher in a period drama: a scrupulously dishevelled, plain kimono pitched over conscientiously slouched shoulders and faded, utilitarian hakama. He blended in – or, anyway, wanted to – so hard, you’d have thought the town was some kind of human salad.
Too bad for him, Seiran had seen.
“Hito,” she hazarded.
The man smiled wider and squeezed her fingers in ratification. “Mi—”
She twisted his palm one-hundred-and-eighty degrees and poised her tongs dangerously over his knuckles.
“—Ssseiran,” Hito finished, enlisting the sibilants as plausible deniability. Not a fibre of a muscle twitched the smile. “Good day. Quite. Isn’t it?”
Seiran retracted the tongs and the hand. “… Mm. Yes. Hopefully it’ll hold, too,” she added, absently flipping the dango on the burner box. “I’m about fed up with waking up with frosted toes whenever I forget to close the window. Takes minutes to rub each one off every time. You know?”
Now, it wouldn’t have taken a Ringo-istic mind to raise an eyebrow at something like that. Seiran, who was no prude, had heard the expression – to rub one off – meaning, well, what it merrily meant. So, she grilled herself inside on where she’d rubbed that one out of, while Hito’s right eyebrow performed the aforesaid vertical manoeuvre. Two days back, and she would’ve flushed and wrinkled her ears into accordions; now, having turned into a Moon rabbit who browbeat head-pats out of her admirers, Seiran’s only fair resort was a sharp segue – sharp.
She ducked below the counter and up came with a not insubstantial wealth of strung coins she’d tied up throughout the afternoon. They made what to Seiran’s ears sounded like the clatter of spent gunpowder cartridges on the scored wood.
“This should be our last requisition,” she said, topping off the pile with a further handful. “To the mon. Tally and confirm?”
To her silent appreciation, Hito let the borderline remark pass his fraternity by and did genuinely set about verifying her honesty with all the punctiliousness of an ex-barkeep. He really could have been one, the way he thumbed down the coins. His lips mimed as he counted.
At length, he untwisted one of the strings, flicked a couple dozen coins off and returned those to the bewildered Seiran.
“I’m an old-fashioned bloke,” Hito said, unslinging a haversack from his back; “I still honour the string discount. You’ll find a lot of us do, if just when asked. Wise to take advantage of, anywise, if you go to the effort. One mon in twenty-five stays with you. Food for thought for food.”
“C—Copy,” said Seiran. “Um.” And there is is. “I heard, but I don’t do a lot of strings. This is right, then?”
Hito gave a nod. “To the mon.” He stashed the brassy, clinking settlement and out produced a sheet of inked-splotched paper to exchange. “And this,” he offered, “is our next commission. Signed off this noon, so tomorrow at the earliest is your estimate.” He spread his hands. “I am sorry. Nocturnal animal. Think I mentioned.”
Seiran, who’d gingerly received the bill, folded it up without looking. Her money-sock had felt tender already in the morning.
“No worries,” she assured him. “One solar here or there won’t make the Moon fall. Um. Or something. When do I pay it off?”
She posed the question with an ounce of stress, half-envisioning mental gymnastics and esoteric, money-to-dinner-date conversion rates. But Hito had instead a sincere go at it, gauging her solvency by the number of dango (probably) sold and (patently yet) unsold.
“… How does a fortnight strike you?”
Seiran bit back the… was that disappointment? Really? “Um. That is… generous? Is it?”
“I’m in no hurry you aren’t, Seiran,” said Hito. “You may pay it pre-date if you wish; the Moon won’t, whatsit, fall. I figured two weeks’d be right, the amount of chocolate there was...”
Seiran coloured. And gave a stiff bow. “I’ll capitalise on the full deadline, thanks.”
Hito mirrored it on his side. Sans the blush. “A joy doing business with you.”
They righted up as one man/rabbit: a rookie duet who’d somehow put on a good show and congratulated each other with sardonic glances. See? these were saying. We can do this. We’ve got chemistry. Just don’t shake excessively, and ta-da.
Seiran tugged on a bang. It’d been no Earthed accident Ringo had pegged him for a sharp cookie. Hito did have something of a Moon rabbit in him. The understated contempt for formalities, if not a stomach lead-lined by years of passing ready-made rations. She liked that about him. A bunch.
Earth it. She liked him. Maybe not to an inappropriate extent; maybe Seiran wouldn’t have patted his head if he’d stuffed his face in her chest, but she didn’t, after all, loathe him. Was that really so contentious? He made her blush and waste a shedload of “Um”s, sure, but she thought she preferred it to watching her shorts’ buttons around the clock. The best she could determine, it seemed overall less stressful. She’d have to ask Ringo.
And, with that interior incident of friendly fire, Seiran realised she was being subject to a handsome, if mildly anxious, stare. She let the bang dangle along her cheek.
“Um. Right. Dango, right,” she remembered.
Hito tilted a few degrees to starboard – and swept the same, uneasy stare lengthwise the stall as though considering for the first time the carbohydrate-load-bearing counter. “Hmm. Yes,” he admitted. “But.”
“I may want to ask a favour of you, Seiran.”
She tipped a doubtful ear. “You... may want to?”
Hito sighed, even if plainly he was enjoying the paperchase. “Hmm. Well. You see, Seiran, when I went to hand that bit in—” he indicated the stall’s frontage, although meant most likely the filed-away commission, “—a friend ran into me on the way out. That wasn’t a slip, by that way; he was feeling literal today. Anywise, the young Hieda lady’s called for some sort of conclave regarding her imminent marital shift, and the friend as good pledged his own hand in marriage if I should somewise creep into attendance.”
This was… new. “Um. Why you?”
Hito sketched an emphatic shrug. “The heads of the clans are invited,” he said, “as are some other eminences, and he needs an excuse to avoid the how-do-you-dos. Not a chap easy with the nobs, he.”
Seiran frowned. “And I come in…?”
Hito blew up his cheeks – then exhaled, just as explosively. “Because I’m the same,” he said. “Jumpy around nobs. There may be folks I shouldn’t make eye contact across the room with if I don’t have to, and, if I don’t somewise end up standing around on my own, they may not tempt it as badly. There’ll be refreshments, too,” he promised. “We might sit down, talk and mooch. Make it a date,” he added, realising the ingredients were all there.
Seiran stuck on the last of his pickled-plum mitarashi dango and presented them over the counter alongside a philosophical face. Hito took the treat and responded with one of his own. Yes, it was implying, this is the sort of foolishness we standard issue males are well known for.
( ) “Sure.” ( ) “I’d really rather have you to myself.”
Then of course there were Seiran’s mental rumblings about protocol. A cinch for the Eagle Ravi’s Gunner even at her least operative, Ringo could’ve vouched, but any moral Moon rabbit who’d had to confront a past of harrying non-kin for head-pats would’ve instilled in themselves a healthy set of qualms for future solitude-together. Things – clearly – still occurred to such rabbits; and, while by far the staunchest of the Earth Recon contingent, attested to by their long setback on the mountain, Seiran was not immune. She’d thought she was. Glaringly, not so.
When did you start wanting these things, Seiran? she wondered. Holding hands wasn’t even something she’d done with males since joining the Eagle Ravi. Putting up with them was more like it. Or taking them on the chin. What was she afraid she would do?
Can’t Earthed say, thought Seiran. Too many possi— liabilities.
So, to err on the side of public humiliation.
“… Sure,” Seiran said, careful to sound matter-of-fact. “That’s a place, isn’t it? Copy. And time?”
Hito gave her a probationary sort of look.
“… Todaaay?” he drawled, uncertainly.
Seiran sputtered laughter. To her credit, it wasn’t into the merchandise.
“You’re joking,” she accused the man, spinning back around. “Really?”
Hito contrived to look innocent. He didn’t whatsoever. The cheeks full of dango lent themselves to a definite Ringo-esque cast.
Seiran shook her head. That came around to bite a bit fast, didn’t it, Seiran? Ouch. “Copy. All right.” Oh, well. “When exactly?”
Hito munched through the pickled-plum bit shank and spoke. Soberly, now his deficient ears markedly hadn’t been shot off and he was in the clear. “Well, Gin said—” he caught out the advisory omission, “er, that is, that friend, he told me between fifth and sixth bell. Himself, he is coming off at sixth; he is going to powder his cheeks, put on the pall, what he calls it, and meet – hopefully – with us and the rest in the common room. The young lady’ll be along soon after. Some sort of examination for her condition – I hear, at least. It’s that half-hour or so with the nobs he’s quaking in his shoes for.”
He’d said it with a slight curl of the lip, as though half an hour was greenhorn stuff, coming right after the hundred push-ups and the first thing-called-coffee from the mess hall. That latter one might’ve been an unfair comparison, but Seiran nodded concededly.
“Where do we muster? What should I wear?”
“It is only a convent of some big-head gentry, Mi— Seiran,” he corrected himself so promptly, Seiran couldn’t hardly hoist the tongs. “The actual wedding’s a little off yet, right, if Jirou had his months straight. We won’t be there to dazzle our unwed peers. Anything decent’ll do, yes… long as it covers up that war paint.”
The ribbing edge in his voice wasn’t so much lurking as it was shovelling up pit traps. Upon an uncomprehending stare, Hito nudged his stubble at the Moon rabbit’s rolled-up sleeve with the air of a man pointing out a missing button in the uniform’s dress shirt. Indeed, emblazoned there in navy ink on Seiran’s forearm was the man’s home address – worse for wear and the bath, but condemningly legible still.
“Um. I tried soap this morning,” said Seiran, scratching at the smudged logography. “No luck, though. It just—”
She demonstrated. To Hito’s sympathetic nodding at these and other semi-permanent stains.
“Vinegar or cider’ll take it off a treat, in experience. I ought to have some in the cellar if you will come by. Or, er, I might bring you along a flask tomorrow,” he added, by way of satisfying aforementioned decency. “It was, excuse me, blessed expensive ink. Soap is too delicate for it. The sort you must use worse yet, most like.”
Had it been another tease? Seiran couldn’t tilt either way ahead he’d let go of her hand, which he had someway managed to lay hold of anew beneath her notice. She heeled herself in the ankle behind the counter for unpaid attention.
“Anywise,” said Hito, unenlightened of the nearby self-violence, “we may get together at the school with the bell tower at sixth and then walk thereon. The Hieda estate’s in the same quarter. Not far at all. This isn’t cutting too deep into your bottom line, is it?”
“N—No,” said Seiran, still a shade distracted, not to mention pink. “It’s been… um. Slow. The weather, it must be; I have inhaled pollen particles as big as insects today. I can withdraw at fifth and prep up, no worries.”
“Do feel free to stand me up if you need, Miss Seiran. No ill will.”
“Seiran,” reminded Seiran. “And I won’t. I’ll be safe – just safe. It’s a date.”
And there, for a defenceless moment, was a Hito whose smiles so far had been, maybe not fake, but nowhere so genuine as the grateful one he parted with now. And Earth her if it didn’t make Seiran feel as though, for the first time, she may not have been merely leaching off this luckless male who’d taken an interest in a Moon rabbit with undue baggage.
She felt… present. Useful. To somebody else than herself. A defector Moon rabbit’s worst nightmare. But it made her heart beat.
“Thank you, Seiran,” said Hito, all his droll, airy self again. “You are very possibly a lifesaver.”
So, he’d bought another stick of the shunned mitarashi dango, considerately did not kiss any of her extremities, and resumed what Seiran now enviously recognised as his mainstay hobby, even before abstruse sweets and courting Moon rabbits. The bell’s fifth stroke came without a hitch and with barely a handful more sales to Spring-clogged customers; and Seiran carted the Dango Seiran-ya back to the home-plate glad of the bit of everyday exercise forestalling her transformation into a full-on fluffball.
Good riddance, too. The Lords knew Seiran-mochi wouldn’t sell in a million years. Not even to funny Earthlings with nice-feeling hands.
Still and all, the whole situation put the homecoming Seiran to another challenge yet. Not that of the attire; an attitude like hers tended to stock the clothes-trunk with modest pieces by default, which meant Hito’s advice encompassed only the non-splotched, non-torn part of her wardrobe. She therefore didn’t buzz frustratedly at her confused ahp while seesawing between one sky-blue kimono and another but with sequins on the sleeve-ends – too much. Instead, she poured her perspicuity mostly into a more pressing question.
What about her ears?
Hito hadn’t said. But Hito also hadn’t seemed to think about them beyond their inherent constitution of Seiran as a whole. Not even his buddy-buddy barman friend had been so eager to leave them out of the conversation. And neither, for all their badgering her for portable soup, were Seiran’s neighbours. She was an odd one out. A (presumed) youkai-rabbit nesting among humans.
Those clansheads Hito so derided for their hermeticity were all but bound to be wronged, if not downright disturbed, by her inclusion in their high society. They were Lords, Seiran rather imagined, of an Earthen kind.
On the nastier side, if she was to spare her man her date the undesired company…
( ) Ears out it was. ( ) Creative headdress it was.
[x] Ears out it was. Way I see it, he isn't making a big deal of it, so neither should she. He doesn't seem real concerned about his capital with humans or anything, and this is Achoo's deal, so she's not going to give too many tosses about a non-humie or two. Let 'em wave proudly.
If, indeed, she was to spare her date such company, then the role of an abominable youkai escort suited her fine. It was still thin ice to tread, but she’d at least have Hito to huddle to on hand in case of breakages.
Tactical all settled on, Seiran made her mind make itself up on the outfit, packed her satchel, slipped back outside into the early evening and set off – with a tickle of anticipation she hadn’t an expedient justification for – for the schoolhouse on the hill.
The bell hadn’t yet rung its sixth when Seiran swerved out of a side-street and skirted along the school’s bamboo-pole fence. She passed, alert, by the belfry: a slant-roofed, skeletal, ambiguously martial-looking structure upon a brass-studded, stone rise, green with patina and age outdistancing the schoolhouse by no less than a century to Seiran’s inexpert eye. It’d been something of a shock to witness at first; stone alone seemed as though it should’ve stood against the Earthen filth, like the lifeless deserts of the Moon, yet here was a testament to impurity’s pervasiveness. Here, even stone wasn’t relieved of its ravages.
Here, even Seiran feared the passage of time.
She blacked out that thought and – of course – found Hito waiting already out front. He was seated astraddle a polished, andesite pedestal, which at one point may have borne a Buddha or some else native deity, but which had now to satisfy with just Hito’s buttocks. There was a number of human striplings yet about the yard, doing the usual human stripling thing of nothing much as loudly as practicable, but no spring-loaded teachers to reel them in. Seiran breathed out with signal ease.
Hito renounced the seat in favour of the next god and took in the Moon rabbit’s unrestrained appearance. He was outfitted in all black himself: a simple, if stately, monocoloured kimono – no familial markings – and likewise lacquered clogs. A verdict came in at length.
“You do look lovely in blue,” Hito opined. “Should wear it more often.”
Seiran sighed. “Already do. Almost every day.”
He smiled and nodded his concordance. “That goes to explain some things.”
“You know,” Seiran noted; “I’m not going to blush at every one of your compliments if you just spray them all over the range like that.”
“A shame,” said Hito. “Given you look even lovelier in pink.” He offered an arm. “Shall we?”
Seiran looped a sequined sleeve through – too late in marking it was still hours till midnight, and they’d be seen by more than home-crawling drunks and lantern dousers on midwatch, to reverse out of it. But there was no love lost between her and the townsmen however a rabbit may pound it; and Hito, who stood to lose what bits of it he had, had the air of a warring officer about him. “Ask. Just ask about my aide’s ears,” it seemed to broadcast; “the pit hasn’t had meat in weeks.”
Or, chances were, Seiran had grown overly used to flattery, and the man was merely focused, sighting down his nose for an even enough stretch of cobble to get their feet in rhythm. Which, after a few dozen steps, they did with the minimum of mutual jostling. Arm in arm, a Moon rabbit and a human marched out onto a wider and, maybe unsurprisingly, commerce-busy avenue. Carriers and handcarts bustled to and fro in the evening Sun, unconcerned for all but the destination. Seiran didn’t bother slating the locale; these wouldn’t stop for a cow pie in the middle of the road, let alone a dango on the side.
“… I am sorry,” said Hito, jostling, in a turn, Seiran’s attention.
She decided, as a function of security, against peeking up. “For?”
“For inflicting this on you out of the blue,” Hito obliged. “I wasn’t lying; Gin did drop this in my lap, what, only somewhere around noon. Asked Jirou to start, but he shot me down like a Nue. A blessed stickler for social distinction, he is, outside of yours truly. I didn’t want to hassle you, but, well… couldn’t help asking. Sorry.”
Seiran withheld her inexplicable disillusion. “Um. No worries,” she said instead. “I pulled the pin on you the day before. I deserved that. What was it – ear for ear?”
“Tit for tat, if you believe some,” granted Hito. “The difference, Seiran, is that I am built to be pushed. Work best when I am. With a fire under my donkey.”
“And I’m not?” Seiran wanted to know, slightly more than why a poor, singed beast of burden. “I’m a rabbit, aren’t I?”
Hito swept her – quite casually, she’d later frustrate at – off the heedless course of a two-man team ferrying rolled-up carpets like felled timbers upon their shoulders. They trailed the peppery tang of lye like invisible tassels.
Hito neatly set them back on track ahead answering, “I don’t rightly know. Two days ago, I would’ve divined an elbow bent the wrong way if I ever tried to something like pet you. Now, I am thinking, right, maybe I am daft – and you are a rabbit below the ears also. Maybe I ought to reconcile that with what I’ve seen in you thus far. Questions for afterwise this ordeal – please?”
“Um. Copy,” Seiran fell in.
So, she mulled inside, it is ricocheting around in his head to boot. Welp. That was a blush, guaranteed, else she wasn’t dust-blasted Gunner Seiran.
They weaved – which itself was a polite term for the process – therefore, among the hectic stridence of the thoroughfare for a mum minute, given the odd double-take and the less odd cold, hard shoulder. The twilight rush hour struck Seiran as unusual for diurnal humans; but then, a Moon rabbit dangonista wouldn’t be a breed privy to how these Earthen Lords lived their filthy, delimited lives. Maybe industry for industry’s sake, here as on the Moon, was construed a badge of honour. Hence, she imagined, Hito’s audible, mounting distaste at the frittered-away dinnertime.
Mhm. Had to be.
More materially, sensing the blush finally recede, Gunner Seiran tried for once for an actually commendable display.
“Speaking of,” she said. “Um. Ordeals. Any other parameters I haven’t been briefed on?”
“Parameters…?” Hito turned out a curious – if distracted – tone. “What parameters?”
“You know. Intel? Um. What to look out for? What to say, to do? Or, rather than – what not to?”
He absently sidestepped off the trajectory of a wheeled water cistern all the while he wrangled the subject.
“… Should Gin let loose something indelicate,” he ultimately advised, “I would very much like you to pay him no mind.”
“Copy,” said Seiran. “Um. Indelicate?”
“The man has wits like knives and the same for manners,” Hito explained. “He stabs for no reason but he can. No sheathing that one; I’ve learnt not to bleed, myself. The best if you ignore him altogether.”
“You do not sound as if you like this Gin man. Um. Much.”
That brought Seiran’s escortee up short. He made an abashed sound into the free forearm. “… It is not like that, Seiran,” he said, distinctly embarrassed. “Gin and I drank, excuse me, go way back. Must be running on to ten, fifteen years by now? We floated together like suds because we were in similar shoes; we and a handful other piss artists as we got older. We put up with Gin, I have no idea how, since we knew whence those knives came, but you – you oughtn’t to have to, Seiran.”
“Whence?” asked Seiran.
“Whence were the knives coming?”
Not that I give a dusted, Seiran confessed to herself, but… intel was intel, and listening to Hito was a pastime. The nicer, in fact, the longer she engaged it. It wasn’t a mesh, not near to one; Seiran couldn’t feel the emotives underpinning his words in her Lattice. But the more she heard them, the easier it was to pretend she didn’t need to so desperately.
Hito released a long, grudging breath. “… Suppose it isn’t a state secret after he’s been right near strung up,” he said. “All right, Miss Big-ear. Gin was taken in by the Hieda – indentured, really – when he was but a teen. We never quite strained the whole story out of him, but he is from outside the valley. Nobbled off his parents by a Tengu while travelling, or elsewise spirited away; we have no clue, and it’s a touchy spot for Gin. Anywise, he is bossed around the next decade by our blossoming Hieda clanshead, and sometime therein does the worst thing he could’ve in the position – and falls in love with the young lady.
“Now, you’ll remember,” he restressed, “she is a nob, right as they’re grown, name all down the annals – while he is a stray with no clan, no land, no clout to his name. He will never have her hand in marriage. These things do not— mm, happen rarely ever. And yet, he sees the young lady day in, day out. This curdles. This festers. And oozes out wherethrough it may. That being most often the wisecracks.” Hito grunted. “We put up with Gin being a bit of a knob-head, excuse me, because he had an enormous, hopeless crush on his retainer and it ate him up inside. Callow as all, I’ll say, but it did paint the nonsense and chicanery a tolerable colour. We all felt for the lad. That crush was heavy; the girls and the japes were just how his tail feathers held on.
“… Yes, I’m calling him a cock,” Hito harrumphed, following a moment’s obtuse silence.
“Oh.” Seiran considered that. Not the avian allegory – rather, the intel. Something was scratching at the edges of her mind, and it wasn’t the bird, either. “Although, she is wedding him – yes? In the end? And so, he called on you. Since you have more experience manoeuvring around nobs, I am guessing?”
And for the similar shoes…? wondered Seiran. … Questions later, right.
“That’s why,” she continued for the meanwhile, “you weren’t too worked up when Jirou broke the news. You were already Ginned— um, genned up.”
He joggled her arm that he appreciated the levity. “Mm. Had heard the warbling,” he admitted. “Anywise, ahead you peg me for a malcontent, Seiran, I’m happy for the lad. I am. The gods… whichever are eyeing this, they know. Gin, though… He isn’t ready for this. The nobs’ll hang him out to dry iffen the young lady so little as dithers. I worry, Seiran,” he said, frank. “I worry that he is in deep. I worry I may be entirely not the right person to beseech, either. This isn’t what I was born into. They were.”
“He picked you,” noted Seiran, not unemphatically. “You said you were… um, in the same barrel, too?”
“We were,” Hito conceded; “and I’ll give the lad my best, don’t mistake me. But he isn’t the only one in there. And some things run – and ruin – deeper than alcohol or friendship.”
He’d said it so simply, so blandly, Seiran hadn’t self-grown an emotive to hook on – or react – to ahead he stopped them before a small, tucked-away, vine-hung arch in one of the millwork privacy fences they’d been passing along. Neither had she noticed when they’d cleared the commercial tide, which, now she peered back, terminated – or began, dependent on your personal economy – on an open gate farther down the estate. Here, Seiran assumed, was whence her supplies would start out tomorrow.
At that time, Gunner Seiran became genned – or, anyhow, Hitoed – up on two things:
That humans, however blasé with their lot, too had problems. That, comparatively, the Moon rabbits had it basic. The Lords were absolute; the Sages – absoluter. The brass hovered just about sub-absolute, while your CO spoke with their wavelength. There was the interior tug-of-war between the domestics, the honour guard, the Eagle Ravi and other autonomous formations, but, by and large, they were in the pit as one rabbit. Anything else was pure preening. It didn’t compare whatsoever to the stratified lives humans had wrought for themselves of their corrupt, circumscribed lifespans.
Of which, for all its outward impetuosity, Hito’s was one. He, too, wasn’t worry-free. He, also, was the Earth’s victim. As were they all. As was Seiran. The Earthed Moon rabbit with filth in her soul and flour under her fingernails.
Which stratum even was she, anymore?
The second thing was that Hito’s tugging her toward the discreet (servants’?) side-entrance didn’t trouble her as it might’ve days ago. This was where Gunner Seiran would rather be, today, than her voiceless den: doing something worthy with the daylight. She was recon, after all; she could do clandestinity. It was a word every Eagle Ravi learned by rote.
She could wear this gracious, handsome Earthling man’s shoes for an evening. No. Underneath ingrained mistrust, she wanted to. She may have owed him tenfold more one road or another – and loathed the fact – but the more vital than that was the warm, resolute feeling fidgeting under Seiran’s ribs. She named it “purpose.” It had been something sorely missing from her diet.
Seiran drew herself up, the better to play the loathsome youkai plus-one part required by the mission and, amazing herself probably as much as Hito, wriggled her hand into his, the better to play that of his date.
After only one or two adjustments of the grip, the ill-assorted pair stole into the waxed cedar bowels of the Hieda estate, unchallenged. It’d take two extensive and extensively aired hallways for them to trigger the first in line of its immune systems. This one assumed the benign form of a woman in an austere topknot and handmaid’s robes. She enjoined Hito for his “business” and calculatedly failed to detect Seiran altogether.
“Kuufuku,” Hito observed the formalities. “Here for the meet? Already know my way, much obliged.”
“Your family head has been in for half an hour,” said the woman, half-informative, half in recrimination.
“Was bumped into by one of your porters outside.” Hito held up a palm, forestalling. “I am fine, thank you,” he assured; “this rabbit from the clinic, who was nearby, made positive of such, but she wants to deliver me to my clanshead directly.”
He nudgindicated Seiran, who hunched up to his arm for nursimilitude.
The maid looked aptly aghast, apologised in brief profusion and rushed off to disperse the responsibility over as great a distance as was expedient. Seiran squeezed the non-operative man’s fingers, admiringly.
“Smooth,” she murmured.
“Ought to be,” Hito murmured back. “Went over this on and on since asking you out.” He ventured a glance past his shoulder. “Still, hadn’t fancied it should go over this smoothly. Hmm.”
“We aren’t that rare a sight in town,” reminded Seiran. “We, that is, rabbits. The Sage, um, doctor, she has a whole section dispensing medicine on the regular. I’ve spied them about here and there.”
And thank the Moon never from behind the stall, she thought. The degenerate Earthen cousins of her species were dull enough not to apprehend discovery by pulse, but they did have eyes and (presumably) ample faculties to keep track of their own numbers. An extra peddling non-medicinal treats in the streets would’ve set off alarms. It hadn’t, hitherto.
The Earth’s own mercy, that.
Hito did a half-shrug, transparently of the view that the damage had already been done if indeed it had been, and that the credit was as good anybody else’s to take if it hadn’t. A gentle application of pressure around her hand and a meaningful shuffle forward told her moving on was in their shared best interests.
Hardened by the early run-in, the Moon rabbit-and-human team made a confidently good time of the rest of the way, which Hito proved faithfully conversant with – on the grounds, Seiran rather surmised, of having tobogganed the adopted-heir-to-be home after one (or many) of their aforesaid dips in a barrel. A double-sided, sliding door (which she strove not to give an intestinal simile) before long barred their ingress into enemy territory, checking Hito in his assertive tracks and his positiveness in an unannounced inspection. He made what was, on Hito, a face.
Seiran was put in mind of the Moon rabbits bound to some elderly Lords being made to chisel their own washboards to kneel on out of blank chromite slates as punishment. This was nowhere as bad as that, no, but the slant of Hito’s brows forecast cloudy with a chance of heads rolling if it turned out he had carved his personal washboard by condescending to help his sot friend with the over-ranking nob problem. He was smiling even so, as if at least one head, presumably a knob-head, was lined up to fall regardless of the outcome. Seiran took cheer in the fact she was possessed of none.
That was a Ringoism, Gunner. For shame.
No, it wasn’t, she thought, vindictively. I didn’t blush.
With a stoical glance downwards – and becoming recipient of one on an inverse vector – Hito drew open the door and led the way through.
The common room contradicted its name, in contents if not the capacity. A long, wood-lined hall, bifurcated by a sort of columned throughway with another exit on the far end, it was mottled by clusters of colour-coded humans standing around or lounging on cushions. There were a couple eluding ready affiliation – by having ostensibly waded through rivers of glitter on the way – but most every other attendee wore their allegiance, some instances literally, on their sleeves. Hither and yon were crested capes and throws – not too unlike Hito’s haori; yet, the ageing Lords of the town had opted first of all for the quicker and easier form of battlefield identification. Greens and blues and reds and teals and maroons and plum milks converged in homochromatic groups, the volume of clearance in the room permitting conversations to stay well autogenous.
A shade (or two dozen thereof) visually overwhelmed, Seiran pulsed in furtive psychometry, but the bubble accorded by her damper clip didn’t cover a fraction of the environs. At least she now knew of a woodworm glutting itself happy and fat on one of the wax-soaked floorboards. Earth it.
Hito shut the door behind them with a tock, turning heads throughout the hall. Most didn’t linger, glossing over the matter of Seiran’s accoutrements as if it didn’t remotely trump that of her being not the hoped-for lady of the house. How blithe. Some, however, did hang their stares on the new arrivals. Including, Seiran saw, a clump of familiar black-and-gold, bristling now with more than one outthrust finger...
Hito gave them the unneighbourly go-by. He forded upstream into the stares and fingernailed spearheads, Seiran in tow, and steered them toward a lavishly-set, shin-high table by one of the room’s dadoed walls. Seiran tripped along, confused. Then Seiran spotted pastries.
Right. How’d she forgotten?
They hunkered down on the provided cushions, Seiran – with some adversity, owing to the unaccustomed lack of knee space under the kimono. These were clothes for mingling, not loafing. Her tail squashed against her butt.
Hito didn’t, uncharacteristically, make a move for the refreshments. Seiran decided to take the point.
She was hand-squeezed into stillness.
“It is politic,” said Hito, conspiratorially, “to leastwise pretend for a bit you aren’t here for the hand-outs.”
Seiran settled back down. Her tail itched. “You believe that?” she said, imbuing her voice with enough doubt to depersonalise a native god. “In being politic?”
He smiled, fleetingly, in a fashion she was finding more and more intimate with each strut-out. It stood for, in quite muscle-efficient emotive, “You’ll never believe, but I love these little exchanges of ours.”
“No,” Hito granted. “Never spoke politesse myself. I just know where not to step. Case presenting, however, I wanted to hold your hand a bit longer.”
Seiran’s gaze tumbled down to her blue-wrapped lap. There, indeed, was her gun-handling appendage – cradled quite comfortably in Hito’s huge, upturned mantrap of a palm. He was rubbing the soft, sweaty inside of her own with an affectionate thumb.
… How’d she forgotten that?
But there was no point in dolling up in his second favourite Seiran colour. No sense. None. She’d begun it herself for pure plausibility; how in the name of the Moon should she have known it’d fool the man as well?
… Although it was, yes, a dusted good, convincing fit. Lords, she thought, this Earthling man had fingers…
And he must have heard the inner shootout popping shells off the walls of Seiran’s ethics, because he scooped the comfortable bunk out from under Seiran’s abruptly indigent hand and edged forward to scour the table for treats to fill in the position.
Seiran steadied her drooping bottom lip. Namely, by biting it. Wherever that sting of salacity had reared its ugly ears out of, this wasn’t, even she knew, the time or the place for tolerating it. Which meant, conversely, even she knew there were such times and places.
See? Not a prude. Or a pervert. Just… normal.
She was almost – almost – ungrateful for the cardboard tray Hito handed over after inventorying the refreshments table for choicer delicacies. Seiran let the wrinkles in her ears be smoothed out by the sight of sponge cake cubes, rice crackers daubed in fish paste, manju that was nearly snowbound under a deluge of caster sugar and dango she swore to swipe Hito upwards the chin about if she tasted the Ringo-ya formula. The sponge cake turned out upon essay to have the kind of stodginess which well made it count as substitute dinner in Seiran’s mind. She asked for two more cubes for a balanced meal.
“A drink?” Hito suggested, perusing the variety laid out. “The young lady must’ve found Gin’s stash of sparkling shōchū, my me.”
Seiran swallowed the mushy cake. “Um. Water?”
“Copy,” confirmed Hito. “Or whatsit. Er. You mind if I…?”
“… No,” said Seiran, although what’d all but made out had been, “Must you?”
Self-poisoning via flavoured ethanol was one of the few appetites she didn’t, with bad grace, share with Ringo. There simply weren’t that many social or military circumstances in Seiran’s purview which would’ve been distinctly improved by the removal of her sense of taste or stomach lining. And the smell could generally have stood to go home and have a power shower.
Soured, the Moon rabbit realised she may have found the first-ever thing about her human date she didn’t either bravely accept or outrageously and blatantly like. Though, she might, with an effort of will, approach the former. If Hito needed something stiff in his veins to weather the civic occasion, then still poison was a more humane reinforcement than, say, a fistful of skewers. She just might have to spike his mouth shut with some afterwards.
Whatever Seiran’s esteem, Hito set a teacup of water on the floor by her seat and sat back himself, nursing a sake-box of the eponymically fizzy intoxicant. He hadn’t shovelled up a trencher of his own; instead, he intercepted a cake cube from midway up to Seiran’s mouth and popped it into his. She paid back his sportive smile with a diffidently lenient one and a flick on the wrist into the bargain.
“So, mm, your friend – not here?” she asked, pertinently if not grammatically.
Hito leaned back, propped on one robust arm. “Not yet by the sound, no. No gallows birds outside, either.”
Hito took a slug of his angrily hissy drink.
“Now?” He scoffed. “We wait, Seiran. We wait and pray nobody who oughtn’t to suddenly feels like dango.”
Not a body did, which could as well have been the merit of Hito’s impolitically set jaw as an already overfed lifestyle. They hadn’t to wait long at any rate; scarcely three lame attempts at small talk later, the door opposite wherethrough they’d entered yawned open, disgorging a man in a triad of dishevelled red, green and yellow. A kind of collective mumble-groan riffled lengthwise the hall, not uncontributed to by Seiran’s surly date. She was brought to mind of being once forced to stand at parade at zero dark stupid for an hour straight back in basic – ahead someone in charge had thought it relevant to remember that Lady Sagume had rescheduled to inspect another unit that day. It’d sounded something like this, except pulsed expletives in the squad’s Lattice.
Have you not any vignettes where you aren’t being boobs in uniforms, Gunner? Not a one?
Maybe I am boobs out of uniform too, thought Seiran, tartly.
… Another Ringoism? So soon? Tut-tut.
Shut up, why don’t you? Stop talking to yourself.
The tri-coloured man slinked into the room, inasmuch as he was able to in the crosshairs of several dozen men and women of status. But the spirit was there. He gave out perfunctory bows like candy, all the while scanning the gathering for someone who’d give one back or, at the very least, not leave him short at the end of the day. A helpfully upraised arm beaconed him toward harbour Hito. Seiran’s date found his feet slick as a whistle, as unimpressed by a single cup of bubbly shōchū as Ringo would’ve been by one piddling spit of dango.
“There you are!” announced the stranger.
“Here I am,” Hito agreed, with all the redundancy corollary.
The two men crashed into each other for that intricately choreographed, masculine hug wherein their clasped hands were crushed into pâté between their chests while their shoulders banged together at a force and angle mathematically determined to convey fraternity and not a decimal point of embarrassing affection beyond. Seiran’s skin crawled to see it.
The men didn’t appear to have the same scruples.
“What sump have you got yourself thrown into this time, you bastard?” demanded Hito.
The other man grinned in an astonishingly oily way for one with a freshly washed head. “You wound me, Hito. You wound me. This is no sump; it is a soup, thank you, and I’m going to be eaten alive. Well. To a certain extent of the definition of the word.”
Hito grunted his (manly, unembarrassed) sentiments on this choice of ingredients. The pair came apart, and, in that moment, Seiran experienced a flash of much held up intelligence.
This Gin man, with his rakish goatee and raked-back hair, she had been subjected to before. The aggressively good looks were diminished by his vestments, which seemed ill-fitting almost in retaliation, and his proximity to Hito’s sombre, subtle attractiveness, but here in fact was the alarmingly handsome labourer who’d brought the Moon rabbit her first batch of chocolate. The name had been closer or farther seared off her surface memory thanks to Seiran’s laser-focus on Hito and its envelope of superheated pride, but something in the fight or flight centres of her brain more than well remembered the man.
And, the two were somehow complicit. Worse – friends. Several of Seiran’s qualms knotted together.
Gin’s grin withered into something more resembling sincereness. “Thanks for jumping in, on that note,” he told Hito, who nodded in response. “Akyuu – or young mistress Akyuu, as I’m bound to hail her young mistressness till it is sworn before the gods this hasn’t been all a hilarious misunderstanding – will be along to take me off your Samaritan hands. Sit tight. This is a show. Only, nobody deigned give me the script, so I’ve adlibbed you in, Mr. Chan. I say; you are a natural.”
Hito traced the nudge of his chin to the sake-box on the floor. “… At cooking up a distraction; I get it,” he supposed. “Happily, I haven’t had to cause a ruckus – yet. What is this about, anywise? Why the stampede outside?”
What Gin’s simper had been covering up now jelled over it as a grimace. “… She’s bloody throwing her weight about, that’s what,” he said, turning down the boisterousness. The adjacent conversations had – actually, now Seiran listened – hushed. “Our despotic mistress has delayed all consignments to the big dependents till evening in order to showcase how much they’ve come to rely on us breaking our backs for the service. We’ve had pissed-as-hell help and artisans milling about for most of the day, practic’ly tendering to break their own, but no sir-ee. She’s just let the yard boys throw the gates open, what, an hour ago? Now everyone and their mum’s scrambling, fingers crossed not over said mums, while Akyuu’s keeping the big-heads here, in suspense. She wants them to understand she’ll have it her bloody way – or else. It’s a tale of abasement.”
“And you,” guessed Hito, “are the bearer of bad news?”
Gin winced. “Would that. Worse. I’m the beneficiary.”
He’d pronounced the word like Ringo might pronounce “rations.”
“You have me at a loss,” said Hito. “As usual,” he added.
The younger man’s expression collapsed into a sarcastic bog of misery. “She’s pushed ahead the schedule for the nuptials; this’s gotten up in a bunch of folks’ hair, and they’re threatening scissors if their business ends up omitted. To begin with, her wedding outside the pick of the litter was already pulling hairs. Now, she’s grabbed a whole new head with this stunt. I’m surrounded by manic hairdressers, Hito. They go snip-snip in the night. I can hear them outside the windows.”
Hito’s forehead scrunched up as if he were being asked to drain the rice after cooking it. “The young, clever, intrepid Hieda lady,” he said, quizzical, “is using her, may I note, very successful business, jerking the nobs around, leveraging the town’s economy… to marry you faster?”
“I know!” Gin faux-sobbed. “It’s barbaric!”
“Gin, old boy…”
“All right, all right,” Gin gave in, killing the tragedian and matching Hito’s disappointed stare on the level. “It is rather flattering all, fine. The dog’s breakfast is, I’m not bloody wired right for this. Not three months ago, I was still freezing my arse off in the bachelors’, occasionally crying myself to sleep because – and I won’t bloody baulk from saying so – the young mistress has been the love of half of my life, and I could never put a ring on her dainty little finger. Now, I’m a bloody Hieda. Well, just about. The blisters ain’t popped yet. And yet, I’m having the bigheads upheaved pretty much for my sake, and that—” he raised his voice, “—makes me wish dearly for some scissors!”
A nearby gaggle of maroons huddled up in conference over this piece of news from their future Hieda peer. Gin waved a fist at their uncaring backs.
“And here I’d dusted off the lawbook,” said Hito, and Seiran discerned a hint of weary relief bracing the joke, “to see how – excuse me – whether night-crawling into the betrothed’s chambers was punishable at the Emperor’s pleasure.”
Gin snickered through his nose. “Her office, actually,” he redressed. “Never been in her chambers, yet. The girl’s both soft and touchy in some baffling strange places. The office’s got a mound of pillows, though, so…”
“Weren’t you planning on growing up last we drank?” sighed Hito.
“She was the one who invited me, for clarity’s,” Gin underlined, “but yes, I was and am. That’s why you are here: so I will blather at you instead of them.” There was an eloquent toss of a soon-to-be-noble head and an increased undercurrent of guillotine. “Cause, while I’ll never be half as beautiful, smart, adorable a kisser, judicious or to-the-point as Akyuu, I still talk – compulsively – and that’s my great failing. I don’t want to, pardon, piss on her chips, here. She knows what she’s doing from pillar to post; I’m just now osmosing. So, enter: you.”
“Mr. Chan, right. Whoever that is?”
“With a hit contract pending if I can stop rambling for one bloody minute… and arm candy of his own besides, I see? Hello!”
And, tilting aside, the chatterbox of a man acted as though he’d remarked, for the first time, the rabbit silently stuffing her face with cake following the exchange as a reconnaissance specialist should. Seiran staggered to seated attention.
“Um. Good day?”
“That props heavy on whom you ask, I wager,” sneered Gin. “Have we met? Got this ringing in the back of my noggin…”
“A few days ago,” Seiran obliged. “Delivery. Old doorplates?”
The up-and-coming Earthling Lord snapped his fingers. “Miss Chocolate!”
“… Seiran,” said Seiran.
Gin’s noggin, which didn’t strike her as greatly retentive anyhow, did a memory-tamping nod. “That was on the sig, yeah. Thanks again for your charity. The young mistress was tickled pink to shake it out of my pockets, and trust me she did, but it’s the sticking-it-to-the-man that counts, eh?” He turned to Hito. “Saw some rabbits up and about today, so not surprised, but what’ve you done to be put under observation? Walked into our yardman?”
Hito cleared his throat so hard it was a wonder he didn’t hawk tonsils. “Gin. This is Miss Seiran.”
Seiran rode out the younger man’s idiot gape till the dots being smashed together behind his eyes finally deigned to connect. Earth it. What’d Hito been telling these Earthlings about her?
Whatever her execrable reputation, Gin’s takeaway wasn’t with her.
“Tell me to grow up, will you?” he groaned at Hito.
“A youkai rabbit isn’t the same firetrap as an earth spider, Gin.”
“Or an intelligent noblewoman. Yes, fair,” agreed Gin. “Well, I’m sorry for not being a bunch of use facilitating Miss’s commissions—”
The apology had been trained Seiran’s way, but, in her stead, Hito stepped in front of the bullet. “The stamp did the trick,” he vouched. “Was worth a crack anywise. You had something to say to me. Will we hear it this week?”
“Yeah. Sure, yeah. Albeit, in this case—” and, by the askance look, it was given to mean the case was Seiran’s, “—maybe a tête-à-tête outside? Out of earshot? May I reave you of his priceless company for but the paltriest of minutes, not-yet-Lady Seiran?”
Not-yet(?)-Lady Seiran, at whom that ultimate bit of melodrama had been directed, blinked. “… Why ask me?”
The man called Gin blinked back. Then did so even more rapidly as Hito clapped him on the shoulder – shook his head at Seiran – and started for the door. There was a spat mutter on the subject of “liking them thick,” a brief rush, and the two exited the common room together, leaving blue-blooded grumbles in their wake.
And then, Seiran was alone. Sans, that is, the safety net of a tray still half-laden with sweets… and a couple scores of scorned Earthen Lords, for what that counted.
She… didn’t mind. Unduly. Like any Moon rabbit, she’d as soon be parted from her right arm as a free spread of treats. The stranger she was in here, Seiran wasn’t one to not belonging, either. Having been pipelined up to Eagle Ravi and attached to a pre-existent squad – Ringo’s – had acquainted her close with the sensation of always playing catch-up. Not quite meshing as well; not quite laughing as quickly as the others. Not returning when granted the pardon. These were – had been – Gunner Seiran’s qualities. Gunner Seiran’s useless, filthy qualities.
Seiran breathed in. Out.
This, now, yes… Yes. This was little different. She hadn’t known Jirou the barman, nor the obnoxious porter-turned-Lord, no; and neither did she want to down in her sugar-slimy gut. The Moon’s boon here was, she wasn’t compelled to by orders. This was Hito’s theatre; Seiran was purely, for once, a willing attaché. It was everything she’d been petitioned to do: to sit, eat cake menacingly and bide time till the “ordeal” was wrapped up and returned to sender. Then, perhaps, the pair of them might exfil, change locales and get on with their date.
Someplace less mobbed, where their hands wouldn’t be looked at, thought Seiran, would be choice. Maybe even a back-corner table somewhere. She wasn’t wearing shorts, anyway.
A third one—
Seiran followed her own advice and crammed a cube of sponge cake up her mouth.
On that cue, because Gin clearly hadn’t cleaned up after drama-ing all over the floor, the far door was flung open once more. A slight-statured, human woman in the same tercet of red, green and yellow ambled through to a general tumult of self-seeking complaints. She was short, maybe Seiran-height, petite and as commanding as a sergeant’s cap.
She was also obviously pregnant.
The varicoloured nobles flocked around her like hungry bunnies. The woman stopped, scanned about the room, bit a lip – and then turned half-around, waving a pale hand. Two others thusly entered.
Seiran’s insides went at once boiling hot and sub-zero cold.
A whiff of eternity wormed into her nostrils, nauseating in its familiarity. It was the scent of persecution. Of the Moon in its timeless purity. Of death. Hers. Seiran’s.
The immaterial savour of a Lunar Lord.
The fugitive Sage, Omoikane, Eirin Yagokoro, joined the Earthen facsimiles of her kin on the Moon, her fathomless eyes, those pins of divinity, regarding their squawking forms with the amused tolerance of millennia.
At her side, bobbing with boredom, was the original traitor. The first runaway Eagle Ravi. The brass had sent agents after Reisen, the defected envoy, yet little about it had trickled down to the rank and file else than – evidently – they had failed. So too had Seiran, who’d levelled her psychic arsenal at her once-sister, unquestioningly, long after their Lords had stranded them on Earth. All “for the job.” With a smug smile on her face. As if it had been a game.
Seiran felt sick.
She flattened her panic-stiff ears to her head by force, but no Earthed way it would be enough. She was exposed. She had to disappear. Now. Her every muscle thrummed. She had maybe seconds ahead either the Sage or Reisen got a bead on her. And, through her, Ringo.
… Earth herself; she couldn’t do Ringo dirty like this. Her XO had worked too hard, sacrificed too much. The word mustn’t get out. It couldn’t end like this. It wouldn’t.
Run. Hide. Now or never again.
( ) The door! Hito! Hop, hop, hop! ( ) The table! Dive, dive, dive!
>>43826 Perhaps to assure people about Akyuu's health, who I presume is the pregnant lady in this update, because the nobles might be looking for weakness to utilize due to her recent actions. Doing a favor for Akyuu might give Eirin some leverage in the village. Eirin also could just be bored and have come for entertainment.
Hide. The door would’ve put her straight across the pillared lane – and dead in Reisen’s sights. Not even a droopy-eared commo like she could’ve missed a rogue rabbit unbutting the premises in quarters this close. Not with Seiran’s circumference.
Seiran dropped – the tray firstly, then herself – to the rigorously polished floor. Crockery rattled atop the table as she wedged her body underneath, hampered in the progress by one, two or three fuller areas than most. At least, she thought, none of them were her belly. Heart hammering in her craw, she crammed herself farther in to lower her visibility from an acute angle.
In her seething porridge of a thought-scape, vitriol bubbled to the surface. Of course. Of Earthed course. Why else’d she have been given this kind of latitude? To traipse a human den without restriction? She and Ringo had been using of the inadvertent deception for years; the towners had surmised quite by themselves they were of the Sage’s host. Today hadn’t differed in this; even the tri-coloured comedian had presumed the case.
Only, with the Sage on site, the lie was wheezing down the truth’s neck.
Earthed Hito. It was a female dog to chatter her teeth with her cheek to the floorboards, but Seiran was nothing if not dogged. Earth him. Earth him square for making her want to parade her ears out for his sake. With those hints of vulnerability, big hands and heart-warming smiles. What’d he fancy he was? A dust-scuffed romance novel protagonist? And Seiran – some pink-faced innocent to be wooed? Earth it, Earth it, Earth it…
The nobles were still yapping about their petty affairs – presumably at the Sage’s sufferance. Seiran couldn’t even wrick her neck in the cramped space to reassess the situation. Nowhen before had she felt so blind without her psychometry. Time had been when she could’ve kept tabs on traffic throughout the estate with her thumb up her nose; now, the most helpful she could resolve, she’d knocked over the broached shōchū bottle getting herself under. Another low-feedback pulse reported Hito’s sake-box having been kicked inches off its previous coordinates in the scramble. Not good. Sloppy. And another—
Hair so long it brushed the floor. Synth-hide loafers. Striding close.
Seiran yanked her mind back. Clamped it down and smothered the emissions. There. Just like in basic. Gone. Never been out. Now please don’t notice, please, please don’t notice, don’t—
+Ah. A damper, is it+ pulsed a voice in Seiran’s mind. +No wonder you were blanking.+
A REAL voice. In her Lattice. In her dead, dead, shrivelled Lattice.
It nearly broke her.
How long? How long had she gone without one? Without hearing, truly hearing, another person? Another rabbit? When’d she last meshed with Ringo? They hadn’t ever had a true connection, either; her ex-XO was a private sort, with anyhow too much sensitive information bristling her mind to warrant such trust. They’d pushed controlled emotives at each other, here in Gensokyo too, but even that had been…
… Last Spring? Could it have been?
Had Seiran gone completely deaf for an entire year?
It tore her up inside. Choked up, she strove to keep quiet and not to tear up on the outside as well.
+It’s all right.+ The voice pulsed peace. +My Master can ‘cast, but she can’t read without a memory quartz and a transpreter. Nerve structures in the brain she can’t replicate, to hear her lament it. This conversation is secure.+
Seiran did not pulse back. A click of fatigued knees and rustling of cushions preceded the scratch of tableware on wood. Something was dragged across the top right over Seiran’s immobile head.
+It’s all right+ came a repeat pulse – now recognisable as Reisen’s that she was both ears inside Seiran’s bubble. +I won’t human you out if I see no cause to. Came over to top up on sugar, is the official version. Will you spill?+
Seiran pulsed contriteness. No articulation. Just the one emotive. A reflex of the olden days, the Moon days; it satisfied Reisen all the same. She pulsed tolerance in return.
+I’d dared dream the brass would stop sending eyes and ears+ said Reisen, lacing in wry contempt. +What gives? Lady Sagume’s say-so not enough? Here, too, of all places. What are you selfish Moon rabbits up to?+
+I am not a spy+ pulsed Seiran.
Which was to a T what a spy would’ve claimed – and a stupid move besides. But she wanted to talk; Lords, she wretchedly wanted to feel someone’s – anyone’s – presence in her mind. To be in theirs in turn.
Reisen shifted on her seat. +Hold fire+ she responded, caution attached. +That wavelength… The boots? Which sector are you? Eagle Ravi?+
+Eagle Ravi Earth Recon, Gunner+ ID’d Seiran. +Seiran.+
She who opened up on you full bore last you wagged tails at each other, she almost appended. The dutiful, diligent, trigger-happy, everyone’s bootlick Gunner Seiran.
Reisen’s shock was a raw, electrifying prickle all down her non-missing nerves.
+Earth Recon?!+ Incredulity. And… fear? +Wasn’t the Capital back to same old? But Lady Junko promised… No, another op? Crap. My Master needs to—+
+We+ sent Seiran, incisively. +Um. We defected. This isn’t an op; I am here lending… a hand to, um, a friend. I’m AWOL. A deserter. Shamming as an Earth rabbit.+ She pulsed unity. +Your Master, please, she mustn’t hear of this. Lords. There is one other; I can’t betray her too!+
Reisen wasn’t responding.
Seiran pulsed pleading. Then curiosity. +How… How did you spot me? Was I too fat and slow?+
+What? No.+ Reisen’s pulse was wavy, preoccupied. +Well. Too slow, sure. You look healthy, though.+ Chagrin. Then urgency. +Had you for one of Tewi’s dullards from afar; you know: having an illegal cake break. I was scanning the room either way, just for something to do – and you came up blank as a week’s corpse. That there’s not normal – not even for humans.+
Thoroughly normal as a matter of fact in Seiran’s experience, but then she wasn’t the whiz able to ‘cast the four hundred thousand kilometres between here and her kin on the Moon without an amplifier. Reisen could probably hear rocks think.
Seiran was beginning to feel as one, anyhow: a rabbit-shaped warming stone stowed under the table for everybody else’s comfort. But nonsensically, her mind trembled from excitement.
Reisen pushed woe. +… Crap, Seiran, I can’t help you.+
The sudden apology nigh on made Seiran upend her wooden pillbox.
+Um.+ She sent bewilderment. +What?+
Reisen answered with ruefulness. +I was taken in, yes+ she admitted, +but it was solely in the interest of security. My Master has gone to great lengths to divorce herself from the Moon for Lady Kaguya’s protection; Lady Sagume’s also been visiting twice-yearly for updates on the, uh… the Kaian passageway situation. Soon or late, it’d get out. There would be… recrimination. Assassins. We’ve had to beat them back before.+
+We never heard what became of the previous Moon rabbit my Master returned, either+ Reisen went on. +Sorry, Seiran, I really am, but it’s a crapshoot. Lady Kaguya’s safeguard is paramount; we can’t—+
+I don’t+ Seiran lied, +need help.+ She pushed across calm in obfuscating abundance. +I’m fine. Just fine. We both are. We’re squeezing out a living. Here. Um. In town.+
A utensil clattered to the table top. Seiran winced. Reisen hiccoughed into something muffling.
+Um. So+ Seiran pulsed with guilt, +you remember when you were flying for that Kaian passageway, and I went at you, guns blazing…?+
Seiran didn’t needpainfully needed needed not draw on the Lattice, at least, to sense Reisen’s stupefaction. Once a reply was eked out, it came wreathed in such thick self-reproach, Seiran nearly flushed herself.
+Crap, I… I can’t imagine what that must’ve been like+ Reisen jumbled. +I was with my Master from the word stay. Lady Kaguya, too – and Tewi, and the Earth rabbits. Are you… No, you just said… And you’ve established operations? The two of you on your own? With not a dust-head the wiser?+
+There are no operations!+ Seiran insisted, with imploring. +We’re living. That is the light and the dark side of it. Nothing beyond. Your Master really needn’t know. I’m sorry for shooting at you. I’m really sorry. So, please, Reisen…+
+That? Pah.+ Derision. +That’s like saying top of the morning to you in Gensokyo. I’m just flabbergasted…+ Flabbergastment. +… Ugh. I can’t picture it. Settling in amidst all those humans – their dullness and their filth. Well, maybe these days, but… Crap, Seiran. It’s the last thing I’ll do as a rabbit, but if my Master makes inquiries, I’m going to have to spill. You know, right? It’s just how it is.+
It doesn’t have to be, Seiran wanted to say. Look at me. Look at Ringo.
Look at you cowering in fright. Look at you choking near to death on loneliness.
Seiran pulsed conciliation. +Just… don’t spill outright, please. We’ve kept on the QT till now. It’s status normal at this point. We won’t be a blip on your Master’s radar.+
Reisen mirrored the pulse – with grudging admiration threaded through. +I’ll do you better+ she proposed, +if I can’t otherwise. You deserve it. All those years…+ Shivers. Decision. +My Master, see, she has been bullied… uh, yeah, bullied, by the lady of the house over there into coming to check up on her baby in person. The girl’s some type of periodic reincarnation; she’ll be around again the odd century, and so my Master wants a cordial relation. It’s her once-in-a-decade good deed. So she says.+ Pride. Humility. +Uh. But it’s all human politics over yonder now, so I may be able to tip her into leaving early. Give me, like, sixty tics.+
Seiran nodded. +Ow. Copy. Um. Thanks, Reisen. And sorry.+
+Already swiped the plate, no biggie+ Reisen soothed. Then rose up. +That dango was revolting, either way. Say “holy crap” to the other one for me, can you? Got a fair guess she’ll have a chuckle at my expense. We really shouldn’t, so let’s not try and catch up some time. Luck, Seiran.+ Sympathy. +And good job. Counting sixty?+
+Counting+ Seiran acknowledged.
Reisen collapsed the bridge between their Lattices and hopped off. In fewer than four tics, she was out the range of Seiran’s damper.
And all was silence again.
Seiran slammed a mental drawer on the fingers of hot, black bitterness creeping over her so recently exultant mind. Not a favourite position for bawling her eyes out. Later. Maybe you’ll Earthed forget to. She swallowed, bore the risk and squirmed around her cover till Reisen and the rest were in dull, emotionless visual.
The original traitor was powering through the indignant, colour-partitioned crowd in a manner which could only be called a mince. Her hips, hair and elbows were performing a wiggling, sideways dance of severance, while the gun in her thigh holster – one of those ostentatious, flared-muzzled, honour guard pieces – filled in for a prow. On the count of twenty-seven, she attained her Master, with whom she exchanged – loudly – spoken words. The Sage touched the lady of the house on the shoulder, the simple gesture of clinical concern shushing the yammering nobles like no crack of gunfire could.
“You would do well, Miss, mm, Mistress Miare,” the Sage said in the resulting hush, “not to stress yourself. Unhealthy for the baby, see?”
There might’ve been a wicked smile that didn’t seep through Seiran’s sagacity filter – and, by precisely the tic of fifty-one, the Sage and her (double) turncoat, attendant rabbit were gone.
Seiran waited the count to run down. Then one more iteration. Then and not a tic prior, she scrabbled out into the open.
Mussed. Confused. But alive and free. Twice better than she’d assessed coming out of the dust-up.
And Reisen had helped it.
That… had happened. A misleporide in Seiran raised a handy explanation. Once a traitor, always a traitor. Wasn’t that the truth? Only, she would never have put a mon on Reisen, the recreant, deceiving one of the Sages. Her benefactor Master, no less. And for whom? Some daft Gunner too cocky to cover up her ears?
Change. That was what Earthen filth did to you. That was why they feared it.
Seiran shuddered off the bout of existentialism. The Sage may have popped the smoke, but the dust had not yet settled. There was still that thing of Hito’s. And their date afterwards. Seiran had escaped the Moon’s orbit – again – and geared herself up inside for a contingent crash-landing. Mostly with what sponge cake remained.
Stress-eating wasn’t just for betrothed ladies.
And, not too long a minute afterwards, Hito and his silver-named – if not silver-tongued – friend re-entered the common room through the nearer exit. The human nobles – who’d evidenced finer discipline than Seiran may have expected from her squaddies and checked their tempers – parted for the advancing and unstintingly apologetic Gin around his fiancée. The latter of whom sighed, rolled her gorgeous, royal-purple eyes – and tugged the man down into a display of public affection which turned aside more than just Seiran’s gaze.
Mercifully, Hito, having let his drinking companion charge ahead, was approaching from that side. Whatever must’ve been offered in exchange for his service hadn’t been too well for his like; though still, he melted into an uncontrived smile at Seiran’s undiminished presence.
“That boring, hmm?” he guessed.
Or perhaps something else. “Um?”
He didn’t say – instead crouching down and reaching behind Seiran’s ear.
… Oh, Seiran realised as he touched something there. Her ponytail was all askew.
“Oh. Um. Long story,” she assured.
“I’ll well wager every one of them had one.” He motioned at the polychrome robes. “I—”
Something out on the flank snatched away firstly his words and then his good humour. He mouthed an article of vocabulary Seiran wouldn’t have presumed existed behind those carefree smiles. An elderly pair, a stern female and even sterner male, had broken away from the crowd now hassling both the up-and-coming newlyweds and was making time for the refreshments table.
They were clad in black and gold – and sporting designs taken right off Hito’s haori.
“Stay here, please, Seiran,” Hito stood up and said, plaintively, “and, if I start shouting, please do not listen.”
A better friend, Seiran would later reflect, would’ve gotten up and walked with him. The nerve-wracking, close encounter with Reisen had left her, however, with that many fewer wits to rub together. She sat, insensate, and watched the bombs drop.
Hito intercepted the senior couple halfway, at one of the pillars. An argument broke out within words, almost as if picking straight back up from another occasion; it heated up faster than thermite, with Hito throwing his arms out and the elder man standing his stony ground. No matter what Seiran’s date spat in his rigid, demanding expression, it didn’t impress him in the slightest. He simply restated the same incendiary words.
Until Hito punched him.
It wasn’t even a good punch. The form would’ve sent Seiran’s sergeant in basic into paroxysms. But there the gold-crested, Earthen Lord was, floored with a thud, both shoulder blades to the planks. Gasps erupted from his gathered peers like empathic pulses. The young, pregnant hostess held onto her fiancé’s arm, mouth agape.
Hito swivelled on a heel – and stomped over to where Seiran was glued to her cushion by sheer shellshock and hopefully nothing else. His chronically placid face wasn’t a storm cloud. It was a whole storm. He seized the stunned Moon rabbit by a wrist.
There are opportunities in life a Moon rabbit would be short-eared to miss. A post at the Sea of Tranquillity with a month’s advance of victuals. An invitation to tell the brass where they could stuff said victuals’ day-to-day allotment (with a guarantee of no pits in the vicinity). A head-pat.
Well, being whisked away from a posh party by a handsome gentleman did figure somewhere down the list also – and yet, Seiran couldn’t help feeling guilty. Maybe… Maybe if she hadn’t been such a starch-butt, she could have ensured Hito’s hands were too full to throw punches. Maybe she could’ve slugged the old man herself – polarised the violence. Gensokyo did give non-humans an unsubtle indulgence in this regard.
Spilt milk. Not worth crying over in the absence of muesli.
Hito led them out of the estate and to the street via the previously used postern, circumventing the traffic still pumping in and out of the main gate. An entire day’s throughput compressed into a few hours’ rush by a Lord lady for the sake of her civilian lover. Some females had all the resources…
Hito hauled her up the street, toward the town’s outer wall, away from the commotion. Seiran imagined she could feel his frustration through his skin: a faint, faux-psychic tingle of unconstrained emotives. An after-taste of Reisen’s agitation in her mind. A fading vestige of normalcy, nothing more. It’d be bygone sooner than she would’ve liked.
And then, there their apparent terminus was. A miniature park of sorts, really a hedged-off cubbyhole between two larger houses, nestled against the wall and offering the weary pedestrian – or wife-wary drunkards – a set of stone benches and tables for playing games of chance. Hito unclutched Seiran’s gainfully employed wrist and collapsed on one of the former. Stooped, red-cheeked, hands steepled before his face.
Seiran breathed in. Then, Seiran breathed in some more. What was it you said in these situations…?
“Um. Your friend,” chose Seiran, which was, if nothing else, an option. “What did he want with you?”
Hito gave her a dry, sidelong glance. “Same blessed thing Jirou did.”
Seiran combed her head for some astute reply, but all she raked up was unintelligent dandruff. Uselessness, like an old friend, leaned on and slumped her shoulders.
Hito caught her going for a loose lock of hair. He tried for – and failed at – an encouraging smile.
“… Can you tell I’m not cut out for this?” he said, ashamed. “You shouldn’t have had to see that, Miss Seiran. I am sorry for involving you. This isn’t your piper to pay.” He scowled ahead and started bouncing a knee. “Ought to have turned and walked away,” he muttered, “but I just had to, hadn’t I…? Shit. Shitting… shit.”
Seiran’s ears withered – and not because the cheery, mannered, dunking bird of a man had sworn in front of her. It wasn’t so vile that he had; Seiran was military. She’d heard monosyllabic terms to make a Lord start ageing again.
What was vile was that he had.
… But what could a mute Moon rabbit do?
( ) Take his mind off of it. Somehow. ( ) Be Seiran. Listen.
[x] Take his mind off of it. Somehow. Going for this for a pretty shallow reason. Namely, Seiran desperately doing anything in a vague scramble to have control over a situation feels more 'in-character' in the context of this story. I just don't think she's going to be prone to sit still when things turn unnerving for her. I mean, the guy she's got an eye on has punched some relation and isn't even hiding how upset he is in front of her. If there's any time she's likely to try to triage a situation — however terrible a job she does — it's probably now.
Either way, I'm not sure there's a choice here that's going to bring a particularly 'good' outcome. Just like with the previous vote, it's about the character and circumstance of the interaction more than anything. So, yeah, gonna go with what feels most natural given the bun.
Using some of the remaining senses would be a start. It wasn’t about what you had, after all – if you believed rabbits who had most everything anyway; it was in how you deployed it. Seiran, who had fluff and little else in the main, couldn’t attest. All the same, she smoothed down her kimono and sat beside the slouched man on the bench.
… A bit close. Hito startled as their bodies touched: taut muscles going slack at meeting something softer and more delicate than themselves. It was strange, having that effect on an Earthling, a male to boot, but… Lords, he’d seen her bunny-tired and cadging skinship. Why shouldn’t he think her soft?
… And was it so bad that he did? Really?
Well, yes. At the moment, it was. A soft rabbit would bend when leaned on. Seiran must be firm; she had to be, because Hito’s arm stiffened in surprise once she reached out and grabbed at one of his hands. She winched it down onto his lap, palm upwards, and, firmly, lodged her own in it. The lap continued skipping underneath, unsuppressed. Earthed thing. Maybe she should’ve weighed it down under something bulkier.
Hito eyed the quaint rearrangement as if it’d slipped his mind a Moon rabbit’s hands were suited for such subterfuge too, besides guns, food and greetings. Maybe Seiran’s weren’t meant to be, being a boot’s with no training, but she’d taken a private book study of the techniques. She could pretend versatility. She had.
“… Thank you,” Hito gave in eventually, fingers curling to touch and embrace hers; “and I am sorry, Seiran. I know; no Miss-ing you up. Habit, force and so on. I need a little while to simmer down, is everything.”
“Sure you don’t want to talk about it?” asked Seiran.
“What is there to talk about?” sighed Hito.
“You punched a man,” Seiran explained, she thought, quite summarily. “That happen so often it slides the report? Wow. Who is he, so I can vent on him too?”
Her date dignified her fumble at humour with a kind of terse clearing of the nasal passages, which she guessed stood in for a laugh. “… Not so often, no. Have a score of bad habits, running on to two these days, but throwing fists is a last recourse for boredom.”
“… And so what was that?”
“Who was he?” Seiran prompted. “Why’d he get the Hito-works?”
Hito rumbled – and then cleared his throat into the unoccupied hand, without, thankfully, launching it on the blast. “… Seiran,” he said, pained, “please, you have troubles enough. I oughtn’t to add to them; I want you to be comfortable around me. That is what I want. To make you a little happier wherever I can. These are ancient wounds, anywise,” he hurried on, ahead either of them may squirm from the soppiness. “There is not a blessed thing you – or I, or the rest of the clan – can do about them now, save not itching the scars. He itched. I punched. The end I am sorry you had to see.”
He stroked the tops of her fingers, either in apology or an early instalment of said want, yet not even in the pleased tickle of concurrence could Seiran have missed the twinge of soreness preceding. These were, indeed, the joints which’d rendezvoused with the old man’s cheekbone. And if that wasn’t a metaphor then Seiran was an allegory.
“Since I saw,” she said, presenting the reverse of her palm for petting, “why do you not spill anyway?”
Hito sighed at that as well. “It’s old history, Seiran.”
“So am I,” said Seiran. “Old history Seiran. This one, though, I know by the ears. I’d like to hear of old history Hito instead.”
“Stale and bitter as he is?”
“He is what I got,” she reminded. “No one else, what, daft or desperate enough – right?”
“Callous,” Hito added, stressing; “you mustn’t forget callous, else I’ll end up sounding like old boy Gin.”
Seiran shook her head. “You really do not like him, do you? What were we there for, again? Tell me?”
Hito clipped off another snort, and Seiran became suddenly cognisant of his knee having since quit its trotting in place. The hand ploy had, truly, come in handy.
“I take exception to that,” he said, a notch of disposition dialled back up. “What I do is envy and pity the lad, which isn’t… entirely… the same dish. I haven’t a doubt he is spinning the young Hieda lady over his head or suchlike silliness as we speak to distract from my, er, indiscretion. He’s a lad’s lad. I do like him. Not as much as I like you, sure, but he doesn’t look as good in a ponytail. I am upset, also, which,” he observed, “envenoms words.”
And again with the unpremeditated flattery… “Still not hearing about punchin’ Hito,” Seiran noted.
“Not about to let it go, are you?”
“… We’re courting,” said Seiran, precluding someway the hitch of embarrassment for facts foregone. “Um. We are. Aren’t we? This could be operative. I wouldn’t want to duck and cover each time we walk by the elderly. It wears on the knees. Never mind the elderly.”
“Savagely put,” opined Hito.
“Youkai rabbit stuff,” Seiran excused the excuse. “Should I be doing sit-ups anyway?”
Yes, yes you should, anyway, provided her inner critic. Get thighs you could snap hardtack between – like you used to have in the army. There was your cause to wear shorts. Wherever’d they go, Seiran? Hmm?
Wherever they had, Seiran filed their Earthly fate under pending. Hito had fallen into a silent stretch, revaluating his conduct and the defence whereof; this, conversely, put the therapeutic petting of Seiran’s hand on hold for an inadvisable count of five, so she wiggled it around into a more enticing, splayed-fingered position. Success was had above and below as her date stumbled out of his dustgathering and, seemingly by reflex, laced his thick, masculine fingers through her smaller, work-stained ones. Then squeezed their bare, sweaty palms together.
Seiran felt a gush of heat – then cold – then heat all over again flush her from the collarbones up. Insofar as handholds went, she couldn’t have imagined a more intimate one. The uncollected motes of dust must’ve been blown clean away by her ears flicking bolt upright beside his, because Hito lurched and eased some of the clammy pressure off. Some.
But it did moisten the hardtack, at least.
“… Mm. How about like this?” Hito proposed. “In brief. He reckoned I’d been playing fast and loose with the clan name. I reckoned he could go take a flying one.”
Seiran shook off the shrapnel crumbs. “Um. And had you been – playing fast and loose?”
“Maliciously,” confessed Hito. “The prerogative being, Seiran, I’ve every blessed right to. I said earlier, didn’t I, right? That Gin and I had been in similar shoes? Well, I wasn’t born a Kuufuku, either. Adopted into the clan; it doesn’t matter how and why, not anymore, but anywise I was. Given the name and a warning. Stupid, pompous warning no real parent ought to have uttered. Tried to live, strike out. Chase dreams. And might be I wouldn’t have nigh dislocated my fingers today if they hadn’t delivered on that warning in the worst, hardline way at the worst time. They turned their backs. The entire clan. Closed the doors, shut their eyes, stoppered their ears – when we needed them most. All for some bull-headed lesson. Too late, they learnt theirs. Now… well, there are only the scars.
“So you see, Seiran,” he refilled on unminced air and finished, “I will play fast and loose with the name. Since I have done better to protect it than they did at that time. Never let them live it down.” He tipped his head back, peering skyward, exhaling. “… And if I can play it in so wise someone is made the happier for it, Seiran,” he told her, “blessed be the day.”
“So,” Seiran guessed. “Um. This is about me – partly?”
Hito stooped again, looked over – and smiled. Wholly without rancour. As if he wasn’t whatsoever the man had to be given a Moon rabbit’s hand to fidget with to calm down minutes ago. The rapidity of it was almost wrongfooting.
“Would that it were about you, Seiran,” he wished. “Then, I might have trussed them all up to chairs and stuffed them with your dango till they keeled over. Sorry, but no. You have not been an accessory to an ancient family spat. Not through any fault of your own, anywise.”
Seiran gave him a cross look, undecided how to feel. About the remark and the recovery both.
In the end, she hadn’t availed herself of much by listening. Adopted by king so-and-so or emperor this-and-that; dusty dusted dust; they wrong me; henceforth, hate. A story all too common in… stories. Half the Moon’s gods had alike ones to tell. And if there’d been an Earthen-exclusive twist to Hito’s, he wasn’t too keen to lade Seiran’s inhuman shoulders with the heavy details.
Well, why should he? She was a rabbit; this, to outspoken concern, she had shown.
But. However. Nevertheless.
A disarmed Moon rabbit still had her uses. Could be, she’d been only halfway wrong. Listening – attempting to – had been a mistake, but being Seiran… incredibly, being Seiran had passed muster. Hito hadn’t missed the sore spot; she did have problems. Those, he may never fix. Not by himself; not as an Earthling. He didn’t even Earthed understand what she was. He couldn’t.
And yet. Maybe. Just hypothetically… she could distract herself from all that by fixing him. Leasing out her hand. Cooking up dango – perhaps even curry. Being Seiran.
With all her problems to distract him from his.
… Courting was such a confusing mathematic.
“Can we get back to it, Seiran?” asked Hito. “To making you ever-so-slightly, minimally happier?”
Seiran felt a prickling at the base of her ears: the first sign that her wit wanted to throw arms and desert. The bank of fringe flower behind the bench wasn’t being terribly considerate, either, perfuming the air so forcefully she grappled with an urge to hike up her kimono and binky around barefoot. Neither was Hito: smiling such a confidently clueless smile she was nearly swept along into believing she deserved to be the least bit happy.
Seiran looked away. “… One of those days you must explain to me,” she complained, “why on Earth this of all things is what you want to do with your afternoon.”
Hito hoisted her compliant hand up to brush the amoral smile on its knuckles. “Will you take a compliment, Seiran?”
“… No, thanks.”
“Three compliments? A dozen?”
“Then pity,” Hito pronounced, not a note of mockery baiting his tone, “but a mystery it’ll have to remain. Where would you like to move? The Geidontei ought to be spooning out the booze and nosh menu about right now. Shall I go fetch a rickshaw?”
Seiran begrudged him a small smile in return. There was something irresistible about his trying – and managing, at times – to act dashing whenever she strayed into asocial dork territory. Silly, dorkish behaviour by itself – but, perhaps, when courting one…
“I’ll rather march, thanks,” Seiran said, determinedly.
“Hmm. Where to?”
Seiran deliberated her option. Singular.
There really was nowhere else she had been able to relax in recent memory. It might be rude; it might be overbearing. Still, Hito had said he worked best with a flame underneath. She could be that flame. With moderation, she may not even burn him.
Okay, so he's an adopted son. Wonder if that means they replaced him at some point. I mean, if your heir apparent is a dud, might as well, right? Does that make him formally disowned? Pretty bad prospects if that's the case.
Seiran took several moments to wake up. Within that short span of time, she managed a number of things: to unstick her eyes, fly into a panic, knock her satchel to the floor attempting to retrieve the ahp from inside without lifting the flap and, finally, to almost follow it off the chair where she’d been sleeping. Apart from that last one, everything was situation normal.
Well, no. Not really. Morning was pinpricking the room through lowered bamboo roll screens, as opposed to Seiran’s retinae, which on its own gave legs to the lame theory this was not, in fact, her uncheerfully austere, Earthen den. A supplementary empirical kick was furnished by a slow, gummy survey of the locale. Wood and stone flooring. Slightly incongruous table and chairs. Shelves as empty as a Lunar Lord’s heart. Garlic ropes hanging like tanabata decorations.
Conclusion: Hito’s pantry-turned-dinette.
Oh... right, mused Seiran, yawning cavernously and wiping at the patch of drool on her kimono’s sleeve. We murdered the clock last night, didn’t we. Truth to tell, they hadn’t; Hito did, after all, lead the clockless existence of an unemployed man whose hours did not rigidly fit in one. Seiran’s teetering head had been their only pendulum, and that one was yet attached.
Lords. She remembered being tactfully asked, more than once, whether she’d wanted to go home, but she’d shaken at each instance. They had picked up some choice bites the previous evening, en route from the scene of Hito’s left-hook faux-pas: street stand yakitori, honeyed senbei crackers from an overtiming confectioner’s shop, even some newspaper-wrapped fried lotus from the Geidontei, where a big-hatted waitress Seiran hadn’t conjured from her imagination had taken their take-out order with frantic dispatch. Though still, those weren’t why she had declined time and time to be walked back to base and her bunk.
What was, was that Hito had spent the early night utterly glued to her hand. Now petting her fingers, now holding them up to his lips and tickling her skin with his breath, the self-effacing, delicate man had used and abused of the sole intimacy Seiran had given him recourse to. He’d struck upon a rich new seam of dorkishness at one point – when she had complained half-seriously of wrist fatigue, and he’d courteously switched sides to wear on her other hand. She’d thought that had been funny.
She still did. She thought it funny that a well-heeled, handsome man like him should want to, let alone do, kiss some unfaithful Moon rabbit’s hands. She thought it was riotous that a dusty boot like Gunner Seiran should find it in herself not to squirm from it. That, not a week ago, she still might have.
Commiseration was a headier narcotic than chocolate.
Seiran stretched in the chair. A body-warm, silken haori slithered off her shoulders and down her back. Hito must have tucked her in afterwards of one long blink too many; she couldn’t recall turning it down. The gracious host himself wasn’t in attendance in the morning-still pantry, nor – her ears, if not the reflexive, dampened pulse, told her – in the adjacent kitchen, brewing up a caffeine bomb. Not that she’d have let her hair down for coffee; it was too costly of an acquired taste for a rabbit of her stripe.
Seiran caught the haori ahead it glissaded off the chair. Then spread it out on the table. Thereon, seeing it for the first time in daylight, she made out the two characters embroidered in gold: 宮 and 服. Almost for certain – o’ dark thirty Seiran being not the best cryptologist – different from those she’d seen Hito scribble on her requisitions.
Whatever that meant, Seiran folded it away together with the haori. She stood, slung on her satchel and padded out into the hall, where the farcically modern, electric glow-tubes were still on and abuzz. Seiran piloted herself down to the washroom, ignoring the sympathetic buzzing in her head.
This theory, at least, hadn’t needed spare legs. The manor’s washroom complemented its vast, vacant spaces; a wide, copper-plated sink, deep enough to bathe a baby in, spanned an entire wall together with its abutting countertop, heavy under drying racks. It’d been the first thing they had done yesterday – after positively inhaling the yakitori, anyway – to come here and free Seiran of the ink tattoo which may see her returned to the address were she to pass out in the streets. The fixtures, Hito had explained, were fuelled and pressurised by a cistern on the roof, which an odd morning had to be spent piping water up to from the well pump outside. An expensive and extravagant contrivance, but, he had joked, the upper body exercise was priceless.
So too, to her mind, was the large, tin tub, secreted behind some shoji screens, long enough for Seiran to lie supine in. It’d been everything she could do, to stop herself asking to use it. It wouldn’t do – for her – to get used to conveniences – especially someone else’s.
She washed her face in the cold water from the sink and then backtracked.
A familiar face met her out in the hall, sticking out one of the other, unexplored doorways.
“… Good day,” it said, and the incumbent rest of Hito stumbled out, clad in the same black, somewhat tousled, kimono. He tugged the door closed – ahead the secrets of a single man’s sanctuary may ooze out and mire a lady’s delusions. Wherever that lady was. “Cutting and running without saying goodbye, were we?”
“Mm,” Seiran said – then wrinkled her nose.
He wasn’t drunk – or he didn’t look drunk – or Seiran didn’t know what he looked like drunk – but the man had bags like sweet potato paste mochi under his eyes and a breath you could strain straight into bottles. If he’d slept a wink, it must’ve been only with ethanolic aid. He noticed her expression – and missed its mark by a click.
“Was a joke,” he protested. Then wet his lips. “Sorry… right, for not waking you up, anywise. Hadn’t the guts to. So, I covered you up, and, er…”
Seiran painted on an amicable face. “No worries. I’ve, um, slept in worse.”
Hito nodded at that – to some obvious turbulence behind the eyeballs. “… Ought to get going, though, right enough,” he said, rubbing at his temples. “No telling when that delivery’s going to pop up at your place. Wouldn’t want to miss the runner.”
“Or you’ll be fined?” Seiran remembered.
He fanned the auguries of monetary loss away. “Won’t risk walking you home,” he said instead, “not with the gutters lurking, but I’ll see you off to the door. How about it?”
And then he took off, quite dispensing with deference in his own home. He staggered up the hall, flicking off lights, muttering about kerosene. Seiran, who wouldn’t have said no at any rate, fell in behind as he forged out into the big, vacant lobby. They arrived at the front door wanting for an incident, and Seiran paused to tap the sandals tighter onto her feet.
Something thumped the floor at her six. Seiran whipped about – to find Hito down on both knees. The man hesitated, swayed forward…
… And then, he embraced her.
Seiran stopped cold. Arms twice the thickness of hers wound around her back. A head of flaxen, boyishly messy hair pressed itself against the upper slope of her bust. A warmth penetrated her clothes in moments to mingle with her own: the damp, physical… filthy… warmth of a living person. It made her lock up like a rookie in a live fire exercise.
A man she hadn’t known for but a week. An Earthling. Clinging onto her as if she was the last available corner of a Lunar veil. Murmuring.
“… Please,” were the forlorn words; “come over more often, Seiran. For dinner or tea, to talk or just sit around. Whatever you want. Please.”
And it was, she decided, now as before, the pleading which stayed her from being swallowed by her pride. It wasn’t that the hug was her first significant body contact with someone since… Lords, since she’d agreed to go AWOL with Ringo and forever before that. Nor was it that the warmth and force of it made her melt and bubble inside. The head-pat and handholding had been nice, but this… how hadn’t she felt the need for this before?
And you haven’t known him for “but a week,” either, cut in inner Seiran. How many months has he been stopping by your stall? You were just too much of a short-ear to commit to the conversation. The Moon’s own boon, the patience he’s had for you.
That patience must now have run dry. With his head pressed to her chest, the arms and hands grasping at whichever curve of her figure they could to hold her close, she didn’t require the Lattice to feel the man’s longing. “Why me?” was a question with no forthcoming answers, but there was no mistaking the hopelessness. He hadn’t lied. He was desperate.
He needed her in his home. His life. His tangled, filthy life.
And that, there, was something even deaf, starch-butted Seiran could mesh with.
And so, not even a full day since she had asserted herself otherwise, she became a Moon rabbit who did pat the head of a man who stuffed it in her chest. Hito slumped at her touch: so much muscle, sinew and maleness turning into despondent weight under her hands. His scruffy hair caught on the skin of her fingers: matted, hot and dry.
Still and all, Seiran petted on. The least of the favours she could return. The least she wanted to and knew how.
“I—” she began to speak.
Hito jumped to immediately, as though but waiting to pre-empt her. “You need not,” he urged, “answer right away, Seiran.” His voice was different. More resonant, this close. Like a pulse. “Consider it, please. Just do not let me… push you into anything. You mustn’t… let me push you.”
Seiran opened her mouth. Once no great insight issued forth, she closed it again and made a conciliatory sound instead. Aloud and into her Lattice both.
Nothing replied where she wished ineffectually it would… but Hito hugged her even tighter.
Maybe that much had to do for a traitor. Maybe so much was already plenty.
“… Seiran?” Hito murmured into the front of her kimono. “You ought to go – really. You’ll miss the runner.”
“Mm,” she concurred.
Minutes slid by. Neither of them moved – more than necessary.
Only then, once it was pellucid he hadn’t pushed her into it, Seiran disembogued from his arms. Hito let her go, sitting back on his heels, looking dead-beat, humiliated and hopeful, somehow all at once.
Seiran fixed on her sandals, nodded a good-bye and, because she could respect a man’s request, said not a thing further as she left him in his giant, silent, empty house.
A pale Sun was climbing the eastern sky outside. The air was thin, nippy, though the dearth of clouds as far as the surrounding roofs forebode a muggy day of mixing, moulding and pre-boiling dango. Seiran stepped off the manor’s eccentrically broad patio and made her operative way out onto the human town’s streets.
Lighter of heart than she’d been in months. Smiling – despite the Spring morning chill worming past her kimono and the lingering heat therein. That of an Earthling man could be daft, could be desperate – yet not so callous as to spurn a Moon rabbit for her flour-handed stubbornness. Whom she would meet again, impurely, no matter her previous months’ self’s obstinance.
Maybe Ringo had it wrong. Maybe living wasn’t all there was to life.
Maybe the rabbit could still fly before she crashed.
>Thereon, seeing it for the first time in daylight, she made out the two characters embroidered in gold: 宮 and 服. Almost for certain – o’ dark thirty Seiran being not the best cryptologist – different from those she’d seen Hito scribble on her requisitions. What did he write before, then? Literally 「空腹」? Seems a bit on-the-nose — though I guess it'd make some sense if he were spiting the (already silly) family name.
In any case, wow, needy guy, innit. Guess that's fitting to a needy bun. Makes me wonder if there's any configuration here that can actually be considered reasonably healthy long-term. Somehow, I doubt it.
Now I'm worried how all of this is going to end.
>Maybe the rabbit could still fly before she crashed. Aaaaaaand there's the near-title-drop. Could it be that we're approaching the end?
> Seiran craned as it danced. Ink sank a strange truth into paper.
>「 空腹の久人 」
> Kuu-fuku, Seiran syllablised, “Hisa...?”
And as for > Could it be that we're approaching the end?
I doubt it. The story has been repeatedly mentioning the one-year limit on her moontech which is still a ways away. The story is also still far shorter than TiiTS and KYHnG, and has not yet reached the level of crisis for the characters that those had.
Two days on, Seiran was still hovering. Currently, it was over the atmospheric regulator box on the floor of her dosshouse room.
The box, one cubit by two and one again in height, gunmetal blue and featureless, was a minor wonder of the Moon’s miracle sciences. Outwardly indistinguishable from the drab ammo cases for kinetic slug throwers, it’d been the rabbits’ mainstay on the mountain... and the saving grace of Seiran’s budding business. An underslung compartment in the vented lid, containing an accumulator cell and small entropic absorber, made up the live-or-die difference; for, by inducing a time/air flow differential in the porous crystal of the vent, the box may pressurise or depressurise, generate or dissipate moisture or, with some skilful manipulation, cryodesiccate the contents. At a substantial expenditure of charge, the entropic field could be expanded to the entire box, effectively freezing the insides in time. This had the side effect of making the container nigh impossible to move – like a spun-up gyroscope – and delaying all forces applied to it in the meanwhile – like a kick or three – till the instant either the field was disengaged or the accumulator ran dry. With predictable effects.
Some Lunar Lords, it was said, manifested similar abilities through their pure souls alone. Walking the Moon unheeded by mortal time, unseen – untouched in their eternal sanctity.
The army rabbits used it to prank rookies.
Seiran had debased it even to lower lows. She had used it to keep unsold dango from going tough and chewy overnight. And presently, she was scraping something fierce at a lump of one which’d rolled off the rack and, so it would appear, gotten welded to the regulator’s internal enamel lining. Her loosed hair slipped around her bare shoulders for the dozenth aggravating time; the afternoon had been warm and humid, so Seiran had turned to advantage the fact of somebody cooking on the outdoor stove – and boiled up a proper, hot wash for her hair. She’d meant to strip her stall, stash the dango and comb it down ahead it fluffed all up, but Earthed life had done its thing and thrown a wrench into the particle accelerator.
The knock on her room’s door was almost the sound of it pinging off down the tube. Seiran tossed the spatula she’d been attacking the fossilised dango with, yanked the blanket off the bed, drew it over the box, brushed back her hair and, finally, went to avert potential singularities. A crisp, commanding pulse to the ahp dangling, as always, on a lanyard by the door, and Seiran undid the bolt.
A swarthy, bucolic man stood, stooped in surreptitiousness, outside. Seiran didn’t know his name; albeit, what she did know was that he rented the room above hers, was “between jobs” at the moment and, as it happened, half of the two-man squad who’d originally bothered her about portable soup. He bowed his bald head and raised a palm, bottom-edge-forward, in a sort-of lazy, semi-religious salute.
“Hallo, Miss dango,” he said. “Aren’t disturbin’ you, mehopes? Only,” he went on, requiring no answer, “you’re gonna wanna hear, that amour of yours waltzed in a while ago. Saw ‘im from up in the window.” He stabbed a thumb back at the parked Dango Seiran-ya. “Sittin’ there on the step of your cart for the longest time, he’s been. May want to go see he hasn’t gotten stuck on a glob o’ wet dough or some. Or have you two been fightin’?”
Seiran blinked. How…? “Um. No,” she said, evenly. “No, it’s fine. I think? Thanks.”
“No problem. We men’re a handful when fancyin’. Aren’t we just?”
Her neighbour cracked off another fairly sacrilegious gesture and tiptoed back for the staircase with all the sneakiness of an Oni in concrete shoes. Seiran shook her head, hopped into her sandals and went out to check on rogue dough stains.
True – she hadn’t seen hair nor smile of Hito’s these last two days. Then again, the same’d been the case when the man had last had to confront his family and stayed away for fear of scaring Seiran away with profanity and the stink of alcohol. Or so, anyhow, she’d conjectured he had done.
She… still didn’t like that he had – stayed away or stank of alcohol – but, perhaps, given the severity of the impact, self-isolation with a side of self-poisoning was the least detrimental of resorts. To everyone but himself.
All the same, she felt a faint tugging in her chest as Hito came into view. He looked better: in brighter colours and after what must have been a long and luxurious bath. And there, in response to spotting her in turn, came on the soft, abstracted smile Seiran had wondered, in a weak moment, whether it belonged to her presence alone. Hito didn’t rise whence he was sitting on the wheeled cart’s footstep, though did extend a hand – which the Moon rabbit took unthinkingly.
“Giving the neighbours the heebies and the jeebies,” Seiran chided. “What’ll they do with those, do you think? They bite.”
Hito flashed a grin. “Good day to you too, Seiran.” He squeezed her fingers. “The neighbours, or…?”
She smiled back – and not just in recognition of the repartee satisfied. “Mm. Ha ha. What are you here for, though? Actually?” she asked. “The shop’s closed; the neighbours really have noticed you, too. It isn’t just me living here, you realise? Couldn’t have seen me out on food patrol?”
Hito looked thoughtful. Inasmuch, anyway, as his default wasn’t already philosophical.
“… Could be we ought to start off,” he theorised out at length, “with me apologising.”
“That is getting to be a template, isn’t it?” noted Seiran.
“Well, it is well to articulate these things,” argued Hito, “that at least both of us’ll know what it is you will be calling me a blockhead for in a little. No? Then, I may up and quit creeping out your neighbours.”
Seiran blinked away the momentary headache. “… I suppose?”
“Suppose’s enough. Well then.” Hito inhaled. Then looked the Moon rabbit in the messy hair-draped eyes. “I am sorry, Seiran,” he sighed, “for putting you on the spot. I hadn’t slept at all that entire night; I couldn’t bring myself to wake you and, I confess, had had too many drinks through me. I am sorry for begging and obtruding you. And ever so grateful you didn’t bend my elbow backwards when I hugged you. That was a stupid caprice to have. We can take things at your pace… er, again. That day was all stupid, anywise. I am sorry you had to have it with me. I wish we could both forget it. Can we, Seiran?”
Seiran passed a weary hand before her eyes.
Lords on the Moon. He was trying to ruin it. He really was. After blushing up a red dwarf’s solar worth; after hours collectively of smacking herself across the ears about it, at night and at work. He was going to rewind every one. All those internal resolutions on wanting this. The arduously-carved acceptance of a human male into her regimen. Of the mission. The impurely pure mission to make him a little happier in exchange.
He was going to Earth it all to… Earth. This blockhead man.
( ) “Can we get some things straight? Several.” ( ) Try non-verbal communication, maybe.
[x] Try non-verbal communication, maybe. The lot of you are boring with your conservative votes. There's no reason the cheesy vote would be a thing in this story if it weren't going to go right somehow. Plus it's cutting straight through Hito's bullshit and that's a fine thing to me.
>>43868 You don't understand my growing dread and admiration as the purple prose is further refined with each update to an amethyst point that will eventually pierce my brain, leaving roaming saccharine bunnies in its wake. I choose dialogue, hoping for a stay of execution, but I fear it only hardens the ultimate thrust's acuity.
This is the situation where this is actually useful to deploy. Just listening isn't useful when he's just moping instead of actually talking through his problems, and the other option of Seiran really taking the initiative in this impromptu therapy session might be difficult for her to pull off, so I think we go for the more universally understandable gesture of physical comfort.
>>43872 Whilst I agree with your choice, I do take issue with >might be difficult for her to pull off
As I said in my vote, if it weren't going to work out in a reasonably productive fashion, it wouldn't be a vote here. It's literally a choice between a saccharine option versus a serious option; we can assume it works out either way.
The author's been pretty blunt about his frustration with people avoiding the more saccharine options for inane reasons.
And, personally, I'm getting bored with all of the low-impact drama and just want fluff.
Well, fluff has to be earned, you know? It feels better when we really know the characters, and also in circumstances that are not so happy. To paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut, to show what a character is really made of, you should make bad things happen to them.
Not on her watch. Or her knocking-off time, as it were. Such as it were.
Seiran extricated her hand from the hold. Hito watched her replace it on one of his shoulders, brows quirking. Nothing else, though. Typical. The man had a soldier’s initiative, but the interpersonal manoeuvrability of… well, another soldier. They were caps in a clip in this respect, the human and the Moon rabbit.
“… Er. Seiran?”
“Shut,” she snapped.
Still. Seiran could learn. She had and she would. And, what she probed into currently was how to tackle the obstinate man without tackling him actually. She had a slight height vantage with him seated on the step, but leaning down would’ve made things awkward, not to mention droopy in her paste-stained, loose summer dress. She could kneel astride his legs and grapple him into compulsory study, but in that would’ve placed his puzzled features square in droop country. It wouldn’t be the first time – not fairly – but nor would it do to make these regular visits just yet.
… “Yet,” Gunner? Seiran questioned herself.
Seiran ignored herself questioning herself and proceeded to the only – real – viable play. She bunched the dress’s skirts, turned sideways – and scooched onto the man’s lap.
If Hito saw this as an unlicensed use of the flight deck, he was not only overdue; he expressed it, moreover, with a sound which put Seiran in mind of a CQC instructor who’d rested on his laurels and fudged on a lucky rookie’s gut punch. Tension rocked Seiran’s perch – once – ahead the Earthling man registered her abstention of sharp implements. Too bad. Seiran had coasted too many shallow thoughts these two previous days not to follow the thrust through bare-handed.
So, she twisted ninety degrees east. So, she wormed her arms under Hito’s and wrapped them round his comfortingly wide back. She breathed in, gingerly – and rested her forehead against his sternum.
And there. It was done. The unspeakable… well, perhaps not spoken, but aforethought and performed with the most impure of intentions. A Moon rabbit not just coaxing, not just receiving – but selfishly exhibiting affection. Something that Wasn’t Done. Indiscretion and Frivolity of the filthiest degree.
Indiscretion made her giddy. It made her palms roam the incredible breadth of his back and herself startle hardly at all once the man at last hazarded going blow for blow. He touched a splayed hand to the small of her back as if to gauge Seiran’s reaction. She gave him none, which turned out exactly the right amount.
He seized her by hip and shoulder, swiftly enveloping the Moon rabbit whole in a pair of rugged, rabbit-fitting arms.
The warmth of his firm, comfortingly close embrace was a stove unto itself. Seiran let her ears flop, trying not to turn into so much rabbit stew. She felt flippant – two days ago, she’d gone stiff as a bedpost when Hito had surprised her with a hug; now, she resented him for momentarily reacting how she had – despite his readiness to reciprocate.
Something had cracked inside. Seiran couldn’t tell what, exactly, else than the overriding, chest-clenching itch to feel the emotives strumming the nerves beneath his coarse, impenetrable skin. Going back into psy-silence had made her crave contact worse than chocolate. Wonder of wonders she hadn’t come down this hard after first going rogue.
She had had it bad. The kit had helped stopgap that. This wasn’t badder, per se; but it was… Ringoer?
… Was that it? Was this how her rival-slash-sister-in-arms felt behind the Lords-may-care attitude?
No. It wasn’t, because Ringo owned it. Owned up to it.
Could you do that, Seiran? taunted the bitter, loathsome part of her. Say it – out loud? Admit you have needs? That you are as self-serving, flighty of a rabbit as those squad mates of yours you deplored for sneaking out then sucking up to the brass? That you are a hypocrite after all, down to the roots of your—?
+Shut. Shut, you, too+ Seiran pulsed. +This is still a mission. We owe him this; he needs it. Whatever else, it’s collateral. It’s not the point.+
And, to drive home what was, she took another breath unfortunately fortified with the man’s perspiration. The scent of a male, recognised even by her – should be – incompatible, unused sensibilities. It wasn’t stellar; but then, neither was her at the end of most days. She resolved to accept it as inoffensive.
“… What does this tell you?” she asked of the tanned, stuffy gap in the kimono.
Hito made no attempt to dodge the question. Held tight – tighter than their current stage of courting warranted – by and holding tight a lightly-dressed and food-loving Moon rabbit left little space for evasion in between.
“Mostly, Seiran,” he said with heartfelt jaundice, “it tells me I wish you’d been there with me last night. And the one before. And before that. And—”
“And what,” wondered Seiran, “would you have done if I had been?”
Hito laughed, softly, his amusement doubled by the quirk of intimate proximity: vibrating first his chest then the space up between Seiran’s ears. “Cried less,” he supposed, “drank less, certainly. Slept worse – for cause of troubling you yet again. Wishful thinking, is everything; pay it no heed, please.”
Seiran breathed out then back in through his clothes. Stubborn buck. “… You are mistaken.”
“Am I? I fail to see where.”
“Here,” said Seiran, stressing with her arms; “right Earthed here. You’re mistaken because what it does mean is I can deal with your missteps. You needn’t verbally genuflect for every little thing. I am not one of those prissy, salon rabbits; I won’t turn my tail, flick you off and run. Or have I?”
“Still here,” Hito conceded in the face of material evidence; “but Seiran—”
“I know,” Seiran butted in – literally, in one spot, “what this is about. You have this… this notion, because I am an unhappy bundle of troubles, that I’ll unravel if you drop one of yours on me. Haven’t you?”
Hito didn’t hazard a reply, although his chest rising and falling betted its own. It said: Since when can this rabbit say more judicious things than “Um?”
“They aren’t my problems,” Seiran continued, “yes, I know. And I won’t pretend I’m privy to what those are, either. You’re not wrong; I have my hands full enough of myself. Have enough problems of my own. Most of them unfixable. So, if I could pick and choose… if I could take on some of yours for even one of mine… I would do that. I would rather that than—” Than be stuck talking to yourself? “… than regressing.” She paused, parsed, revised – and, the soldier she was, did away with the sentimental terms she’d rehearsed over two nights of tossing and turning in bed, burning midnight brain-oil. “… I would like you,” she said instead, “I want you – to be my problem – please.”
And she felt like – such – a dilettante for saying it like that. In the library of her mind – which’d always been more of a tented-blanket-glow-globe-and-pillow of her mind – younger Seiran, with dreams, tore at her ears in second-hand embarrassment. And yet, it took but a dozen audible beats of his heart for Hito to drop an oar in her stream of consciousness and situate their boat against it.
He chinned the top of her head, rubbed the Moon rabbit’s bare shoulder and said, “… All right.”
Seiran levered herself away, out of the hug, squinting up and anticipating funnery. None struck. Hito’s hallmark smile was again flying in formation, but it’d never carried a particularly fun payload. Goading, yes. Vexing, often.
Vexed to her ear-ends, Seiran demanded, “Just like that?”
“Not a young man anymore, Seiran,” said Hito, a crack of her neck corroborating and comical falsetto belying; “don’t get off on brooding to excess. If that is how you want it, bless it, that is how we’ll do it.”
“That wasn’t brooding? ‘Come over, Miss Seiran, please; let me apologise, Miss Seiran, please?’”
The man jostled her hip atop his lap in a fond, sportive sort of way. An indiscreet Seiran signalled she thought she knew what the sport was, but for collective good wasn’t telling. “That?” said Hito, innocently. “No, Miss Seiran. That what you refer to we call the doldrums, which are the mature man’s response to having queered his pitch with a woman he had been keen upon impressing. To his mind, anywise; it being tricky to fathom a woman’s who tends not to speak hers.” He detected her frowning, cupped her elbows, and explained, “You have never said, Seiran. What it is you expect of this… courtship. You did ask, once, yes. To be petted: like the rabbit you are, but that only muddled my previous guesswork worse. This, I can understand. I can understand wanting a crutch. Trust me that I do. I am glad you have said so, too. I am glad there is something you want from me. If it’s but to be a more immediate of your problems now and then.”
Seiran bit a lip. “Ugly way to put it, wasn’t it?”
“Welcome to relationships,” said Hito. “We may try labelling on prettier words, if you’d like, but that’s for the future. This is right fine by me for now. I do not mind. Good at being a nuisance, anywise.”
“That practice speaking? How many relationships have you been in before?”
“Only one, don’t worry.”
“Not in it anymore.”
Something in the fast, flat way he’d said it suggested pain. Here and there, clues. A forced smile. The clipped statement. The spontaneous brush along her forearm and reclamation of one of Seiran’s hands. His own crutch.
And in that moment of interspecific parallelity, she determined, in her Moon rabbit’s heart, that this would be a good mission. A worthy mission. No more a monofil-thin excuse. This was what Gunner Seiran was for; it was what she had always been for. Caring for her squad mates by preparing their meals; caring for her customers by sticking up the roundest, softest dango she could. She was still that same rabbit; this was merely a transplantation of that. A simple change in the theatre of operations.
She would make this Earthling man happier. And, in doing so, prove to the whole, filthy planet she was still here. Herself. Seiran.
Another pause. A slip knot of silence ready to hamstring a rabbit’s delusion.
And then, mercy, the rabbit being urged back onto her feet with a gentle shove.
“Oughtn’t to give the neighbours any more of a show,” judged Hito, following her unto the hugless ravages of verticality. “Misreckon we’re an item next thing. Or worse.”
He looked to her for confirmation of this being the prudent thing to say. Seiran volunteered a nod, even if something about milk and spillages whereof did burr the thought’s tail. There was something else to tweeze out of it, in any case.
“Speaking of,” said Seiran. “You were holding here a while. Um, reportedly. What gives? Why not knock? You know which number door it is.”
Hito coloured half a shade around his laugh-lines. “Well. In honesty, I was polishing up a big, old argument about alcohol’s debilitating effects on man, doubly when conjunct with a lovely woman in front and a sleepless night behind. Was taking a while. Hadn’t divined you’d… trump it outright,” he said, limply.
“Mm. You’re welcome.”
“We need to argue more,” Hito opined. He shook his head, clearing his throat – rallying. “However. Another day. Got places to be today. I think I’ll… I’ve decided I’d stock up the kitchen. You know – for next time. See about plying some people.”
Seiran glanced to the clear, albeit dusking sky. “At this hour?”
“Told you, did I? Good at being a nuisance. Talk to you tomorrow, Seiran,” he promised, stamping a kiss on her knuckles. “I will, trust me. Have a good night tonight.”
“Copy. Um. You too.”
“Without you? Unlikely.”
He didn’t say that, of course. He was too politic to do so, notwithstanding a fistful of assurances to the contrary. He didn’t need to, anyway. Seiran had read the words in his lingering touch as definitely as if they’d been pitched into her Lattice.
Then he let go and took the warm, reinforcing sentiment away. And, with a clunk of clogs on the cobblestone she was beginning to feel ambivalent about, left Seiran with herself, unfinished tasks and herself for company.
Disenchantment unrolled its threadbare carpet. Seiran kicked it in the embroidullery. This was a good thing, Earth you. Have moderation. Stuff to do, besides. Which, yes. There was. One potentially loose tongue-end to tie. Or glue, anyhow.
Seiran commandeered a clayware saucer from the communal, courtyard kitchen, fell back indoors, pulsed the micro-furnace on and glazed a big, fat stick of leftover dango. These, the Moon rabbit then shuttled up the backstairs to her overhead neighbour’s door.
“Aw. You hadn’t to, Miss. Gee.”
The shirtless, (as) oft-farmhand (as not) welcomed the bribe regardless – looking to Seiran much like a man who didn’t receive a lot of female attention these days and was quite enjoying his collusion in the courtship intrigue. You could use his grin like a shooting gallery.
“Um. It’s—” and Seiran heeled herself in the tail for this, “—a sweetener. So you don’t noise this about.”
“Noise what? About you an’ prince nob charmin’?” He slapped the air at that. “You’re a good neighbour, Miss dango. Why, have been as the years’re long. Wouldn’t’ve done that to you. No, ma’am, Miss.”
“Also, a rabbit,” Seiran reminded. “Um. A youkai. And he is human. These things… you know.”
Her neighbour chawed the dango at contemplative length. He twirled a finger in the air for time and retreated further into his quarters.
Seiran peeked. The upstairs rooms were, she knew, equipped with a flue and recess in the floor for a fireplace; it’d been a matter of much skewed-eared envy and irrational fear for waking up one night to a great clamour and a stranger man roasting mushrooms in the rubble. And there the fireplace was, a kettle hooked over the embers. Steam was puffing. Tea bark was steeping. Clotheslines apple-pied the ceiling. The yard-ward window was fogged over, except a few tell-tale smears.
Her neighbour reappeared from some recess of his own, a book in hand. It looked cheaply bound, perused and, for want of a better word, seditious. Seiran took it, flipped the featureless cover open.
KUROYAMI MEDANI HAD NO GODS, read the title page. By: Agatha Chris Q Edited by: Komeiji San
Aphorism: The events herein described have not occurred in Gensokyo; However, they might have, had ours been a gentler world. Pray be, dear reader, a circumspect neighbour.
“Opened my eyes, it did,” said Seiran’s own neighbour, circumspectly plucking the next dango from the stick. “Then ripped open my heart and stuffed it, it did. Now I’m an ‘opeless romantic. Won’t tell the Hakurei nor no one. Asides, we trust you here, Miss dango. One of us misfortunates, you are. Youkai or else.”
He laughed up her soldierly eloquence. “Give it back whenever. An’ thankee for the dango. Yours’re the best.”
Seiran wobbled down the dosshouse stairs, shortly, in something of a daze. Afterwards, long afterwards, she would give the naïve, considerate man a lifelong discount for the entire menu; presently, it was all she could do to marvel at how wrong he’d been.
Misfortunate? Oh no.
Gunner Seiran was very possibly the luckiest Moon rabbit on Earth. She was just woefully unfit for it.
I noticed some interesting subtle details in the recent updates. I also made a comment on the fic's AO3 counterpart about this, but I figured I'd also post the speculation here so the other readers in this thread could see it.
Specifically, this bit in update >>43854 stuck out to me:
> They turned their backs. The entire clan. Closed the doors, shut their eyes, stoppered their ears – when we needed them most.
That plural is interesting, because the rest of the paragraph he's just talking about how the clan treated him. First I thought it might be referring to Gin, since Hito was talking about him previously, but that wouldn't make sense because Gin has nothing to do with the Kuufuku clan. So, this leads me to suspect there was another individual, connected to Hito, who was also hurt by the clan's actions. Possibly a sibling or other relative. Or, based on something in this update...
> “That practice speaking? How many relationships have you been in before?” > “Only one, don’t worry.” > “What happened?” > “Not in it anymore.” > Something in the fast, flat way he’d said it suggested pain.
...maybe the person he was referring to was his previous romantic partner. Given how severely he lashed out at the ceremony, perhaps the partner is even dead. Entirely speculating here, but it could be something like: the clan didn't like his choice of romantic partner, so when the partner needed medical care they refused to help and Hito couldn't do enough on his own, and so the partner died. Something of that magnitude could explain Hito's reaction.
>>43882 I'm not all that convinced of any of that, but taking the premise as true for the sake of argument...
Another possibility — and one I feel likelier by Japanese custom — is that he was adopted by marriage into the clan; that is, he was taken as a son to marry a Kuufuku daughter for lack of a successor. Now, if you take that to be true, then it's not hard to think that maybe the arrangement was a sour one because the rest of the clan didn't approve of the match or some such nonsense. Branch families think they deserve the right of succession, dislike the family head's sensibilities in making decisions, etc. There's plenty of ground that could be covered in endless familial drama.
Army rabbits oftentimes fancied the ultimate goal of enlistment was to get through it. That, once boot camp was but an intermittent night terror and the active-period duty through with, life, or what stood in for it on the Moon, would truly get underway. You would start up that repair shop or sweets parlour you’d dustgathered about for hours standing at parade – or get swept up by this or that handsome Lord to act their bedwarmer household guard. And there you’d have it. Easy as; Lord Daikoku’s your uncle. Smooth flying thereon till the end of days.
Only thereafter would the doubts creep in. That niggling thing called hindsight. “Why’d I want to leave?” you’d ask yourself on the thousandth lazy, interchangeable morning. “Why did I want out? Sure, I was yelled at, dragged out of bunk by the ears at o’ silly hundred hours, but it was novel! I was told what to do, exercised, fed. Three square meals a day! I got to tussle in the dirt with bare-chested bucks in the inter-regimentals. The pit? Godsend in disguise. Have you seen the mirror recently, girl? You used to have bumps from the ribs down. Plural!”
The routine of retirement was a slow killer in comparison. The same petty trade plied solar in, solar out. Same tasks, same faces, same pleasures – flab bulging like soaked grain. “Comfort” was a god worshipped by rabbits who had never been in shape, never known the satisfaction of doing something useful with their time. Never built a road, never run supplies, never handed out water to exhausted – yet happy – squad mates. Never looked beyond the tips of their noses lest they led to responsibility.
Idleness was as surely a poison as her sergeants had vociferously decried.
Gunner Seiran had, for that reason, planned never to retire. She’d wanted her latter days spent quietly doing her fellow servicerabbits good. Somewhere out of sight, in the rear echelon, in a warehouse or behind a quartermaster’s desk. Sitting the military Lattice in the evenings in case trouble arose. Helping, facilitating, volunteering. Taking on each new charge as it came.
She had never wanted an easy life. Easy life was hard.
Easy life was languid.
Easy life made her turn inwards and question.
And life was so easy on Earth.
That was the allure and curse of it. Wasn’t it? Survive. That was everything you had to do. Join in the filthy dance of the million organisms already engaged. Make food, work, make money, eat, rest, make food. Nothing else to it. Tiring, but simplistic, routine. No change. No challenge. No surplus thought.
Nothing to divert the mind from the dark things inside. Just… live. Live and then die.
… Which was why, perhaps, the Hito ploy had done such wonders.
The merrily melancholy man had passed more than the grade; he’d launched straight up and off the peak and telemarked on the next hill over. He had made himself a nuisance and three quarters. And Gunner Seiran, considered previously by her squad mates to be as much use as, insofar as they’d had access to either, a chocolate teapot when manoeuvring around males, racked out each night with another hot-water tactical scalding off impulses of self-harm. Once she’d remembered to return his fancy drink tube, for instance, Hito had begun bringing it round every day to her stall with a new surprise inside; when she’d expressed a steady preference for one type thereof, he’d invited her out to a teahouse serving exactly the variety. He’d checked her azimuth again and again on the requisition money she’d owed. He’d teased her flagrantly about alternate methods of recompense. Say: services. Say: kitchen duty. Say further: cooking him – them – another dish from the jealously leased Kuufuku (空腹) notebook of recipes.
“Honest work, Seiran,” he’d defend himself, palms up and deflecting her glare. “I’d— You’d know.”
You know I’d have done it gratis, Seiran had thought, clacking her tongs predatorily. Idiot.
He had made her gun her brains, therefore, on when and how it was acceptable, under these business-like parameters, to solicit a good-day, thank-you or good-bye hug. The answers to which had chased her all the way to bed each time she’d inevitably come along to operate a real kitchen over the evening.
… They had taken it all, nonetheless, at a pace – despite Seiran’s inexpert instinct to rush. Hugs, yes – holding hands, sure – compliments, aplenty – but nothing out of line. Though there was, she had to confess before her clueless, frustrated, midnight self, a certain convenience in having found a plateau. In knowing both she and he felt at ease at this stable midpoint, but that steeper and slipperier slopes waited ahead.
It was something to think about. To figure out, organise. Agonise over – piece by piece, hug by hug, careless word by careless word spilled over the counter of her stall with customers nearby. The sprinkles of chocolate to spoon out, day by day, of the cold oatmeal of her life. Then to see what they melted into together when let to warm up.
It wasn’t what Gunner Seiran would have – or should’ve – wanted. Or even chosen. Neither had Seiran the runaway. It was what Earth and life had served up nevertheless. And it worked.
And so, the spooning days wore on.
Some wore more than others.
( ) A Tea With a Slice of Apple ( ) Other Odd Ones Out – a Black Spider
Seiran–Ringo interactions are nice, to be sure, but we have a lot of opportunities for those. This, though – it's Hachiashi, isn't? We haven't seen her in a while. Not since she, ahem, got involved with Gin...
It was early evening. Or maybe it was late afternoon, as those had been growing longer in defiance of decency and humane working hours. The sky was dusking, but judging by the way the air didn’t dive down your throat to anesthetise your tonsils the microsecond the Sun rang off for the day, Spring was really getting on with its thing. It did compel long sleeves yet, but not several pairs.
Seiran had almost forgotten hers today. The savage temperature variance between day- and night-time was a regular feature of the season this high up in the mountains – at least, said to be – and an utterly inadaptable one for those born into the changeless, mild climate of the far side of the Moon. She stretched in one of the chairs she and her host had taken to setting out on the extensive patio of his manor – and touched a thought to asking for a throw next he made the rounds. He’d sidled off indoors for a refill of the teapot some time before, and Seiran hadn’t noticed the evening/afternoon chill seeping in till he had. How quaint.
An unfinished game of Koi-Koi was spread out on the table between the chairs: apparently the latest smash at the Geidontei, played with an ornate deck of Hanafuda cards and no less bedecked ruleset… which both the Moon rabbit and the human had rapidly given up comprehending in favour of speculating the “actual, blessed contents” of their baroque faces.
“What does this look like to you?” Hito had said, holding up a card named, somewhat deceptively, the “plain tanzaku.”
“Um,” Seiran had given her safe guess. Small wonder these were popular…
“Seen many of these Ums, have you?”
“Too right. Then what about this one, here? Geese? These…?”
That, and enjoying the non-lethal outdoor air.
Other burghers had had the same idea. Shadowy figures moved occasionally behind the hedges. Striplings played at youkai-hunting one or two houses down. There was a soupçon of a hint of idyll. Not so quiet she heard the echoes of her own thoughts ricocheting around the inside of her skull, though enough that she was continually bemused a place so close the Artisans’ – the noisiest ward in town by far and away – could be so peaceful. It was to a T what some Moon-eyed rabbits referred to, in articulate capitals, as a Nice Place. Somewhere to Be One Day. Settle Down Maybe.
Somehow, somewise, rather than those, it was Seiran here now. She toasted the senseless injustice by lifting her cup of burdock-root tea to her lips, taking a sip – and nearly dumping the rest of it down the collar of her slipover.
A substantially brighter figure dashed by the estate’s entranceway, beyond the gravel path, trailing ears. Their eyes met Seiran’s for a heart- if not quite feet-stopping split-second. Then they were gone. Another two followed it in hot pursuit: a pair of human children, hooting, brandishing sticks. These, too, vanished down the street, soon to be but a strange blip in the short-term memory.
Seiran blinked the vision away. She set aside the unsteady teacup and waited, alert. Ten tics. Thirty. Sixty.
There came the tapping of sandals on terracotta. A burst of those, closing in. An abrupt termination.
And then, leaping off the shingles of Hito’s manor, Ringo crashed into the yard. Clumps of Spring grass were kicked up as she landed with a knee-jarring roll, the short cut of her yellow kimono cutting the work out for gracefulness. Seiran, who hadn’t quite not reached for her satchel, eased herself off the chair.
This… isn’t a breach of security, is it? she wondered in a flurry while her sister-in-hiding brushed the dirt from her very exposed knees. Joking apart, I don’t live here, do I? Just… am. Often. Increasingly. She screwed up her mouth. This is fine, right…?
This is fine. Shush.
Ringo spot-checked the state of her synonymous beret ahead addressing the rabbit in the garden.
“Aloha~” she hailed, hopping up onto the planks of the patio. “Fancy, huh?”
Seiran scanned the greeting for concealed pits. “… House, cup or meeting me here?”
“Mmhm,” confirmed her ex-XO. “Wowie, but you’re on the up and up. Tea and biscuits on the deck in the setting Sun? A bona-fide Lord-mistress in the ennobling.” She grinned. “You lucky foot, you.”
Seiran folded her arms at her belly. It was the grin, she decided; Ringo’s had a radiance that could pierce a lead shielding plate and rearrange your alleles so you were genetically indisposed to throwing a punch. There was some interpersonal similitude here to Hito she wasn’t positive how to feel about. Helplessly forbearing besides.
“To be clear.” Seiran flicked an ear at the outsized house. “This depot? Not mine.”
“Wouldn’t be a clod of moss on the roof if it were,” agreed Ringo. “I’ve known you, girl. His, then?”
Question of a rhetorical flavour, everything given. “… His. Yes.”
“You lucky foot.”
Seiran’s alleles jiggled. Where rank would’ve once snapped her fingers into a rigid salute, now her knuckles were poked at Ringo’s kimono-wrapped flank. Which itself jiggled in tittered response.
You couldn’t loathe it. You couldn’t loathe that slickness or that naughty laugh without wishing in your heart of hearts you could laugh like that too. At filth. At life. At men, potentially.
In Seiran’s heart of hearts was the jealous thought that she may not have been the right rabbit for the job. For a relationship. That one cheerier, bouncier than she would after all have done a better—
No. None of that, Seiran. She quit chewing the inside of her cheek. You are better than this. Not better than Ringo, maybe not – but better than this.
“… And you?” she said aloud. “Chased by the bu— the boys even before sundown?”
All right, not much better.
But if Ringo didn’t grin and take things in stride, the Sun could as good never bother rising again.
“Aha.” She peered out over the entranceway for stragglers. “Fearsome, aren’t they?”
“Sounded poised to stick you up like Ringo-dango, yes. Hind-first.”
“Feee-rocious,” Ringo drawled. “Earthlings, am I right? There I was, minding my own. Hind. Guess I got spotted. Taken for a handy youkai to test the pointy ends on. These ears, they’ll be the death of us, Gunner. Our local cousins need to square up, bigods. The namby-pambies…”
Seiran couldn’t help cocking a brow. “Sure you weren’t making yourself a target?”
Ringo hoisted one up to match. “Whatever would that entail?”
“I can picture a few Ringo-esque ways…”
“Can you, now?”
“… Turn of phrase.”
Ringo’s stare brimmed with innocuousness. Water-thin stuff, being Ringo’s. “Weeell. Whatever it is you’re turning between your ears, girl,” she gave in, “not even I’d be crass enough to shine up to some nob man while his kids are playing rabbit hunters outside. Some credit, please? No. I stopped by the wicket to watch. Ruminate. Got lost in what-ifs. Next thing I’m being speared front and back by the adorable little fiends. So, I played the part.” The grin received a cheek-dimpling follow-up. “Led them a merry chase halfway up the Artisans’, jinked a corner then took the high road. They’re still out there turning stones over for me, as like as the dust. Adorable little fiends,” she repeated.
Seiran shook her head – and the inadvertent smile she’d cracked at the whole picture. “Was that wise?” she asked, by way of formalities and being a starch-butt. “Making a commotion in a busy part of town?”
“Nope,” Ringo admitted. “Silly move. Good exercise, though. Should get chased more often. Good fun for the kids, too.”
Ringo said nothing further, connoting her points to have been delivered. She peered up the way she’d arrived as though half-anticipating the little humans to come after, tumbling down the tiles, any minute. They wouldn’t, of course not; she would’ve thrown them off ahead risking them clambering after her. But it was the first thing to pop to Seiran’s head. Who knew what sizzled and popped inside Ringo’s.
… Not Seiran – and that was a positive negative. Not even when they’d still on and off meshed their Lattices. Ringo’s mind was a lonely fort on a secretly-critical plateau in the middle of the Sea of Tranquillity. Not without a cause, the Earth Reconers had been told – in the same sentence they’d been ordered to tolerate it.
It’d be wrong, Seiran considered these days, to say they’d been lied to. After all, where was she these days for having listened to Ringo? On Earth. Taking tea, leisurely – with a man, till some minutes ago – on a deck in the setting Sun.
No place for a pure, Lord-fearing Moon rabbit. No place for an Eagle Ravi who dusted toed the line.
Somebody tugged down her ear. Seiran flinched at the sudden coupling of sensation to her train of thought. She traced the offending fingers, hand and arm, astutely, to Ringo’s shoulder.
“… What? What is it now?”
Ringo gave her a once-over of mock-concern. “Crinkled ears. Crossed brows,” she diagnosed. “Gunner! You were thinking seditious thoughts, weren’t you?”
Seiran gently but firmly removed her ear from the pinch. “That’s been happening, yes.” She readjusted the approach. “So. Would you like to sit down for a cup? We— Hito— He has a whole case of posh blends slowly going stale since nobody’ll give them the steep of the day. It’d be a favour.”
“Acting as if you own the place already, hmm, Lady Seiran?”
Seiran didn’t colour. Not a shade. Not least because the title was recurring. “Shush. We’ll ask him.”
Ringo’s smile was glazed with innocence. “Roger thaaat~ Ask let’s do, ma’am.”
Withering cynicism swirled Seiran’s Lattice, but she motioned her once-squad mate indoors nevertheless.
She navigated Ringo across the vast, lightless, toe-stubbing forest of roof supports in the main hall and into the small, electrically-lit annexe whence and wherein Hito ministered to the actual business of living. The smoke-tinged air in the dinette tipped Seiran off as to what’d been taking the usually so attentive man such a pretty while. Scraping of iron on brickwork emanated insistently from the kitchen.
Seiran walked in on an intimately familiar sight. Or, at any rate, the soundscape of a familiar sight – the ash pit and its port being situated on the other end of the cauldron-sized, four-burner brick stove for, reportedly, easier dumping out the far window. Scrape, scrape, shovel, scrape it went. Ringo came in on her tail, not so much rubbernecking as oscillating like an active radar dish.
Seiran tapped a foot.
The scraping ceased.
“Seiran?” called Hito, attesting to his existence somewhere in the sooty beyond. “Sorry. Hadn’t been in habit of cleaning this out; forgot you had to. Teapot’s… right… there on the hot plate. I’ll be a few minutes yet; don’t mention me and go ahead.”
“Copy. Thanks,” said Seiran. “Um. One more thing,” she added, off-hand. “I found this rabbit outside. Can we keep her?”
Ringo shot her a sharp, pulse-mute glance, which nonetheless managed to say: “Unbelievable, isn’t it, what your former subordinates will say when off the chain of command.”
Half of a handsome, ash-mascaraed face was poked out over the top of the stove.
“… Miss Ringo, is it,” Hito recognised, and Seiran heeled herself in the metaphoricals for expecting him not to. They were like cannons in the mist, the man’s faculties. You forgot they were there, behind the misty smiles, up until they spoke. “Good day. Sorry, bad host. No shakes. Soot hands, see.”
An extenuating pair of blackened palms hovered on out to, well, extenuate. Ringo flapped one of hers in acquittal.
“No harm. We can kiss up some other occasion,” she allowed. “Or, so I’d say, only… Ol’ Seiran here—” an accusatory stab of the thumb, “—wants I butt in on your together-alone time. What’s your take?”
Hito approximated a shrug with what features of his were visible and shruggable. “If that’s what ol’ Seiran wants, that’s what ol’ Seiran wants.” He dove back underneath the stove. “Make yourself at home,” he suggested over the resumed, irony scraping. “Or better yet, let Seiran. She knows her way around.”
The Moon rabbits exchanged looks: one vindicated, the other habitually latitudinarian.
“… Which crawl space do we stick the extra cups in, again?” Seiran asked, retaking point of the proceedings.
“Leftmost cupboard, middle shelf,” Hito replied. “Well within—” he strained, then coughed, “—reach.”
“Should wash my hands,” Ringo put in. “Happens I’ve been scrabbling up mossy roofs of late.”
But if she’d meant to snare man’s natural nosiness in Hito with this remark, this man’s nose was currently impassable to scents of temptation. Seiran marched her friend out, out to the manor’s well-equipped washroom and left her there to pick the moss out from under her fingernails, while she herself retrieved the cup and the seething teapot.
They reconvened in the orange-litten hallway, feeling partly like a pair of rookies outing for the first time after weeks being meshed in the same Lattice with their drill sergeants. There’d perforce be what is redundantly known as “girl talk” and no popping smoke at it.
… Which was to say, Seiran felt that way. For her part, Ringo nudged her chin at the dinette’s door without social reservations.
“Handy, that man,” she opined. “Already pegged him for a sharp cookie way back, but he’s no soggy desk jockey, either. Wowie, Seiran. Growing more envious by the meeting.”
Seiran snuck a peek kitchen-wise. Hito wasn’t too likely to hear where he was, that was head and shoulders in the ash pit, nor would overmuch mind if he could, but she erred on the side of murmuring anyway. “… We’ve had disagreements,” she said. “It’s not… all tea and house dates.”
“Of course it isn’t, girl. No two souls the same,” Ringo said sententiously. “If you’ve nothing to disagree on, that just means you haven’t taken the care to listen and get to know the other person. The important bit’s you still want them on balance.”
Seiran ventured out into the unlit entrance hall, Ringo in side-tow. She’d walked this walk a dozen times over by now, had Seiran, which was fast proving a boon. Holding the cup and hot teapot wide out, she ran almost as much of a risk at smashing one of the many cedar columns over as Ringo did with the sway of her hips. When did she learn to walk like that…? They swung so far from side to side it must’ve been hours of practice to keep them from accidentally widening doorways. Never mind it made you stare.
… And Seiran was staring. Jealously.
“So-o,” Ringo said, conversably, half a rabbit above. “Any particular reason our hunk’s living in a defunct restaurant?”
Seiran blinked. A wooden support leapt out of the dark using of this minute gap in her attention and nearly made the teapot a casualty.
“… A defunct what?”
Her ex-case officer tutted, disapprobatory. “Come, Gunner. You haven’t noticed? Some Recon you are. That whopping great kitchen back there? Our mess hall back in the unit had a smaller one. Same for the washroom. Huge sink, drying racks in rows. For a large number of dishes, could be? This here—” she said, sweeping a kimonoed arm to indicate the enormous, empty hall, “—would be where the tables would be when tables there had been. There are holes in the deck out front. I reckon for parasols? A tittle-bit big for a tea house overall, that case you mentioned notwithstanding. An eatery of some description, I shouldn’t wonder. Glass me, and my ins said the family’s claim to fame was couture. Shows I’m gettin’ dusty.”
The I of the phrase “It’s just a normal, Earth nob house…” stretched Seiran’s lips then left them dumb and ajar.
She hadn’t noticed. She’d flagged the distinct elements but missed the big, looming whole for them.
There was something to say for that. Gunner Seiran’s squad mates used to joke she always thought more of other rabbits than she did about herself. This was a statistical impossibility. The reason was that, while other rabbits came and went, Seiran was in constant supply all the time. It’d be unrealistic to dedicate as much mental bandwidth to any one of those as she did to her own, inner Lattice.
In a word and in deed, Seiran was selfish. So, she hadn’t spared the house a discerning thought upon her first visit for overweening fear of herself, Seiran, committing this or that social gaffe and looking a fool in front of a customer. She hadn’t thought to think to ask the second time around because of Hito’s incessant attentions being lavished upon her, Seiran’s, own mood (and hands). And, by the third, fourth, tenth and ensuing, it’d been just another spot to be – just “Hito’s” – as routine and unremarkable as her bunk. This suspect, far-too-large house with its kitchen and washroom, oversized patio and cistern on the roof.
Treacherous. This was what usance did to you. Comfort really was the mind’s poison.
“I… I haven’t noticed,” she wrung out out loud. “Um.”
“Understandable,” Ringo granted without looking. “Always otherwise occupied, huh?”
“… Yes,” Seiran granted. “Something… like that, yes.”
“Good on you. On this happy note, since we may not soon get another opportunity, I must, mefeels, issue you a warning, Seiran. As your senior.”
Trepidation didn’t quite knot Seiran’s guts, but muscle memory responsible therefor definitely did stir.
“Obviously, no research’s been done on this,” Ringo said blandly, “not even by the Sage Yagokoro, not that I pulled strings to find that out while I was still with the intelligence… but anyway, there is no conclusive evidence we can’t interbreed with humans. So, I’d be careful when bumping uglies if I were you, Seiran. Unless, yanno… that’s the agenda.”
Seiran tripped on her own feet. The teapot sloshed discontentedly in her outstretched hand.
Gunner Seiran swallowed her heart back down and faced her once-commander, suddenly grateful for the gloom eating up most of the spectrum radiating from her cheeks. She stopped to reassure the stirred-up teapot of her unhostile intents.
“We—” she croaked. “I— We are not—”
Ringo stood by and spun about. Sceptical – as if she hadn’t known Gunner Seiran for cycles and cycles and perhaps not that many cycles, but enough. Surely.
“… You’re taking the widdle,” she said.
“N—No!” Seiran choked out, sensing the blush dye the fuzz of her ears pink against all physiochemical feasibility. “You’re the one taking the— joking! Again!”
The expression under Ringo’s beret was unreadable. “Am I? How long have you been dallying with this damn-near perfect man of yours?”
“That has nothing to do with—!”
“To you,” Ringo horned in. “How long have you been leading him on, then? Since the Hakurei festival? Lord Daikoku’s hiney, Seiran. He’s hacked through red tape for you. At no charge. Tell me you’ve at least kissed.”
Seiran composed herself. It shouldn’t have been difficult. She’d been stuck in that song and dance her entire life thus far. It was. The relation-shop-talk did not appal her; she simply hadn’t dug herself in for a bombshell so quick and specific. Oblique wasn’t Ringo’s angle at the most pitched of times, but usually she could be counted on to lull you into a false sense of a bombproof roof over your head beforehand.
Not here. Here, the bomb blew in in horizontally.
“It isn’t—” Seiran began weakly. “… It’s not something that ever came up.”
A beret shook disbelievingly in the murk. “Sorry, girl, but that’s dust,” said Ringo. “There isn’t a male alive who doesn’t want to be kissed. They’ll scowl about it; they’ll puff up their chests about it, but at the end of the day they’ll bend over backwards for a peck of your lips. You’re – what was it? – courting, aren’t you? It’s not that huge of a deal, whatever’s written. From one doe to another, if you’d blue-balled me like that, Seiran, I’d hate your ears. Is this the prude thing again?”
“It really,” Seiran protested, “really never came up. That’s all. I’m not being a prude. We’ve never… stumbled on the subject, I guess. Anyway, I wouldn’t know how to…”
“He shy? Hates being touched by rabbits?”
Seiran couldn’t lie. About other things, sure, but that one was un-lie-about-able. “… No. The opposite, pretty much.”
“Aha. Stand to, Gunner. Think I reckon what’s goin’ on, here.”
Yes. Me, figured Seiran. I’m just no good if it can’t be fixed with a whirl of the ladle, apparently.
She stood still as Ringo stepped in closer – then didn’t when her ex-XO boldly slid her hands around Seiran’s hips.
Never. Never had anybody handled her mobility parts like this. Outside of herself. Well… and that one buck she’d danced in the street with when she’d been a rookie. And Hito, in recency. Yet, not even Hito’s long, rugged – and empathically un-shy – fingers had been as grabby as Ringo’s. These dug into her flesh through the fabric of her shorts as though touch-testing pastries.
“Um. Ringo…?” Seiran began.
“We’ll do it like this, girl,” announced her once-commander, and Gunner Seiran became all at once aware of being pulled into a light, but very well-padded, embrace. Hips struck hips, unimpeded – unlike else place up north. There was a less than decent degree of squeeze ongoing. “… Why do I not kiss you?” Ringo proposed. “Here, now? The first one’s always the most embarrassing, so have it out with me. Then you can do away with those pretences of purity. It’ll be a clean slate. Or an unclean one, whatever.”
Up close – so very close – Ringo was a big ball of warm, fragrant softness. A dust-plastered wrinkle in Seiran’s brain rebelled against her who’d kept her purported sisters at arm’s length then betrayed the Moon feeling this mushy and... feminine. Turncoats ought to be rough. Tough. Gritty.
… They were both making a botch of that front, weren’t they?
“… Going a little far, isn’t it?” Seiran spoke up. The cup and teapot in her hands prevented doing much above, sans some moves not too many rabbits were keen on practicing in case of later being practiced upon.
Ringo’s eyes narrowed up at hers: full of half-obscured, carmine cunning. “Is it? Your man’ll thank me for this, mark me.”
That’s not what’s wrong! Probably! “Why are you so vehement about this?”
Chagrin drifted across the more proximitous areas of Ringo’s face. “… Classified. Cut the chatter and shut your eyes, Gunner,” she sped on to advise. “Try not to break this cute little nose, so don’t squirm too much. On three. One. Two…”
Seiran clutched the last moment’s latitude.
This had to be a test. A surprise check of discipline. It was the sort of thing Ringo was liable to do: to frivolously call muster at o’ dark thirty then immediately release you back to sleep while your squad mates, who’d deemed it very funny indeed, ran circuits around the base for failing to debouch themselves from their cots. This was something analogous, except for Seiran’s prudishness. Had to be.
Right. Sure as. No question. Pushing to see whether you tipped was Ringo’s MO.
Seiran wouldn’t tip. She held herself straight. Straighter. Shrilling and hurling nearby appliances when romance was alluded to was for prudes. Which Seiran was not. She’d hugged and been hugged and let a man stick his face in her fluffy zones and hadn’t as much as yelped. Nor would she now, when her sleaze of a colleague was getting her jollies pretending to want to kiss her. She’d been play-threatened worse in boot camp. Hadn’t yelped then, either.
She was therefore much surprised when Ringo transposed her arms from Seiran’s hips to Seiran’s shoulders, tilted her head, counted off—
—and kissed her.
The moment passed quickly. It didn’t want to watch.
It left in its wake a brace of veteran, Moon-scarred rabbits: one stiff from shock, gawping, her ears barrel-straight, and the other – fulfilled, languorously removing her lips from her former’s. Gazes – and for once the term wasn’t poetic license – met in the murk, across much too little distance for chastity.
“Making progress,” purred Ringo, showing the world, comprising Seiran, a smile of occupational contentment. “A few cycles ago, that knee down there would have been up my down-there.”
Seiran didn’t reply. To do so would’ve been to loose the yelp presently vised between her vocal cords.
Her first kiss. Her first kiss as an adult, beyond the mistakes of bunny years, at any rate – but it was a first. It was important. Why had never figured in her studies; a huge deal, however, had indeed been made of it, and Seiran’s heart agreed inside. That first kiss was significant. More so as her new, own self she had been urged time and time to be. It was proof positive of things. Of rights.
… And, her first had gone to Ringo. The one who’d urged her to start. Her upstage, insouciant superior and the only Earth Reconer who hadn’t galled at her perfunctory grafting onto the unit’s pre-existent structure. She whom Seiran had followed even unto the Moon’s disesteem. A carefree, companionable soul a man would have longed to kiss.
This was why she was jealous, wasn’t it – because Ringo was everything she wasn’t? She was bubbly, unprejudiced, flirty and soft in all the too-right places. Seiran would’ve been remiss not to recognise hers was a sister-in-arms others would have fisticuffed to be stuck in exile with. She had smarts, charm, and cute, floppy ears, and slightly wet lips that, Earth it, felt good to have her own pressed against, and…
… And, to Seiran, she was just Ringo. Her rival and occasional friend. Nothing more.
Because what others didn’t know was that Ringo was far from perfect. Because she lived exclusively for herself. Because solidarity among Moon rabbits was a pipe dream Ringo lost no opportunity to mock. And Seiran…
… Seiran needed to believe. Foolishly, stubbornly. She couldn’t become like Ringo. It would spell the end. The death of hope.
The hope of ever truly being herself again.
Seiran swallowed air. Stop. Stop it, she begged inside. You are here. You can still pretend. So don’t fall to motes. Not in front of her. Not her you’re so jealous of.
The moist shine of Ringo’s eyes was the only light. Seiran focused on those and pulsed confidence… but without a concerted pulse from Ringo to make a bridge, their overlaid damper fields constrained the emotive to Seiran’s ears.
And lips. Ringo glanced at their distressed quirking ahead taking pity in speech.
“… Always wanted to do that,” she came clean, unabashed. “Yanno? Smooch that cute, uptight subordinate of mine into understanding.”
“I—” Seiran began. The yelp, strikingly, had gone back down by itself. “… I didn’t know you leant that way.”
“I do not,” said Ringo, evenly. “I like males. I like it when they’re built, clean-shaven and brood a little, actually, but not too much, because I want to make them smile with my funny nonsense and put their arms around me. That is how I lean. Give that up for peaches, boobs and doe nights? Not damn likely.”
“Then what… am I to have been kissed into understanding?”
No, Ringo doesn’t hesitate.
Ringo held off on answering and rubbed Seiran’s shoulders as a diversion. “… That it doesn’t kill to be wanted?” she said at last. “I guess? That, even if you don’t yourself feel the itch to, it’s fine to indulge, sometimes,” she went on, now on surer footing. “Obsessing over purity may have done you credit on the Moon, girl, but this ball of filth calls for different rules of engagement. That’s brass-speak for ‘put that poppycock behind you.’ We were never meant to be pure, anyway; emulating the Lords is a bunny-rabbit’s dream. You’ve been fighting Earth’s fights for, what, dozens of cycles at this point? And you’ve fought well, at that. Always did. You’re doing fine, Seiran. You are fine. You’ve deserved Earth’s rewards too. And he of yours, I reckon, has deserved a kiss.
“And, who can tell but you,” she added, wryly optimistic, “maybe you’ll find you want to give those, too.”
Maybe if it isn’t me went unsaid – if not un-writ, especially at the edges of Ringo’s lips as she pushed away. Maybe if it isn’t somebody who – even now – bossed you around for dust and giggles.
Then, the minute yet pregnant grimace was gone – and Ringo retook its privileged place. She oozed out from between Seiran’s outstretched arms, careful to flow under and around the cup and teapot she’d close to compromised a minute prior. She reaffixed the beret on her honey-blond head – and Seiran realised, what she’d never before, that if the all-important Eagle Ravi executive officer hadn’t stood on her tiptoes, she would have been kissing at most the bottom of Seiran’s chin. She was somehow shorter, even discounting the ears, than the lowly Gunner was.
That struck Seiran as enormously silly. She smiled at it all, wanly, and let Ringo to interpret it as whatever was the most appropriate.
“You’ll decide, girl,” Ringo said in response. “You’re your own rabbit, yes you are. Showed it something solid right then. Wowie. May need some hunk to fan me, over here…!”
Seiran shook her head and starchly resumed the pre-bombardment walk.
Inside, she simmered.
Nothing so assertive as a scruple interrupted the rabbits’ reaching and setting up on the patio, whereupon simple, mental mathematics achieved what not a ton of figurative explosives could, and quaked the evening plans’ foundations. The chairs, Seiran noted, numbered two, whereas they, the intended tea drinkers, counted now a whole three, for which fact she, Seiran, as the host, well, one of the two, shall forthwith compensate by retrieving another one, chair, that is, not a drinker, from the house’s, er, yes, chair storage. That. On the double. Sorry, really. Sorry.
She scurried off back indoors, leaving Ringo to manufacture her own conclusions. They’d be more accurate, anyway, than if Seiran had made them herself.
Hito was on his hands and knees in the kitchen, or on a hand and scoop, anyhow, sweeping collateral ash onto a brass dustpan. He detected her entry – which, at Seiran’s calibre, wasn’t too mean of a trick, psychometry or no – and looked up as she rounded the stove.
“What-ho,” he humoured her overboiled expression. “Something wrong? About done, here.”
Seiran held fast to protocol. “Chair. Need one more. Where?”
Hito gave the grunt of house help caught in the middle of a terribly essential, life-or-death assignment, which absolutely could not suffer an intermission short of a natural disaster or, at the extreme outside, a paid dinner break. Seiran identified it for what it was, which she’d gathered was a kind of posh in-joke.
“Never mind,” Hito said, wiping his brow on an ash-greyed sleeve with profoundly little effect. “Those are in the crawl space, drolly enough. I’ll grab one on my way out, so do not worry your lovely head.”
Seiran nodded. At the tactical advice if not the compliment. “Copy. Not worrying.”
Though, she didn’t leave. She instead crouched down, hugging her knees.
And, before the assiduously scoured-out ash pit, the human called Hito caught the pulse the Moon rabbit Seiran hadn’t made. He set aside the pan and scoop, sat back on the ground and unwound with a sigh.
He… did that these days. Just relaxed when Seiran was around. It wasn’t an overture to talk; there were no meaningful, suspenseful or hope-affixed glances. He’d still do with verve if Seiran should initiate, but… in the main, he seemed to simply absorb her presence. As though her being here – with him – was a miracle he wasn’t fully invested in the religious to elucidate.
… Which it was. After a fashion. Only, it was no fashion Hito would ever know.
Seiran cracked the silence. Not because either it or Hito made her in any wise uneasy – on the contrary – but because the mess could very well have been reduced. “Spray the ash with water from a bottle next time,” she suggested. “That’ll keep the unburnt bits from crumbling and the fine ash from billowing up.”
The begrimed man considered that. “No idea why you would do it from a bottle,” he admitted; “bigger droplets would kick up the ash by their own selves, though I am privy to the water method in general.”
Oh… right. He would only have seen a spray nozzle if the fugitive Sage had stuck one up his… nostril. “Mm. How’d you have done it?”
Hito shrugged, puffed up his cheeks and puckered his lips, looking a little like Ringo might have minutes ago if Seiran’s life had been a children’s storybook rather than a convoluted field manual. The accompanying noise, however, probably shouldn’t have figured in either.
“Well, why didn’t you do it?” Seiran pressed on, suppressing a smile. “Folly factor aside?”
“Too bull-headed,” Hito exhaled and confessed, “to stop, get up and chug some water once I got down to it. A character fault that cannot be covered up with a new robe, sadly.” He gave the grubby sleeves a mournful inspection.
“Not that one,” Seiran agreed. “Thank the Lords you have others. Faults, that is.”
Hito bit the pride-piercing bullet with sanguine grace. “Man is a balance of peaks and troughs, Seiran,” he said, gnomically. “He grows older, you can see the peak. He bends over to pick up something heavy…”
He peeked at her for a reaction.
And, Earth it, she gave him one. It took a hot second, but she did. She pictured a working man’s accidentally exposed trough and snickered at it.
The things he waylaid her with…
… They were why Seiran’s mission up till now had gone so swimmingly. She thrived on these brushes with difficulty – against her sense of humour and mores both; and Hito was good at not wearing either one out. She was hypothetically – an axiomatic distinction from theoretically – aware that their affinity didn’t run on bawdy dialogue alone, but viewed it as some of her squad mates had viewed the Lunaformer back on the mountain. It went, so who cared if the cells weren’t charged evenly across the battery? The purpose was being fulfilled, and that was what Moon rabbits revered.
A tweak of irony – a silvery-ish lining – it was what Seiran pointedly didn’t know that made this, current mission of hers easier. She didn’t know Hito’s past, and so their interactions remained unspotted by unmeant connotations. She hadn’t known him to be incapable of or unwilling to fix anything around the house by himself, and so she could zero in on performing her best while he swept and maintained the nest. She couldn’t guess at the emotives undergirding his at times vague, at times evasive words, but that… that was situation normal. No bending physiology’s ear.
Still and all. There was something Seiran could do worse than at the very least ask about.
( ) “Was this place a restaurant?” ( ) “How do you feel about kissing?”
>>43935 Yeah… the nitwit that I am, I didn’t notice – and once I did, wasn’t sure whether to scramble to fix it. Too late now… >>43936 Last sane man ITT.
Well, I’m going to give it one more day, in case people haven’t picked up on the update due to my cock-up – then call it and start writing. Sorry for that fortnight gap, while we’re at it. Several things went down at the same time and debilitated my bunning ability. November is a bad month. I should know; I was born in one.