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The veil had fallen.

Someone was bound to pick it up.

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(X) “Was this place a restaurant?”

And it was surely of more consequence than the extortion of kisses for services rendered. Notwithstanding it was Hito rendering those today – waiting on Seiran with tea and entertainment – making her the obligated party, thusly to be extorted, and not—

… Not making any Earthed sense, first and foremost. It wouldn’t have been right, in any event. Not to expect affection; even less so, to demand it. It wasn’t a thing to… to transact away like dango. No matter the memory of Ringo’s lips clamouring to be painted over.

Seiran turpentined her expectations. They came out that special tint of ruddy green you got when a Moon rabbit was late to the commissary for her favourite flavour rations because she’d been voluntold to secure everybody else’s first.

Hito, being anyhow too blue-blooded to, not to forget psy-dull, didn’t remark on the change in emotive palette. Seiran didn’t hold that against him. Not least because she’d sooner have held against him other things, which weren’t receiving the privilege either.

Instead, she asked this, no less important thing: “So. This house of yours. Was it a restaurant, originally?”

Hito raised a brow. Just the one. Probably it’d take a kiss a greater revelation than Seiran’s exhibition of intelligence for both of them to upheave at once. “Pieced it together after all, have we?”

Seiran tucked her knees up to her chin. “… I didn’t,” she grumbled. “Ringo did. As near as Earth it instantly. The holes in the patio floor set her off.”

“Forget about those myself most days,” said Hito. “Until I blessed-near lose a toe. Sharp rabbit we have on our hands, anywise.”

“A cutting hazard,” Seiran agreed. “But that’s just one part. The big hall. The racks in the washroom. This canteen-sized kitchen,” she pointed out with a nod. “They add up.”


“So, was it?” Seiran wanted to know.

The ash-camo-clad man looked past the Moon rabbit. At something, somewhere – not here, nor her. There was a brief deepening of the endemic laugh-lines – like a rookie quietly pulsing for permission to hydrate in the middle of manoeuvres.

“… No,” Hito divulged eventually. “It was not quite a restaurant.”

Seiran fixed him with a look of her own. This one more target-precise. “No?”

“Never took off, is why,” Hito explained, flatly. “Never got to go. Was a week or so from opening when things… went bad. Afterwise, everything got put off and off and off and, in the end, I put it all to rest. Sold the furniture, sold the tableware, the imperishables, cutlery, the décor – what wasn’t nailed down, went. Would have sold the ‘big hall’ as ready if this annexe hadn’t been mortared to the backside and I didn’t need a bed away from the relations. It was the clan’s to start with, so they could go and… vacate. Anywise,” he crisply concluded, “that is how I’ve been so ‘well off’ as to afford dango on the daily, Seiran. I sold off a dream. It was a lofty dream, and I’m still me behind the name, so it’s lasted me a while.” He spread the sooty hands. “That’s the restaurastory. Honest.”

And a knurling on his rich man character if so, but Seiran descried one last narrative gap.

“What went bad?”

Hito breathed in. Then, mirroring Seiran too closely for comfort, eyes shut, Hito breathed out. “… Someone,” he said, “wasn’t here to crack my reins anymore.”

“Someone, meaning a woman?” Seiran ventured, surprising herself almost as much thereby.

He opened his eyes again and gave her the smile of a buck caught in the loosely unspecified act. “Suppose you are one, too.”

I’ve been trying to be, thought Seiran. “What does that mean?” she said, even so.

Hito jogged his shoulders. “Means you’re soft and easy on the eyes, but that’s not important. Seiran,” he stressed, sterner of the foolishly smudged face; “it’s history. You needn’t concern yourself with any of it. Get me drunk, and right, I might tell you more – but it was years and years ago and doesn’t… weighs in little and less on you being here. I’m glad of what we’ve got going, too. Whoever was there before, well, she isn’t coming back. Only you here, now.

“I’d have loved to hug you,” he added, standing up, dusting off, “since I’ve found you’re more amenable then, but for reasons present, I shan’t. So, please, take me at my word – for the time being.”

Seiran, who wasn’t positive what to make of that final statement – else than a vague promissory note – followed him up. Hito scanned about the floor and the grey patches thereon, then performed the usual downturn of ambitions scratched up by passing interest.

“… Tell you what,” he said; “forget this. Sweep up later. I’ll wash the mug, change into something clean and join you. Oughtn’t to keep that friend of yours waiting. Might start prying up the floors for lost menu prints.”

“That’s Ringo,” concurred Seiran, thinking, That should have been me.

Hito sighed. “We have some… interesting friends, don’t we, you and I?”


They commiserated silently over their lot: a pair of pure, unstinting souls, yes sir, in a world of crookery. An addendum to which, Hito hiked up his sleeves to unveil two spans of undirtied forearm. He stooped from his reassuring height – and scissored those around Seiran’s waist. Not a hug. Certainly not close enough to undersign Ringo’s surmise of their relationship in soot and ash. But it was there. A pulse without a pulse. You’re here; I’m here. That’s what counts.

Seiran brushed her fingers on the rough, tanned skin. The warm, un-Lord-like skin she could, sometimes, just occasionally, fool herself she could read the man’s emotions through.

Calm. Consolation. Something else, too – an unfamiliar tingle at the edges of her lexicon.

This at least Ringo hadn’t overreckoned. Seiran was fine. The mission was making headway as well as it could weeks in and with Gunner Seiran at the stick.

Hito let go, straightening out, negotiating his dirty hands around the Moon rabbit’s hips. There was a meaningful tilt of the head exit-wise.

Seiran gave back an ear-bobbing, up-and-down response. “Copy.”

She left the kitchen – maybe not brighter-eyed, maybe not much bushier-tailed, but on top of what little of the world a Moon rabbit was able to straddle.

Armed with newfound intel, she re-appraised the large, dark hall as she stalked through. Yes. There was easily space enough for tables. You might in fact put up to three under each of the roof supports; candelabra or lanterns could be fastened up to the latter, rather than the tables, to minimise the fire hazard. A counter could be set up by the annexe’s door to deposit dirty dishes on, so they may be retrieved conveniently for washing. Here and… yes, there could have been stations for waitpersons, and over there, in the open centre, family tables for groups. It would’ve been out and away the grandest restaurant Seiran had been invited to, thus far.

Earth it. The very first she’d visited, Hito had greeted her at the door and taken her straight to a table. Talk about verisimilitude.

Outside, Ringo wasn’t tearing up the patio planks for evidence. She was hunched over, palms on her bare knees, hubbling and bubbling trouble – Seiran was sure – at a duo of stick-wielding, human striplings. The same homegrown heroes who’d chased the Eagle Ravi case officer like a common rabbit previously. They must have run out of stones to turn over. They screamed and scattered upon spotting Seiran – and fled down the gravel entranceway at courageous speed.

Ringo smiled after them till they swerved around the hedge. Then she faced her subordinate with a grin on that did not a thing for Seiran’s earlier, should-have-been off-the-cuff jibes.

“How’d it go?” she demanded to know.

Seiran slumped onto a chair. Here it comes. “How did what go?”

“Come, girl,” said Ringo, ensconcing herself opposite. “You hopped off to grab a chair, returned chairless, and now you’ve this thoughtful sheen on your doe little eyes. Learned something about this big, blue dirtball, did you? About man?”

“I learned,” admitted Seiran, “that this wasn’t a restaurant.”


“Never dusted off,” she explained. “It was about to. Then, somebody critical went… missing. The mobile equipment was all liquidated. Now it’s just an empty building.”

Ringo whistled. “Here today, Earthed tomorrow,” she supposed. “But I’m really more after findin’ out if you let the damn man a go at those lovely lips, girl.”

Seiran starched her… well, not the butt, not in this instance, but someplace. She’d scented the question coming on even without an active Lattice; now, it was a matter of consigning the precooked reply. Ringo winked at her to come clean, which hadn’t featured in the script. Nevertheless.

“I—” Seiran began. “I want it… to happen… naturally,” she eked out. “Spontaneously. It should be his idea. Um. As much as mine. I don’t want to press-gang it. If it happens – when it happens – it happens. I’ll give him my lips – happily. No worries. No worries.”

She hadn’t meant to burst-fire that ultimate bit, but there it was – as well convincing as Gunner Seiran could make it. Convincing enough, anyhow, to give her ex-XO pause.

Indeed, Ringo opened her mouth to speak. Then Ringo failed to speak and smacked it shut it again, which wasn’t an eventuality you would’ve imagined from Ringo till the two of you had done several tours. Ringo was a prodigy at keeping mum; she was just sparing with the talent on vocal frequencies.

“Wow,” she promptly recuperated. And if that wasn’t a splash of peach-pink on her cheeks, then Seiran’s weren’t beet-red. “I— wow. Can’t fault that. Can’t fault that at all. Huh. So, Gunner Seiran was a romantic all along. Who would’ve thoughted…?”

“That is how she is,” Gunner Seiran lied. “The light and the dark side. So… yes.”

“And he,” Ringo presumed, “is that patient of a man, is he.”

“… That is how he is.”

“A match made on Earth. I’ll be.”

Yielding which insight, the ever-bereted Eagle Ravi slipped it off to winnow the colour from her face. The remaining hand was briskly employed by the teapot, wherefrom Ringo poured herself a polite half-cup of expensive brew. Thinking again, she brimmed up Seiran’s as well.

“… Sorry,” said Seiran, as thanks, “for being such a disaster.”

Ringo shook her exposed head. “If you’re a disaster, then what am I? No stress, girl. You’re you; that’s how you got where you are. If you’d been any other rabbit, we wouldn’t be havin’ us this conversation. Albeit, I’m going to have to ask, specifics presenting,” she added, re-nesting the beret, “how you hit it off from sir-slash-miss to you strutting about like you’re the maître d’hôtel. Seems like more ‘n a hop and a skip. No offence.”

“Time and persistence,” said Seiran, omitting the flukes, slips and accidents. “Um. It’d be best if you asked Hito. He said he’d be with us in a tic. I was mostly a passenger in this story, anyway.”

“Ah, but we are.” Ringo flashed her teeth over the lip of her cup. “We are going to ask him all right. And then, girl, we’re going to compare the two versions for discrepancies. Interrogation one-oh-one, right there. Well? Get to talkin’.”

Seiran heaved an infantryrabbit’s sigh. She eyed her chintzy, loudly slurping friend, conscientiously remembering she was looking at the Earth Recon’s acting commander, communications officer and a member of the Moon’s intelligence. At least, that was what it said on Ringo’s tags, and Seiran wasn’t going to argue with somebody else’s inanimate objects.

Word by word, she got to talkin’.
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Calling it now, that woman is coming back, and she was probably the Kuufuku's daughter that he was adopted to marry.

If she doesn't come back, I'm calling shenanigans.
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It was now late evening. Not too dissimilar from a number of lately late evenings, but nonetheless it was this one. Unmistakeably.

Seiran flopped. She hadn’t even spent a fraction of the preceding however many hours actively dialoguing; Ringo had, once again amazing Seiran that a rabbit who’d spent her days de-socialising and riffling through reports in her solitary tent could have such a frightening lung capacity. Ringo filled a room, and not just vertically. They had moved back indoors, from the patio to the dinette, no sooner than the schizophrenically rheumatic air outside had threatened the senior Eagle Ravi’s knees, and Ringo had filled it up in moments. She and Hito had turned long co-connoisseurs of the town’s breakfast nooks and dinner crannies ahead the first hour had even been out, while Seiran… for the major part, had been Seiran.

That was not, per se, a bad thing. No. Not per se. Talking had never been Seiran’s forte nor a Gunner’s job when you kicked the nitty-gritty. She wasn’t jealous because her two – hitherto exclusive – friends had stuck together like flour and water. She was jealous because they’d stuck together like flour and water without her especially stirring.

Not that she would have. She’d barely wedged a dozen sentences in, and already she was feeling as though someone had very precisely knocked every one of her nerve endings with a microscopic chiropractor’s hammer. She was sick with tension and sick of being tense.

Earthed Ringo…

But the worst was over. The danger of kisses – hypothetical or happened – being brought back up was gone. Hito, with whom Ringo had requested “a last powwow, one-on-one, please, ‘preciate it,” was seeing her off to the front door, whereas Seiran had been left behind to chin the table. So, the table she chinned.

They’d had powwowpportunity enough already, the cheats – not in a loyalty sense; just broadly speaking – when Seiran had excused herself to the washroom, too. She’d heard their voices out in the hallway en the return route.

“—have a term for these sorts of things, don’t we?” Ringo’s had been ironising.

“It,” had come Hito’s level reply, “isn’t that—”

“‘Simple?’” There’d been a sound exactly like a Moon rabbit managing without a spray nozzle. “How psychological.

“… ‘Convenient,’ Miss Ringo, was my intended excuse.”

“Cons, both of you,” Ringo had summed up. “Take a tip from a real caring soul—”

Seiran had refused further eavesdropping. If Ringo had something to pick apart about them, she could start by picking them apart literally.

The fact she hadn’t was a bit of vindication in the gooey soup of scrutiny.

And now there were footfalls.

Seiran perked up, sitting straighter, and smoothed out her ears. Shortly, Hito re-entered the dinette. The man of the hour said blessedly nothing, resorting instead to a specialised look which could be – and was – interpreted by the issuer and the issuee each to their personal reassurance. He crossed the room’s length and disappeared into the kitchen. Whence he emerged, moments afterwards, with what was liable to be their last, hot drinks of the night. He placed these on the table and silently took up position behind Seiran’s chair.

Seiran counted tics. Two… Six… Ten…

And then, as reliable as the old knife you went for when there was nobody around to judge your savoir-kitchenware, his palms slid off the backrest and wrapped around Seiran’s shoulders.

The Moon rabbit mooned.

She should never have found out a man’s hands could feel so comforting. Throughout her military career – nay, her military life – she had taken no solace but for that in duties well done. It would have been impudent, never mind impure, to go wiggling up between some buck’s arms when so much good had yet remained undone for her colleagues, the unit, the Moon. How could she have anticipated the bliss of having somebody else – bigger, stronger, yet so very gentle – knead the fatigue out of her muscles? The wonderful sensation of these dextrous, masculine fingers pressing into her body through the fabric of her slipover? She had never tried to imagine what it might be like.

She needn’t try imagining anymore. Only not to melt too much into the too-intimate touch. Seiran canted her head as Hito’s thumbs dug into spots where they felt best every single time. She surrendered, for a minute, to her lowest of low instincts – and enjoyed the massage.

Only for a minute. No longer. Gunner Seiran knew this was not for her. She hadn’t solicited it; Hito had, of his own volition, now as before – out of his own, ineffable needs. And that was well. It was well. It was the mission. Seiran hadn’t forgotten, not even worn out of her wits. She couldn’t.

… Still, for just that one minute – just the one – she permitted herself to suffer his whimsy. Till she unwound enough to remember who, what and where she was. Till then.

Then hadn’t yet arrived when Hito side-lit her attention further by commenting:

“She is a handful, your friend.”

“… Mm. Maybe yours,” Seiran murmured back. Tic, tic, tic… “… What did she need you alone for, anyway?”

“Mostly?” supposed Hito. “To tell me she would rip my tail off together with the wossnames if I ever get on your wrong side.” He paused. “… Thought I didn’t have a tail,” he admitted, uncertainly. “Or a single wossname. Anywise. Very protective of you, that girl.”

“I… find that difficult to believe.”

Hito rolled her shoulders for her. “Wish I shared your conviction, my wossnames do,” he confessed. “Well, but really… Had actually heard of Miss Ringo, way back, I was going to say. Should have worked this out sooner. Ten parts out of ten sure, now.”

“Really?” said Seiran, noncommittally. “Huh. Small world.”

“Small town. Remember Gin?”

“Almost didn’t,” Seiran sighed. “What about him?”

“Well. When he was down one of his… deeper troughs—” Hito fairly acetified the word, “—he ended up, hmm, involved with a youkai rabbit. Lived to tell the tale – which he did, being Gin. That was before I got to know Seiran,” he clarified, “let alone Miss Ringo. Suspected it all but had to be one of you, what with the, er, descriptions – except, you’d have snapped his arm on a table edge before events… got to where they got. I have no doubt.”

“Which was where?” obliged Seiran, who hadn’t a havable doubt either.

Hito tucked down her collar so that his thumbs may touch the nape of her neck directly. “Hmm. Not sure how much of this I ought to repeat.”

( ) About Ringo’s indiscretions? All of it.
( ) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
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[x] About Ringo’s indiscretions? All of it.
Fizzy-boy button must be pressed always.
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.

This is a Seiran story.
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you're mum is an Seiran story lmao
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(x) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.

It's just the two of them now, no need to ruin the private moment by talking about their friends' raunchiness. Plus, the other option sounds more like it'd belong on an /at/ side thread and I'm not too enthused about Ringo lewds anyhow..
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.

I would so love the naughty Ringus side-story, but >43956 is right in that it'd probably be best left to an /at/ companion thread.

In-universe though, nuh-uh, you're not talking about another woman when you're massaging your gf's shoulders, lad. Besides, Seiran already knows the gist of it — and more than she cares to, probably.
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
Let Ringo herself tell the tale later
She'll double down on the details Hito wouldn't want to mention
Captcha: 1ringosoft
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(x) About Ringo’s indiscretions? All of it.

I want the salacious bunny gossip to make up for the incredibly depressing fact that we will never get an /at/ companion story with bunny lewds
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>we will never get an /at/ companion story with bunny lewds

There are few who have mastered the art of 2hu lewds as thoroughly as OP here has, brother. Do not lose hope.
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>having hope
Oh, you sweet summer child.
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.
Ringo's landed already, so the story can't be about her.
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(X) None. Enough about Ringo. Seiran. Seiran was here.

Seiran was a good sister-in-arms as a rule, ready to leap into the firing lane of criticism for her compeers. Not tonight. She was also a Moon rabbit, thusly a glutton for gossip, but also not tonight. Tonight, the bad apple had spoilt not only the bunch but Seiran’s blood as well. Apple pie was in the notional offing.

“None,” she said, brushing a cheek on Hito’s forearm to continue. “No point. I was told the need-to-know; it was already lots. She was more than a mote ashamed of it, too. So, let’s shush about that – today.”

Hito’s fingertips gave her bared neck a tentative squeeze. “Not,” he said, tactfully, “in the old boy’s rendition, she wasn’t, but very good. Ought to assume some poetic license. The takeaway I was, excuse me, cooking up, Seiran,” he added on, “was that we have possibly our… interesting friends to thank.”

“… For what?”

“For you, me, being here,” said Hito, punctuating along on her sore spots. “Or had you divined somewise it was this lotus-eater’s original idea to court a youkai rabbit with a dango shop? Come, now.”

“Mm. No,” allowed Seiran. “Not desperate enough.”

“… Too right. Then we owe Gin a drink for blazing the trail. And Miss Ringo for… er, right, another colourful metaphor. Maybe not both at once, though. Might leave ruddy stains on the floor.”

“I’ll pul— toss her an invite next time we touch bases, if you’d like,” Seiran proposed, jealousy bubbling to the surface like a simile. “If you’d like. Then you two can have a drink together.”

“I’d like,” said Hito, carefully, “for you to do as you like, Seiran.”

“Mm.” I know. Out of line. “Copy.”

He was Seiran-vvy enough not to comment further. Seiran eased up and raised her arms to feel at his face. Not as an apology; they were beyond, at this stage, begging each other forgiveness for being themselves. She’d long internalised even such a trivial thing somehow gave him satisfaction, and it cost her nothing – sans her anyhow mucky Moon rabbit’s pride – to give up to him that part of her body. That was all. She felt out his lips, hedged in by days of coolly unshaved scrub, and let him to brush those on whichever fingers were favourite today. Which turned out every last one and the inside of her palm in a slow, doting sequence.

These kisses, apparently, did not count.

They did, as he’d said, have a good thing going. Seiran couldn’t… well, no, she could have asked for an easier man to keep content, but the Earth would have had its work cut out to provide. Who else would’ve taken upon themselves a Moon rabbit who hardly provided back? Hito, by contrast, was a handrail. A solid, metal handrail you could bend a routine around. Hers had been. And for all that, Seiran…

… Seiran had all along been aware something had been missing. She wasn’t ignorant; she’d read books and danced with a buck, once. Only, a Moon rabbit of her stripes acclimatised quickly by necessity. The small, daily surprises were a challenge still, though expected and welcome. The long, silent stretches in Seiran’s conversation? They’d learnt to tide them over with less wit-taxing alternatives – or not to mind at all. The marginally moral, physical contact? She consented to it each and every time through reciprocation. Nor had Hito strained these boundaries a single one.

Safe and spoilt, Gunner Seiran had loafed on her laurels. Complacence had settled on her like sediment on the bottom of a soy sauce jug. It’d taken Ringo’s unbottling to kick it up.

Where had gone the Seiran who shone when breaking her back? From sweat if nothing else?

Here, thought that Seiran, inside. She is here. Smothered under those big, dependable hands of a man too politic to say when she was disenchanting him. That Seiran squared her back… and not because the hands had squeezed down on her shoulders as if they’d meant to wring the sweat out manually.

“… Are you disappointed?” asked That Seiran. “That I’m not like her?”

Hito was gallant enough to feign blindness. “What is she you’re not?” he asked back. “Chatty to a fault besides?”

“Touchy-feely,” murmured Seiran. “Cheerful. Lax. Feminine.”

“You aren’t?” His voice trembled with doubt.

Seiran assayed another place for her hands, now the man’s mouth was on duty kissing up to her with a preposition. Hooked around his sturdy forearms, halfway up his sleeves, assayed very nicely.

“I’ve been with Seiran from the word ‘waaah,’” That Seiran reminded. “Never knew her to be touchy or feely.”

A funny-mocking sort of sound was her censure. “You will excuse me,” said Hito, with a smile she could hear, “for undermining a lifelong conviction, but you are the single biggest cuddle bug in this mountain range. Maybe even neighbouring ones.”

“I… am not.”

“No?” Hito squeezed on. “Must be. Heard no stories of other youkai rabbits taking every care to get three hugs each day and not a half fewer.”

“… It’s a neat number.”

“Suppose so, suppose so. Then again, you fell asleep right here in my arms two evenings ago, Seiran, which I cannot tell whether it counts as a one, extended hug or several separate for each snuggle.”

“I was tired,” complained Seiran, a small voice of logic in the incongruous hullabaloo that were the various physiological necessities. And she hadn’t fallen asleep, either; all she’d committed to was a wink to rest her eyes, which’d run away with them quite on its own. Certainly, she hadn’t planned on pinning the poor man to the hard, wood chair for two hours on end.

“And it was lovely,” Hito opined, possibly in disassociation from his fundament. “Anywise, Seiran, could be you do not talk much—”

“—or with sense—”

“—about how you feel,” he plugged away despite the interruption, “but your arms, ears, the dimples in your cheeks – they do for you. And it is as well. Touchy-feeliness can be, whatsit, un-verbal just the same. Not everything needs saying; I’ll take a hug, two – bless it, a dozen – over the floweriest poem. Think you would, too. There is nothing wrong with that, Seiran. Saves on the ink, at least. Or the breath. Two precious resources, those.”

Seiran saved on both. What was there to verbalise? That this was anyway the only way she knew how to give back to him without bungling it terribly? He would’ve argued, and that was a no-go. Worse, he could have won the argument. That was an even noer-go.

“… Cheerful?” she tried the next accessible angle.

Which turned out a straight scrape to the point. “You hum when you cook,” said Hito. “Sing, occasionally. You can be cheerful, Seiran. Skip and spin, even. Just need to be dunked in your element and left alone. That’s the pip in the pith. All have our own happy places – not all in plain sight. It’s no sin, tending toward solitude. Happy is where happy makes you. But, guessing,” he tacked on, plainly hitting some internal limit on eloquence, “none of this’s really what you were picking at, is it, Seiran?”


“You were asking,” he went on, “if I’m disappointed that we haven’t jumped in bed like our lax, cheerful friends.”

“… Mm.”

Hito released her shoulders, eliciting from Seiran her own, private tug of disappointment. It was made up for without delay by Hito’s broad hands gliding all down her arms to cradle her compacter pair. He breathed out, tickling her slouched ears, and squeezed her fingers.

“… A little,” he admitted.

Seiran tried not to deflate.

“But,” Hito added.

“… But what?”

“But that’s just it,” he explained. “A little disappointed, Seiran. Know flattery gives you wrinkles from here to Moriya, so I won’t belabour it, but you are a treat for the eyes. Curvy, big eyes, soft and smooth all over; and I am a man, yes, sorry if I’ve played you false thus far. Wouldn’t have been one anywise if I said no to a scuffle in the sheets. With you, above all. But that’s just it, Seiran,” he repeated, petting her resigned hands with his large thumbs; “I’ve been by myself for a… right, fine spell. You not jumping in bed with me is, excuse me, business as usual. No change from the long norm. So, please, don’t go imagining I’m like Gin, grappling with my gonads every night I bed down alone.”

Seiran grappled with an impure, hare-brained snicker. Then didn’t.

“Mm. Khm. Copy,” she managed to reply. “… That, though,” she complained. “That’s unfair. You know? When you do that. Serious one tic, then out come the… the gonads.”

“Hate it myself,” Hito sympathised. “Supposed to keep my laces strait and my nose in the air. Gonads, the things I say to entertain you.”

This time, she nudged the back of her head into his stomach. “Shut, you.”

The man inhaled rebelliously, but Seiran gave him a tilted-back, upside-down look which put continued entertainment in perspective. He smiled, though inoffensively.

“We’ve both had to work through some misconceptions, Seiran,” he said, again in the same, ungrudging tone, while Gunner Seiran strove not to interject something about “conception;” “there are still some remaining, as has been made plain, but that, also, is fine. We can work through those, too. We don’t have to jump anywhere. I’m not in it for the curves, bounce or bunny ears. I’m in it for you. Seiran.”

“Seiran is the ears,” noted Seiran.

“And the curves, and the bounce,” Hito conceded, “but she needn’t endear herself to me with those, specially. Time was, I’d reconciled with never holding someone close again. With you, it just happened. Naturally. Something should’ve been infeasible. That is why. What we’ve got here. It’s plenty.” He shepherded the pauses with light, unobjectionable pecks of up along her lolling, left ear. “Small steps, Seiran. Are fine. Sleep in a hammock myself, anywise, and don’t keep the guest futons aired out either, so be a bit difficult to throw you onto one without forewarning.”

“… And do small steps,” asked Seiran, ducking under this yet another, sudden gonad quip, “make you happy?”

“Half a lifetime ago, I resolved to be happy with any little thing comes my way,” said Hito. “This? This is more than little. I am happy. Would be happier,” he stressed, “if you were happier too, Seiran.”

Seiran breathed in.

+I’m trying.+

There was, of course, no feedback.

Seiran shut her eyes. She was trying. She had been. The mission had been all about little else. Had her ex-XO not prised the lid off of it, she would’ve believed it future-proof. Now, the metaphorical pickle jar was forever unscrewed.

On no cue she might have given, Hito’s fingers slipped free of hers. Without a word of danger-close, the man bent as low as Seiran’s bounce. The Moon rabbit responded by rote, equally eloquent – looping her arms behind his neck. Hito lifted her out of the chair with minimal effort; a heft, a twist and a thump, and he’d finagled himself once again between Seiran and her seat. A big, snug, self-heating cushion with an embrace you could get lost in.

Seiran, however, was recon. Ways around were what she knew. And, the only one presenting was forward. She left her arms where they were and sank, sank against the man’s warm, welcome bulk. Hito drew her closer still by shoulder and hip, flattening out some of those contentious curves. Notwithstanding his outspoken disappointment. Notwithstanding that her time for self-indulgence had long ticked over into reprehensibleness. What would’ve ground her teeth to Moondust a month back now made her wish to cram herself and the man inside an atmospheric regulator, so that the perfect… ly serviceable moment could be preserved forever.

Who was watching, anyhow?

… Seiran was. Seiran was, and she was her own worst watcher.

“… I don’t deserve you, do I?” she asked quietly of Hito’s beating heart.

A large, gentle hand touching down on her head and thumbing the base of her ear preceded the answer. “… No,” Hito agreed at last. “Nobody does, really. Unfortunately for you, Seiran, you gave me a chance.”

“My luck,” she sighed back, on reflex.

“All mine,” he corrected.

Seiran holstered a retort. She didn’t want to prove him false. To reaffirm what’d already been patent to anybody with a pair of ears. That Seiran, the turncoat, was as deplorable a partner as she’d been an Eagle Ravi, failing to supply the customary intimacy – or even think of it – till a third-party intervention. Whether someone like her could supply such was… a question. A question of no substance, now, anyway, beside her amatory lapse.

And the dustiest, Earthed thing about it was, Hito didn’t mind. He truly, veritably did not. Here was a man – a transient, impure Earthling – who’d marched lockstep with Seiran’s greenhorn motions and never once raised a fuss. Never rushed the clumsy Moon rabbit along but for kick-boosting their courtship on (what Seiran had learned later to be) a misestimated impulse to help. A selfless soul who’d put Seiran’s happiness before its own.

It was a blessing. It was a curse. It was what military life hadn’t prepared her for whatsoever.

That four-letter word dreamed by bunny-rabbits who don’t yet know better.

“… I am here,” Hito’s deep, deeply comforting voice shook the thought’s black foundations; “I do what I do, because I want to, Seiran. And I want you, for you, to do the same.”

And what is that? Seiran heard Seiran question inside. What is it I want? What’d Gunner Seiran expected from Earthly life? What had Miss Bunny wished for on Moonless nights? Seiran, the dangonista – where was she headed? What did she want?

What should she want?

… There was no easy, mass-issued answer. None – except that which Seiran had always known. The only one she ever had.

To do good. By someone. By everyone. Anyone.

And that… that, Hito’s breath in her hair was urgently saying, she was. Not to the Moon, not to her squad mates, not to her customers, but good was being done. Maybe not even to him; for certain not in a futon or hammock or a manner he might’ve preferred from a soft, curvy Moon rabbit. Or one she might, but feared to try.

But it was good. And, for the time being, this would do. In this man’s arms, it was enough.

That time’s being wouldn’t last another week.
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Really, I relate hard to Seiran here. It's so much easier to just make your about what others want than to figure out what you really want out of it.

And, well, gotta respect the hungry boi for taking things at a pace and generally being understanding. I guess I'd worry if there were limits to that if I were Seiran. Hmm...
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Is life administering an arse-kicking? I hope things are okay, writerman.
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Seiran waits for the right man for her wrong bloomers.
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Afterwards, he’d shooed her home. Which wasn’t a thing conventionally done to Moon rabbits one desired to scuffle in the bedsheets with but, as had proven, another one of Seiran’s own-doings.

“You said,” Hito had acquitted himself, “to whatsit, to dismiss you iffen we run on too late an hour. Since the lamps fiddled, right, with your cicadan—”

“—circadian rhythm,” Seiran had set right. Then grumbled, “… They do. I can hardly wake up with the Sun anymore, way we’ve been on midwatch every night.”

“Then consider yourself dismissed,” the man had said, the clinch of his arms everything except dismissive.


“I am dismissing you, Seiran,” he’d made it clear.

“… Mm.”

A little while later yet, she would let herself be in proper course dismissed, conducted to the front door, undismissed for the span of a good-bye and lastly released into the night. Any intermediate reader of body language would’ve seen the wrinkly, grammatical clues this hadn’t been fully to Hito’s like, yet Seiran had been able to prevail upon the man that no nets were spread in the dark for a (purported) youkai rabbit. That she could walk and had, indeed, done so unassisted on diverse occasions before. Not to forget it’d let her cool her ears off after much too much (i.e. still not enough) body language practice.

That had been the light side of it.

The days flowed by. Or, to be rather more accurate, slushed by. A freak occurrence of serial Spring showers had turned the valley town’s streets into a brown morass and Seiran’s business into much the same. The dawn – inasmuch as it was nominally brighter than the preceding evening – of one of those days saw her abstain thusly from acquiring curls in her hair at the outdoor, courtyard kitchen and cash in instead on a squirrelled-away promise. She donned a topically drab raincoat and went wading out.

Manning – and seldom did a phrase require any less of a turn – the bar of his eatery, Jirou the barman eyed her efforts to shake the coat dry or in any case less runny from the professional afar. A handful of breakfasters with the look of the vocationally put-upon were sprinkled around the tables, prompting Seiran to leave the hood up for polite surreptitiousness.

“Scrambled eggs and ham this morn, bread plus,” warned the barman, while she ascended one of the lightning-rod stools. “In or out?”

Seiran had but to take in a whiff of the fugitive kitchen fug to know the answer was a nod and a more wolf- than rabbit-ish, “In.”

“Right you are, Miss.”

He performed the proprietorial flap-ducking, kitchen-disappearing business – to re-emerge tics afterwards with a varnished wooden plate piled on by white-and-yellow mush Seiran of pre-Earth years would have blanched at. Now, she had to satisfy with resolutely unthinking whence it’d originally come out of. A slice of milk bread, which ostensibly and olfactorily had to have been toasted in the same pan as the eggs, was proffered beside. Seiran nodded her ravenous thanks...

… Then caught herself by the ea— the tai— whatever it was humans caught themselves by conventionally when stumbling on their own lapses.

“Um,” she said, suspecting all at once as she did that a man she knew had perhaps rubbed off on her a bit much. “Maybe I ought to… ought to apologise.”

Jirou, an old hand with the Hito personality, concisely upheaved his shoulders. “Sure you shouldn’t, Miss mochi-pound,” he opined; “but, for conversation’s sake, oo, yes, bloody well you ought. What for?”

Seiran gave a stiff little smile which, on anyone marginally more sociable, might’ve lasted marginally longer. “Thing is,” she hurried on after it, “thing is, you gave me that rebate – as a fellow restaurateur, right? Yet, I’ve hardly come in since… um, since I did. Not very fellow – is it?”

The barman appeared to weigh this. “Was more or less that, yea.”

“I’m sorry.”

More or less a rebate, Miss,” he disclaimed with a twinkle. Wherefrom the twinkle had sprung, Seiran couldn’t say; nothing about the sentence had seemed to imply it. “Were I more inclined toward journalistic truth, Miss,” Jirou cordially explained, noticing her abstinence of return fire, “I would incline me toward ‘bribe’ therein.”

Seiran scanned the words for play. “I… don’t follow.”

The barman flourished a complex, arcane gesture with one butcher block hand which conveyed, to Seiran, approximately dust-all. “Take it so, if you will,” conveyed the vocal component of the spell. “A couple a’ eggs and a fistful of oats every now and then’s no fee whatsoever when an old pain-in-the-behind’s to be taken out of your aforesaid behind by a woman with plenty behind o’ her own to spare. Now, whether you come to collect or no, Miss, is no skin off my big nose; my good deed’s done, and that’s what counts. I can tell my Lady Minoriko next I pray that I’ve fed the needful and the deserving – with conscience unbesmirched.” He stooped to what must’ve been meant to be cahoots. “Truth to tell,” he said, hush-hush, shielding his lips from being read from afar by a keen-eyed goddess, “if you don’t come in, Miss, that’s a few fewer eggs off the shelf at part-price. You’re yourself a purveyor of foodstuffs; ought to appreciate the blessin’s in that, what?”

Seiran considered it. Then, Seiran gave it a grave and slightly grudging nod. You could hardly argue with a twinkle this economical.

Jirou bobbed his brick of a chin in the acknowledgement of a moralistic debate well-won and squared up. “Japes aside,” he said, quickly, as though they really had been, “if you’re willin’ to condescend to let our Hito aggrieve you in our stead, well, Miss, the least I can give in recompense is the odd meal… at forty-per-cent-off, that is. No?”

Although Seiran was by no metric a social butterfly, she had nevertheless amassed an impressive collection of inklings throughout her reading military career. One of those now brought a pair of discomfited fingers up to a lock of her hair. “It’s more like I’m giving him grief. Isn’t it?” she asked.

“Ah, yes,” the barman succinctly validated her suspicions; “I do seem to recall him weeks ago storming in here near promulgating the end of the world. Well, his face were, anywise. Lady Shizuha would’ve loved to paint it.”

“Was it about,” Seiran inquired, resigned, raking her embarrassed memory, “‘… obtrusion and indignity?’”

Jirou chortled right youkai-ishly. “Would’ve loved to paint it,” he repeated. “Gave him a piece of my mind, by way of course; and methinks, Miss, both of us’re intimate with how that one unwound.”

Seiran, who wasn’t 100 points aboard with “intimate,” nor about to spoke so long and transparent a friendship, not least out of principle, let her gaze sink glumly to her forty-per-cent-off bribe. It steamed and gooed deliciously on the varnished, wooden plate.

“… Think of it in this ugly wise, Miss,” Jirou said suddenly from across the bar. “Any grief you give the old boy – that’s grief he ain’t producing himself. It’s all other people out there. Might be he’s better off with just you.”

“… That is ugly,” Seiran concurred.

Worldly men, forsooth, need not apprehend humanity’s coarse underbelly,” recited the barman, “for they themselves, yea, are its favoured scratchers.” He snorted with the celerity of well-seasoned cynicism. “My Lady have mercy on me. Here, let us blather no longer. My – which is to say, your – eggs, Miss, are getting cold. I’ll just go scrub me some pots and pans and what-have-yous. As we do.”

With which professional insight, the nigh on rectangular man retreated past the flap of his steamy kitchen.

Seiran would’ve breathed her relief… except, she found as she’d willed it, she hadn’t all that hard-pressing of a need to. Surprised, albeit not to the point of stultification, Gunner Seiran followed Hito’s designated confessor’s recommendation and attacked her plate of scrambled eggs. This was definite fork territory; and, while the wood-made one provided was as clumsy an instrument as Seiran’s conversation, for once at an Earthen table, her basic training flashed an ear.

Some fifteen minutes (and narrowly a fifth that number of intrusive thoughts regarding hens and behinds) after, and a diligently forked- and breaded-clean plate thumped the proprietor’s prized counter. The auditory lure worked a treat; Jirou loomed soon out of his temple’s sacristy: a foamy mug in one hand, a writing board in the other. He set both down, charcoaled on a sum and slid it over to Seiran, a finger clandestinely across his mouth.

Seiran silently paid the requisite count of damp coins from the recesses of her raincoat and almost stood to leave. The mug being prodded somewhat pointedly along her azimuth held her by the prudence.

“Coffee,” Jirou clued, “with cream enough in it to drown a kasha. Hear Hito’s been too genteel to get you prop’rly addicted, but I’ve no such compunctions. On the house, Miss bunny,” he added, seeing her dive for the pockets, “for helping me out with that good deed. Grounds would’ve gone stale in a couple more days, anywise.”

“Um. Cop— er. Thanks,” Seiran supposed.

And there was that esoteric hand-flip again. “You don’t mention it, and I won’t, either. Call it neighbourly corruption. Oh, and one more thing, Miss bunny – for henceforward.” He gave her an unanticipatedly hard look. “Might be,” he admitted a moment after, “that I’m nailed to old Itou’s backside by my pact and my pouch. Might be. All the same, this is my eatery. My demesne. When I bloody well say anybody can come eat, anybody can. A Kuufuku, a youkai rabbit, a winged bloody Celestial maiden – makes no matter. So, no need for the hood and cloak and dagger. Outside is other people. In here it’s me. Get me, Miss?”

“Is this… wise?” Seiran wondered.

“No,” said Jirou, “but folly’s a favourite dish.”

That was what the words had said. The crook of the barman’s brows bespoke another story. A story beyond Seiran’s ken and, tacitly, her care, yet of some import to the large man. This was Earthen life for you: plunging through all around even when – or where – you weren’t looking. And it wanted, for some ineffable, filthy cause, to see her ears.

The worst Gunner Seiran could do was to indulge it. Slowly, she gave back a collusive nod.

The barman Jirou smiled a conspiratorial smile, hefted the comically paltry fistful of coins and returned to the steamy heart of his professed demesne. As the flap stilled in the wake of his withdrawal, Seiran pinched the edges of her hood.

Then, feeling moderately foolish about it herself, she pulled it back from her head. Her ears shivered, straightening out on their own in the waft of fresh air. Seiran thumbed the warm damper clip, loosed a tuft of fuzz whence it’d gotten stuck, and—

—and, because she was Seiran, stole a cagey glance at the room over her shoulder.
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Other breakfasters… broke their fast, still. None had gotten up to point and shout; none were upending their tables or diving for cover underneath. It should’ve been a foregone conclusion; after all, Seiran stood at her stall each day with her ears swaying like saplings in the breeze. The sole incidence of strutting them out in public she had any reason to rue had been… It had been no human’s doing. It was just…

… It was just Seiran. Seiran and her Seiran gaffes and Seiran mistakes.

A scruffy and compatriotically drenched man at a nearby table caught her eye, his own pair widening briefly in feedback. Then was his head tipped in cursory greeting, and Seiran tardily placed the face busy at a toasted bread butt. She’d seen in before. In firelight, under a midnight sky, chowing down on scraps of savoury meat from her portable soup stock.

Seiran’s neighbour – not the upstairs bark-steeper, but of the same eccentric species without a doubt – paid her no further, overbearing heed. The runaway Eagle Ravi returned the favour in kind. She held the mug she’d been nursing in one cold hand up to her mouth – and sipped.

“… Mn.”

Jirou hadn’t overcolorued it; there was enough sweet cream in the drink to ward off the bitterness she’d osmosed to anticipate. Which was why, once it did eventually coagulate on the back of her tongue, it shocked her ears bolt upright. She coughed and eyed the mug as though it were the Moon’s own enemy. She should’ve seen it coming. Earthen life – in all its by-products – was like that. Sweet one tic, and then…

Seiran took another sip.

And this time, ready as she was, contained the shudder to the small of her back. How had it occurred to anyone on Earth or the Moon to ever imbibe the stuff – never mind fancy an addiction? It knocked you for a dusted loop, it did.

Seiran bottomed the mug out in great pains and reluctantly dawning respect. The tall bar stool relinquished her damp behind with merely a passing imperilment of her knees, and she soon emerged again into the grey slush outside. This, by itself, was unimpeachable. Where she’d erred was emerging with her hood still down.

With a squeal she would never have owned up, perish the thought, to have produced from her throat, Seiran raced back into the eatery’s shade, where she stuffed her dumb, Earthed head – and every conspicuous thing else – under the hood.

Then she hopped and skipped and skidded home.

To say a restless Eagle Ravi lay in Seiran’s bed a while later would’ve been a lie only in the deprecated rank. Not to mention an understatement. It was restlessness with hissed S-es from end to end.

The atmospheric regulator hummed contentedly in the corner of her stern quarters, its enamelled belly chock-full of dango gone unsold when the planet had up and rained on Seiran’s parade literally. That rain sheeted even now against the curtain-less window; in Seiran’s mind, it was a barrage of tiny, needling bullets against the bulwark of her tolerance. A tolerance which’d already been fairly chipped by having to towel her hair dry so early in the day.

Seiran, who’d done so as soon as shutting the weather out and racking the raincoat up on a length of twisted wire to drip onto a rag, had subsequently taken stock of her stocks, pulsed every appliance sans the micro-furnace for charge, inspected for the dozenth time her pristine tools of hobby and trade, in the spirit of soldiery gave the regulator box a punt with her foot, and then…

… And then, in her underwear and idleness, she’d loafed.
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That part of the morning wasn’t to spec. It was the first in months on which the conditions had grown too bad to roll Dango Seiran-ya out for even a shadow of a hope of a sale. It was the first in days she couldn’t have her work run away with her even so to soak her under the leaden clouds, listening to the pitter-patter of rain on the terracotta and the hissing embers in her charcoal box. To watch the muddy streets for incomings that never came and take heart in the promise that, afterwards, after the work, there was the reward of someone waiting her in a spacious house where there were no beds but for one hammock, with nevertheless a kind word and a smile and a pair of arms which fitted so well around her person it should’ve been criminal, and it’d be all Seiran would need to feel, after all, despite everything, alive—

She sat up so fast her noise-battered head went momentarily light.

+Yes. All right. Yes+ she pulsed into her deaf Lattice. +There is that option, fine?+

There was that option. There had never not been that option; even Hito, with his carelessly displaced diurnal lifestyle ought to be vertical by now, right, and if he wasn’t, then Seiran could feature worse things to wake up to than a Moon rabbit puttering about your kitchen. Say, a huge spider doing the same. It wasn’t that it wasn’t an option; the man would’ve happily moved under her bed like the aforesaid spider if it meant being able to distract Seiran any hour of the day. Only, without the neat separation provided by her work between itself and indulgence, it would’ve been no longer an after-hours Hito-therapy. It would’ve been selfishness. It would’ve meant she—

It would’ve meant nothing.

Seiran lunged from her beddings straight to much-mandated uprightness.

It meant nothing. Nothing but that she was perfectly capable of swapping one job for another. Hito had suggested it himself; his great, swank, restaurant-grade kitchen was a place Seiran had been welcome to make complementary wages at. She’d declined then, because her pride was a constantly acting-up appendix.

However, now… Now, she realised, she needed it. Now, she had to need it, because—

Seiran unclenched her teeth.

—because there was nothing else to be, and that was that.

And that was that. It’d be better, at any rate, than holding here and whetting habits. Worse habits than she whetted at Hito’s, at that rate. She fingered the crumbs of chocolate, scattered in the process of prone snacking, off the sheets and retrieved her trade kimono from the clothes-trunk. The soft, blue armour (replete with an apron and frills and likewise devices) of the working Moon rabbit lent the endeavour some urgently requisite credence. The mono-fil bands primly returned to her hair did her the office of formal war declarations.

Seiran was half a foot inside her involuntary-vacation-caked gumboots when a belated advisory trickled down from her slightly higher echelons. It might be that the thrust behind the upcoming constitutional in the wet was something utterly selfish, but Seiran would be dashed if she couldn’t make it at least seem sensible. The dango – the goal of Hito’s own constitutionals on dryer days – were there; it’d be at the longest an hour to thaw a couple, bake them over the micro-furnace and pack them for the trip. Less if she had an open fire and a grille, but the courtyard kitchen had already been disgorging water out of every port in the morning. You’d need to row rather than fan to get it going by now.

That was not a worry. The furnace had… it had enough fuel yet in any event, and the dango would be, yes, they would be the perfect excuse. They would be. They would…

Seiran breathed in.

( ) It would be worth it. Shut up.
( ) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.
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Bloody hell. I was seriously not expecting an update anytime soon, and yet here we are.

I'd normally gush and overanalyse, but I can't find it in me right now.

[x] Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.
Just own up to it, already, bun.

Welcome back for however long you're back; I hope it's a long while yet.
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>[...] Seiran could feature worse things to wake up to than a Moon rabbit puttering about your kitchen. Say, a huge spider doing the same.

I would so love to wake up to a huge spider puttering about my kitchen. Preferably one that has no gods or qualms.

Very glad to see you back in the saddle.

(X) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.
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(X) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.

Very happy this is back
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(X) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.

Hey, you're back! Just a little bit after I finished reading through "Kurodani Yamame Has no Gods" no less.
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(X) It would be worth it. Shut up.

What worth does a dango bunny have without dango?
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(x) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.
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(X) Just go empty-handed and excuse-without.

… They would have been that. An excuse. An infinitesimally less stupid one than Gunner Seiran was being. A flourish with no stab behind it. It couldn’t fool a bunny-rabbit. That was why. There was no reason to… to commune with the micro-furnace today. No cause. No need to tempt sick curiosity. For now.

Until something else died.

You are not seeming sensible, reproved a part of Seiran that hadn’t been about to hyperventilate. You are not being sensible.

I am, protested the one that had. I have been. Only having a worse day. Just this... this Earthed rain… bogging everything. That’s all.

The rain drummed on outside. It wasn’t all. Inside was still an issue. But the planet could bear sometimes to shoulder some of the blame. Seiran completed her feet-first descent into gum… and remembered the outbound component of breathing. Which she engaged consequently at full tilt.

Good riddance she did. That was a, if not crisis averted, then a Seiran diverted. Whatever sophistic minutiae there were. She eyed the hung raincoat with renewed grit. It had a subtly sodden look, such as might be associated with, for example, a waterfall. Seiran slid it carefully over the as-yet-dry kimono. Thusly mailed against the elements, the whilom Gunner of the Eagle Ravi charged out into the worst barrage since the General (younger) Watatsuki had become briefly infatuated with the concept of Spell Cards, slamming both the door and the bolt closed mid-pass with a telekine tug. It wouldn’t be till she’d cleared the dosshouse dam gate that she’d recognise she’d left behind her lady’s companion and the gun tucked therein for personal safety.

It wouldn’t be until the end of the deluged street and a buffet of wind to the flank that she’d decide it a lost cause. Which was to say (if not to countenance) she had long lost any ostensive cause to carry it along to what had grown into her five ‘o clock stop-and-refuel anyway. What worse could come to the worst? That she’d regret not regretting not to pack the psy-heat? This was not a liability with Hito. He’d assured her of this matter of fact very matter-of-factly.

Earth it. Good… but also Earth it. It was a liability Seiran right now would’ve favoured over… well, over the Seiran of minutes past. It had been a comfortable constant. You could trust Earthling men to be untrustworthy. Whatever were you left with when you couldn’t?

Seiran. Too much Seiran, ostensibly, for one pair of hands.

And a lot of Seiran did tumble through the routinely unlocked doors of Kuufuku Hisahito’s house, nearly on aforesaid hands, owing to the wet and inconsiderately slippery planks of the patio. She shut the door on them with vengeance and sloughed off the drenched coat and boots. All that remained was to pad across the never-were restaurant floor to the annexe where Hito (and Seiran, in the afternoons) lived.

The electric glow-tubes in the corridor were off. This wasn’t odd in and of itself; Hito had filled her in on how the more affluent households in town lit up their evening hours with kerosene supplied by seldom visiting and reticent travelling merchants, the lion’s share whereof was these days snatched up by the young Hieda lady’s enterprise. Seiran had suggested sitting by cheap candlelight then, but he’d been sardonically set on endorsing his friend’s fiancée’s business. And besides, he’d said, it would’ve made it a harder exercise to watch Seiran grow furrows in her forehead.

Those same furrows deepened (short-term) as Seiran trailed her fingers along the door of Hito’s no-bed-room and pushed a psychometric pulse up the woodgrain. Its firm set in the frame reported it hadn’t yet been shoved aside by a gluey-eyed man after a glass of water since being slid carefully shut late at night. She almost didn’t need the corroboration of a muffled snore from the other side to tell that Hito had gone the way of the sergeant on Lord Tsukuyomi’s day. The brass had always been very advanced in that respect; they slept off the strain of command while the rookies took it mostly upon themselves to honour the holiday out on the Capital’s crystalline streets. A walker of Hito’s height would’ve found little amusement to be had outside presently. Sleeping in through the wettest the rainy season had thus far been able to offer was, all too likely, philosophically tenable.

It didn’t mean Seiran didn’t feel a prick of somewhat personal disillusionment. It did, for all that, mean she had a fully free reign of the premises for the time being, and those – premises – were something of a Seiran speciality. She tiptoed by the washroom for a splash of rather icy water and then, with a sense of the subtly illicit, stole into Hito’s pantry-dinette and thereon the kitchen beyond.

The squat, four-port stove was and had been cold since the previous evening’s ultimate tea. There was cordwood and kindling enough in the storage pit underneath, Seiran checked, to burn through another day; it’d be bunny-rabbits’ stuff to get it fired up with the bone-dry touchwood Hito kept in a neat, painted box perched safely away on the windowsill. He’d made good on his promise to stockpile as well; already Seiran’s eyes were slicking over the shelves for viable ingredients of a breakfast which, not to overegg it, while unostentatious, would have all the bits in it regarded choice by a local man. Inspired by Hito’s notebook of longhand recipes, they’d been conducting more and less cruel experiments on pickling cucumbers in vinegar and Seiran’s soy sauce, so that was the sweet-slash-sour base covered. The “burnt, brown, crunchy” part could be made-do by grilling some rice balls on a pan or, provided the cellar hadn’t turned overnight into an underground reservoir, there ought to be bacon enough left over after their lately carnivore binge to stir fry together with some carrots and shallots. Seiran would’ve fatally shot somebody for a fish (and solidly punched for a cut of one), but these were seldom found on fishermen who couldn’t boat out on the lake for fear of drowning while still upright. Surprisingly.

And then, while the stove was still going strong, she might put the kettle on and further whittle down that inexhaustible supply of mugi-cha— No, perhaps get a big pot of water hot in case Hito fancied (or Seiran fancied him) a bath or a washing-up session that wouldn’t end up in rheumatisms years on. Yes. Then, then, thereafter, a survey could finally be done of the restaurant hall for those wily leaks which liked to sprout in damp weather, and which Hito had bunked off on scanning for, to hear him fair-cop it, since Fall. Or maybe, failing that whipcrack, she might hound him into reorganising the pantry at last, because those garlic garlands were outstaying more than the mode, and—

This was it. This was what Seiran was for. What she was wired right for. And, as she submersed herself to the ears in the micromanagemental tangle of domesticity, the estranged Moon rabbit Gunner who’d flinched from confronting her own kit gradually gave way to what Seiran should always have been, instead. An organiser. A firm fundament beneath the day-to-days… or likewise kick to other people’s. A spoon, crank and commissary rolled all into one blue, busy bundle.

One that hummed happily at work, by some accounts, without knowing.

And she was indeed partway through a preoccupation-mangled verse of Old Heron when the Kuufuku house woke. A tingle at the edge of her awareness, which must’ve been the tremor of a groggy man in an altercation with his bedroom door, prompted Seiran to about-face from the counter where the stage had been prepped for the rolling of rice balls. She smoothed her sleeves down and shook her hair behind her shoulders. She looked to the kitchen’s ingress – whence the sounds of not so much a rush as a stampede were crashing through – and, because another one had somehow already snuck up on her lips, didn’t attire her most professional, business-like of smiles.
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It’d despite that have to do, because there her hungriest patron was.

Hito half-stepped, half-fell into the kitchen, only spared the full downward trip by his hands clutching the doorframe. His eyes were wide. Wild. So too were his breathing and, narrowly less so, his head of flaxen hair. Seiran’s guilty conscience flared as those eyes, despairingly, found her own. He looked, for a moment still, as though a ghost of some dream had chased him out of bed. Then…

… Then, whatever the dream had been, its dregs were washed away on a deep, bitter sigh. Hito inhaled. Hito looked again, attentively for the first time. Seeing the rabbit-eared reality of the situation. Seeing Seiran.

… Slowly, methodically, with a heave of the habituated facial muscles, the flagship Hito smile was hoisted back up into its place, and it seemed, at long last, as if he was pleasantly surprised to see her. He vigorously cleared his clenched throat.

“... This what they call ‘bed and breakfast?’” he wanted to know.

Seiran, whose expression had gone a mote glassy in the meanwhile, schooled it. “Negative,” she responded. “I read— I mean, I’m told those are wont to operate on strict schedules. Meaning, breakfast in the morning,” she said cuttingly.

Hito’s smile softened, becoming a touch more like itself. “Morning’s a whatsit, empire-ick thing. Can’t tell it’s come till I pry the old peepers open anywise,” he put forward, heuristically. “That told,” he granted, “wouldn’t overmuch mind being slung out of the hammock early each one if it meant… this.”

He indicated Seiran’s station with a prod of the chin. Seiran propped her hands on her hips.

“No dice. No Earthed you could afford it,” she said, half-seriously. “I’d have to charge for all the lost dango sales on top. Tally in the running of supplies, labour, generous tips…”

Hito upturned a brow. “Modestly well off, Miss Seiran – remember?”

“On a finite reserve,” she reminded. “You’d hire me on seven by thirty and run it dust-dry in none flat. So, no dice. I can do it gratis, instead. Once in a while. Sir.”

The man sucked his teeth with aplomb. “You drive a hard bargain, Miss Seiran.”

“Twice in a while?” she compromised.

In the grey light she could see his smile falter before his head was shaken derisively to mask it. The unsounded emotive conveying, if Hito was at the end of his tether, it was Seiran’s job to reel it in.

With that purpose, she spread her arms. Just slightly. Nothing too needy. A shrug to an unversed observer’s eye.

Slightly was more than enough. Hito was around the stove in a heartbeat; in a handful more, because by then they’d picked up the pace, he was there. Here. Arms where they dovetailed so well: one, across the Moon rabbit’s shoulder blades, the other around the small of her back. Seiran looped her own, shorter-ranged pair behind his neck, completing the arrangement. His stuffy, perspired warmth suffused her clothes; her skin, where his dango-trained jaw had filled out the gap between her cheek and the collar of her kimono. Seiran braced, sensing Hito do the same all over. All over her upper body, in the main.

Then, scarce in the habit of spoken forewarnings, the stooped man straightened back up to his full, reassuring height, lifting the whilom Gunner along with little specious effort. Seiran bore the indignity of dangling feet as she herself was borne away – past the kitchen’s threshold and out to the dinette which’d served, fortnights now, as their shared retreat. An arm was briefly and somewhat precariously freed of Moon rabbit to roll the bamboo blinds up on one of the windows. Heartened not to have to contend anymore with the darkness of his home, Hito circled the table, kicked a chair out from underneath and, as was favoured, free-fell down on it. Seiran in tow.
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It was an awkward position. Half-standing, half-leaning in tenuous balance. Soon or late, it’d tip. Seiran knew which direction would be better supported. A nudge, a murmur and the lightest rub of the cheek, and Hito hurried to her rescue. He sat against the seatback, secured Seiran anew in the hug and let her rest against him in turn. The Moon rabbit did, ballast be Earthed. Nobody’d ever complained, anyway. Hito least of them.

A lesser rabbit might’ve taken this to excuse her sorry exercise routine. Not Seiran. Seiran gave her care and her excuses to others. It was what she was.

Once again, she fooled herself into thinking she could read the emotives thrumming under the impermeable rind of his psyche. Yearning. Comfort of her closeness. A need, barely satisfied. And behind that, the trailing aftertaste of hope… tinged with hopeless disappointment. Things she knew he had to have been feeling, because…

Unaccountably – or not whatsoever – she found herself craving to touch the skin of his body. Their cheeks brushing, the scratch of scrub on her neck, their chests and arms and legs exchanging heat through the separator of clothing. These were approximates. A surrogate for something she couldn’t ever again have. Something he couldn’t begin to give, irrespective of willingness. They were, for her frayed mind, in this situation normal, the next best thing.

They could be next better yet. Another small, glib gesture, and they could be hers.

So then, why hadn’t Seiran—

Because, snapped Seiran. Because. That’s why. Because.

Seconds leached into that numb nothing you feel when regrets not as big as the ones you could’ve been having are being had. Minutes joined them by and by, each seeing the en-Seiraned Hito slump further and further from this Moon rabbit-induced circumstance. At long, long length, longer than any right she might have ever had, a quiet, well-marinaded grunt poured down the nape of her neck. Seiran tensed to push away.

“Is there a problem?” she inquired. “I can—”

“No.” Hito’s low, hoarse voice reverberated inside her. “… No. You’re here. So there’s no problem.”

No reply came. None did for a while.

“… Seiran?” Hito attempted to raise her. “Sorry. Too corny?”

Seiran shivered alert. “No!” she gasped. “Um. No, no,” she said, softer. “It… It was nice to… to hear.”

“Take your word for it,” he supposed.

He fiddled for a time with the ties of her apron: weighing the for-and-againsts or, more plausibly, Seiran at large. The movement itched her tail, which was squashed flat under the kimono.

“… Then there’s no trouble,” Seiran ultimately asked, “with me creeping in?”

“The front door under lock?” Hito pointed out.

“No. It wasn’t,” she accepted, “but it never—”

“Never is,” he confirmed. “Wasn’t designed to be, what with the restaurant whatnot. This lean-to was, but I’ve taken to leaving the key in the door for, I guarantee you, prudent causes. So. There’s any bloke to flog for not keeping the youkai out, that bloke’s I. Never would, anywise. Would love to have you here every day, Seiran. Seven by whatsit, thirty.”

“You already do,” she protested.

Something in Seiran’s craw writhed at her own words.

Hito, who couldn’t tell, or perhaps did, forged on: “Not in the mornings, no. Oversight, that.”

“In that event,” Seiran couldn’t resist biting back, “in that event, today’s no change.”

Hito’s appreciative laugh was a salve for her self-loathing pangs. “Hmm. You were here on a morning once, by rights,” he recalled then. “Wasn’t my fairest, though, so I’m all for counting it out. At any rate, Seiran, you’re welcome to creep… well, whenever you judge it discreet. Or necessary, considering. Morning or midnight.”

Considering what? “… My discretion, then?”

“Wouldn’t dream of forcing you to do anything,” Hito promised.


It was a minute – not this one, not the next, but down the line of succession – when the rabbit of accountability stirred in the warrens of Hito’s mind. His big, broad palms perambulated the span of her back to her hips, where they disregarded the forcing opportunities inherent in the natural handholds and ushered the disaffected Seiran in a responsible direction.

“… You’ll want to get back in there,” he guessed.

Seiran nearly didn’t. “Should,” she realised. “Stove’s burning for nothing.”

“Not to forget morning light,” he added.

She smacked him. Then they came apart in that sticky, involved way two warm dango did when they’d been stuck together so long that things have melted a little on the outside (and more than a little on the inside). Arms couldn’t seem to end.

Seiran’s did first nevertheless, and must’ve caused a cascade reaction of some stripe, because there suddenly one of Hito’s was, fully retracted and cupping one of hers at the elbow. The hand travelled up the associated forearm, which’d hitherto always belonged to an uptight Moon rabbit, but one could have been misled by the way his long, sturdy fingers took hold of hers. His other hand smushed them back together, again by the small of Seiran’s back, giving a touch of the physical to the lie he’d spoken.

And then, as always though not as always, gazing (no artistic license, either) straight into her startled eyes, he kissed her small, work-toughened knuckles, each one, one by one. There wasn’t an overtone of “had I been but a hair less delicate, Miss Seiran, I would’ve been doing this anyplace else” to it. No. There was an over-tonne of it.

Seiran’s face deployed a high-heat tactical blush without so much as a pulse of danger-close. This appeared to satisfy – or at the minimum assuage – the man who perhaps hadn’t, but neither had to dream of forcing her to do anything. He may do that just fine awake. With impunity.

With it, he let her go. Then jostled the chair back to rise when she failed to comply. Gravity did what it was disposed to and left Seiran behind on ground level. Hito fixed the belt around his white bed-robes, which’d become more than mussed in the precedings. He made some show of making a flustered show of it.

“… High time I changed,” he admitted. “Hadn’t expected… guests. Not this early in the day, anywise. On which neighbourly note, Seiran, would you like to…” The question dwindled to a lingering look as he reassessed to whom it was being addressed. “… Are you going to be here all day today?” he asked instead, with a hint of the rib.

Seiran opened her mouth. Then Seiran opened her mouth wider. Then, too far invested to crawfish out now, inflated her chest till she was standing up on tiptoes.

Then she said, “… Yes.”

And that was nothing more and nothing less than enough. Job interviews had never been easier.

Hito gave up one of his sombre nods ahead sashaying, which wasn’t sombre at all, out in furtherance of the establishment’s dressing standards. Seiran furthered her own by noticing – then quickly remedying – the state of her kimono after being carried, hugged, squeezed and manhandled all in the space of too short. If Ringo had seen it, there’d have been ideas.

There weren’t any – any – here now. There was the job, and here was Seiran, and that was everything either one had ever needed. A lifetime’s experience averred so.

The week ended hard on the heels of a break in the weather, taking the worst, if nothing else, then of the rain with it.
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It was an evening. Which, in Seiran’s glossary of years leading up, had often stood for that inexpedient stretch of time between clocking off and conking out. To be scrupulous, it was the fourth evening since her near-episode and career swerve and the first since she’d been able to resume her dango-juggling day job, putting it squarely in the neat category of now. There was still a cool drizzle to be faced up to outside if you were of that persuasion, and Seiran’s clientele perforce had been. There was a moral quandary in there somewhere to blindside the bored and/or unsuspecting.

Seiran was puttering. This wasn’t an overabundance of change from the recent, except that Hito had, in a collateral of the late hour, already been there when she’d arrived to debark the daily putter. He’d slept in on all three previous instances, despite the scare of the first – permitting the Moon rabbit further leeway of his kitchen than she would’ve stooped to had the situation been unlikely reversed. That part, she’d privately enjoyed; one couldn’t argue with a roof over one’s head and every utensil under the Sun in an arm’s reach. One might try, but one would be pronounced clinically doolally for talking to the masonry.

Together, they had made, as it was redundantly said, a day of each. There wasn’t a sill in the manor that hadn’t now known a real hard wipe; they’d worn their wrists out worse than shooting kinetics for two hours straight by grinding all the garlic down for seasonings; and, while no leaks had turned up in their sweep among the rafters, Seiran could now boast having ridden up on an Earthling man’s shoulders like a Lord lady with the pretence of looking, albeit in actuality scanning the ceiling with dampened psychometry. Hito had fallen in with her housekeeping operations without complaint: carrying, wringing, rinsing and lifting (where necessary) almost as though he’d been homegrown for the purpose.

… He’d also touched her. A lot. Which was a quaint thing to notice and not blanch (or braise) at, but regardless true. Nothing as… direct… as the knuckle-kissing, eye-gazing phenomenon had reoccurred; still, she’d spent that first afternoon half in an anticipation of a rogue hand squeezing one of her arms, gliding down the slope of her back or simply coming to rest on her hip. Seiran had suffered it all quietly: sometimes covering it under her smaller own, other times twisting round to give the proprietor a measured, capital-letter Look. He’d mellowed out by the second morning at any rate, whatever mental crinkle she’d caused him ironed out by her handy curves, and Seiran was anyway always on the ball when needs were being obviously had. She’d always strived to be.

Her stint with housekeeping had then come to a natural close when the rain had let up and the streets had solidified enough to roll the stall out without lashing up pontoons. This, Seiran had done. And, she had about it but the barest of ambivalent feelings that, the very evening before, Hito had hung a spare futon out under the eaves to air out in the eventuality of a flood. A courtesy foiled. A proposition, perhaps, frustrated. He’d dropped in on the shop even so, late as you like and bundled up in his nondescript, pedestrian clothes, proclaiming the day’s supper to be mermaid-rare sushi. He’d walked away en-dango-ed and walloped with the tongs, having made only five and a half histrionic remarks on “independent house help these days.”

And now, it was evening. The week was ending. Seiran had punched out, gone to base, laid away the merchandise, sidestepped the implications and skipped out again to start the swing shift at Hito’s. Whether it was due to the recovery of the routine or the promise of overdue dryness in the air was an ongoing dialogue, but it did mean that a thin gloss of self-assurance overlaid her scuffed nerves. Things were back to, if not the norm, then a sustainable stopgap of some, mostly flattering, description.

That stopgap was presently and unflatteringly bowed over the cold slab, rolling gluey white rice, sticks of cucumber and scraps of fish up in sheets of what appeared outwardly to be dried and pressed greenery, while Seiran involved herself with the prerequisites thereof. She had, technically, given it the probational whirl, although to call it a roll would’ve demeaned Hito’s churning them out with the competence of the terminally peckish. Most of the rice had ended up on the outside, and she’d somehow ripped the vegetable wrapping on the flexible bamboo mat she’d been given to use as an aid.

Hito had eyed the effects of her essay in polite confoundment. “… Could be a kind of uramaki?” he’d murmured. “Maybe? An avant-garde take? Hmm. Ah. Well,” he’d humoured the sourly frowning Moon rabbit, “first time’s a first, Seiran. Sure if I went at making dango they’d somewise end up cubical. Still, nori’s a mite expensive out here, never mind flying off the shelves like pottery in an earthquake, so let’s leave the practice for another date, hmm? Will go about obtaining some rice paper; ought to be easier on those reserves then. Give this invention the place of honour atop the pile, though. How about that?”

He’d presented a conciliatory smile.

“… Copy,” she’d said sullenly. Then smiled back just a little bit.

And so, the putter. Seiran stood by a steaming pot on the stove, flicking off tics in her head toward the recipe notebook’s mandated perfection. The rice had avowedly to be a given consistency else not even Hito’s big, deft hands could save it from “complete unpresentableness” (which Seiran wasn’t positive was strictly a word). Something else as well bugged her dictionary. Something she couldn’t place – till it was placed right on her tongue by Hito’s popping a sushi slice into her mouth from behind.

Seiran half-turned to shoot him a play-threatening look, but he’d already soldiered on back to his battle station. She shook her head, chewed and scribbled an internal note to go a spoonful easier on the vinegar for this second rice batch. The acid tang was fine in moderation, and the juice from the vegetables poured it on to lessen the offence, but they’d grown demonstrably happy-go-lucky with the stuff since their cucumber pickling undertakings. Still, there underneath the cavalcade of flavours was a musty hint she didn’t recognise. The source of the bug.

Ugh, she thought. Hopefully not.

“… This nori what-have-you,” she mumbled around it. “That’s some plant, is it?”

“Seaweed,” Hito explained, pointedly not turning round to observe, thus bequeath existence on, her regress of manners. “Or alga, or whatever the scholarly whatsit was. A hole in the pocket to come by, anywise you call it.”

“Mm. Huh.”

“Grows in the sea, putatively,” he offered his insight.

Seiran swallowed. The tang clung to the flanks of her tongue. Two spoonfuls easier. “… I gathered,” she assured. Then, a belated reality insinuated itself. “Um. Aren’t we in the mountains? I didn’t see a sea from up on… the mountain.”

Hito’s shoulders rocked somewhat thematically as he regaled her unfunny fumbling. “Hah. The air here is a tad thin, isn’t it? No, no sea, Seiran.” He chuckled at this also. “The lake’s freshwater too, least up to a depth. No, no – a certain tenacious clan grows these in vats of brine here in town. One of theirs must’ve caught a mouthful of the plants at the seaside and gargled them all the way up here. Kept that hapless family branch going since,” he said, not explicating which he had meant.

Seiran peeked sidelong at the seething pot, recalling the count and regretting not having been provident – nor well-advised, circumstance presenting – to have her vacuum-tube timer charged and chirping in her ear. She’d been poised to excavate and set one of Hito’s sand time-pieces instead, but the wicked man had taken the clonk of the pot alighting on the stove as a signal to summon her for a review of the fish he’d bought. You would’ve been pardoned for featuring he’d gotten a faceful of seaweed himself catching it, the way he’d fussed over it. The fact it was smoked notwithstanding. Thus had the taster Seiran resigned herself to the constant, background tics of her military mind for time.

… Time she’d lost the bead on when he’d brushed his long fingers on her lips stuck that sushi in her mouth. She tentatively tried the rice with the rude end of a wooden spoon.

“… They get the seawater up here by the mouthful, too?” she asked, by way of fanning the conversation.

“Not seawater – brine,” Hito corrected from the sushi chopping block. He wet the knife in a tall tankard which contained, for once in its service life, something unobjectionable, then continued, “They make it, to hear the frontman crow. See? One of them down the annals quantified how salty water goes in seaweed society, so they dump enough rock salt in a vat of your run-of-the-mill groundwater, and the alga’s none the wiser. Trade secrets go a regular premium, of course, but it’s really that what warrants the holing of those pockets first of everything.”

“The salt?” Seiran guessed.

“The salt,” sighed Hito, wagging the knife for effect. He sliced the nearest roll, no doubt imagining. “Trade secret of another clan, would you believe. Came somewise into the privy of some ancient deposit hereabouts and are keeping us unsalted folks in a stranglehold. Their clanshead up and crossed the Sanzu some years back in an unpretty bit of hubbub, so some dared hope—” he beheaded a roll, sniffed, “—but, his firstborn’s more taloned of a hawk than the old man ever was. Never you mind that occidental lady he’s been seen palavering with. Strain that through his intermediaries, sprinkle on some tax, and you’re more like to resort to evaporating your sweat for condiments. Must remind me to tweak Gin’s ear about it once he’s formally in the young Hieda lady’s trust,” he added, improbably perking up. “Might be able to find some critical toes. Always could. Anywise, add that moneyed affair to the alga’s limited yield, and you’ve got yourself some luxury green goods.”

Seiran replaced the lid on the pot. “Sounds like we’re eating Lo— um, nobby tonight. Are we?”

Hito shrugged. “Treating myself, is all.”

And, coincidentally, you, Seiran’s Seiran-ness imputed the obvious. “… What’s the occasion?” she wondered. “Or are we speaking putative?”

He very nearly laughed. So nearly, the sonorous absence of his standard response to her nonsense almost wobbled the pegs out of the tent lines on Seiran’s thin marquee of normalcy. He straightened up, propped the knife point-down on the cutting board and looked at the whitewashed wall across the worktop. And looked. And looked. And decided.

“… Hmm. Well, it is my birthday,” he said, faintly abstracted.

Seiran stared, unblinking, at his broad and, even now she couldn’t help reflexively thinking, steady back. Steady being all of a sudden in severer deficiency than salt in Seiran land.

“… You didn’t tell me!” she accused, for want of something world-wiser.

“No,” agreed Hito. “Well. Small matter. Age’s not that major.”

Seiran ducked the joke. “Yes, it is! I mean, it’s a birthday. I could have… I would have gotten you something!”

“Just a way of keeping score, Seiran,” Hito argued. “No need to congratulate myself excessively. Will be same old, excuse me, older next year and the one after that.” Then, something in his stance softened. “… What would it have been?”

“I—” Seiran’s pique ran on on exotic terrain. “… I don’t know,” she admitted. “Ink for your big dusted ink stick. Or, or – a bell for your front door. It would’ve been… It would’ve been something,” was her lame and probably unshod conclusion. “You can only manage a finite number of these,” she issued her last, and best, contention. “Some get far fewer than others. So, sorry – but dust to that. They’re worth congratulating, each and every one.”

He laid the knife then likewise his hands flat on the slab. “… Suppose you can.”

The pot on the stove hissed as the rising rice-foam started rattling the lid. Seiran pitched an expletive into her silent Lattice, snatched up the mitts and rushed to its relief. Steam billowed in the already preoccupied air.

“So!” she demanded over her shoulder of Hito’s hunched back. “Tell me about these things. In advance! I don’t have your eval on hand; I need a… a heads-up, to cook some gift up. Solid copy?”

There was a pause. The smell of overboiled rice cloyed its span. And then, behind her, Hito half-rose.

“… Seiran,” she heard him sigh from the depths of deceivingly inexhaustible patience, “please, let’s be plain. I love you. You being here is a gift enough.”
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Seiran went still.

The pot bubbled on glutinously. The fire beneath was still a plasmatic orange. The roof hadn’t caved in. The Moon hadn’t fallen from the sky.


Then, Seiran’s ears must’ve picked it up wrong. Yes. That, or the psychically blunt Earthling had misspoken in his vague, emotiveless language. Some… error in conveyance. A mislabelled sentiment. That must’ve been what. A simple, if embarrassing, mistake. It wasn’t something said to Moon rabbits; it wasn’t something said to Seiran. After all, these were a bunny-rabbit’s fantasy words. Words nobody in a million, billion cycles would ever…

… Yet. Yet, she’d heard him say them, clear as memory crystal. “I - - - - you.” These were it. Weren’t they? Spoken in that excruciatingly calm voice – by that daft, dust-stuffed man. Without a flicker of consideration her wise. What was Gunner Seiran to do with these words? They’d had such an Earthed convenient thing going. This hokey “courtship” of theirs. The crutch of each other’s company and all the physical contact and beyond what either one should have wished for. How could he? How dare he? They’d had an arrangement! A great, big, cross-special, cultural understanding. A minor, dango-begotten miracle in and of itself.

And now – this? Who – what, by the Lords – did he feature Seiran was?

… Nobody.

Seiran was a nobody. Since forever and ever ago. A sad, fat, blue Moon rabbit, one in untold myriads, grown, ground down and spat out by the home-world. Why run one’s tongue dry saying this to her? There were women by the battalion on Earth. Human. Youkai. Those oh-so-easily trampled gods; other, less filth-eaten Moon rabbits, even. Why her of all of them? Hadn’t he learnt this lesson with his last… partner? Someday or the next, one way or another, Seiran would be gone. What was the Earthed point of saying “I - - - - you?” What did he stand to gain? What was there she could possibly give to him in return?

Nothing. There was nothing she had.

Nothing but for Seiran.

And that was all – and she’d always known it was, in that dormant pip of selfishness she hadn’t hazarded to water – all he had ever wanted from the beginning manoeuvres and opening salvoes of their silly dance. No other woman. No other Moon rabbit. No unsavoury favours or bar back-corner flings. Nothing above and nothing less than Seiran and what little that went. In his home. In his life. Simple, pure, straightforward.

And Seiran… Seiran wanted him in hers.

The truth stared her in the dumb, steamed face. And, in that gut-shot of honesty she acknowledged that, despite the woeful shortage of ears, despite every excuse to the contrary she’d made and marinaded between hers, this was where runaway Seiran wanted to be. At this Earthling man’s side, in this bereft house that begged filling, in this town that took her in with merely cursory qualms. There were no contrived or clumsily rationalised needs, no musts nor can’t-help-its; there was only the huge, heart-wrenching want for this to please don’t end. It’d been there, abscessed in her inner Lattice, for weeks and weeks. Smothered. Strangled. Stubborn. It had taken a lifetime’s delusion to lock it away. It had taken three words to release it.

The want to live. The want to love. To be loved.

Here. On Earth.

Seiran breathed in.

Lords on the Moon. She truly, truly, truly…

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Stiffly, with mechanical precision, like someone who’d done it a thousand thousands of times before and wouldn’t founder in a gale, Seiran lifted the pot off the stove. She set it aside then shuttered the blazing port so as not to overheat the kitchen. She tugged the mitts off and dropped them to the floor. She took a step back.

Only then did she break.

The critical seconds she’d forestalled the attack swung around and slammed into her stomach like a hammer hewn of ice. She crumpled to her knees, fists at her chest, the knuckles of her thumbs digging into her sternum. The void did not so much descend as poured over her in a single, precipitous crush of choking, viscous, black mass. She trembled and shook and didn’t even try to breathe.

To breathe in would’ve meant breathing out. To breathe out would have been to cry. To cry would have belied the guilt.

The guilt of fraud. The guilt of being a traitor.

This truth didn’t stare; this truth gaped with its dark, hollow, implacable eye. Seiran, the Eagle Ravi, the Moon’s elite, was a fraud. The seeds she’d sown torturing herself with yearning thoughts of the home-world had taken hard, knotted root in her soul and supped now of the simple fact.

There was no going back.

It wasn’t a question. It wasn’t even a surmise. In the microscopic, imperceptible speck of Moondust of a likelihood the home-world would deign to welcome her back on its hallowed sands, still Seiran would’ve been condemned. The very moment she meshed again with her loyal kin would’ve unmasked her for what she was. A betrayer. A lie.

The disgust at the dust-heads in the brass who’d belayed their order to retreat for months. The impudence of annoyance at those Lunar Lords who’d forgotten their loyal servitors. The bitterness at those fickle squad mates of hers who’d tucked their tails and hurried on home as though they hadn’t all felt the same.

The sin of wanting to live. The blasphemy of loving an impure human. All would be known.

And then, Seiran would be alone once more.

As she was now.

The powerlessness of it folded her over, tears pattering on the floorboards despite her desperate efforts. There was no running. There was nowhere to run to. That recourse had ceased to be. In a year – less than that, now – the orichalcine core of her micro-furnace, the heart of her personal Lattice, would run itself cold and dead. The rest of her kit would follow. The crystalline coils of her Amplifier gun, that facsimile of her own psychic make-up, might yet outlast it, but without their lifeblood they too would decay and die.

And then it would be over. There would be nothing left remaining in her Lattice apart from herself. Her traitorous, deserted, forgotten self. Nowhen again to mesh another mind. To exist, really exist in the only place that truly meant anything to a Moon rabbit. A walking husk. Shrivelled up. Mute, deaf, dead.

Might as well—


—die now.

The nobody Seiran was thumped her forehead on the hard, polished floor. The dry, voiceless heaves of her undeserved, selfish sobbing grew only in strength as she yielded to the inevitable. It swallowed her, a bed of filth of her own making.

The best to die now. As a nobody. Never to turn into a nothing. Take whatever little she’d worked up throughout her pathetic life and terminate it on her own terms. The Lunar dogma and its disgust toward death seemed so distant before the towering, inexorable threat of psy-less oblivion.

Thump. Moan.

What did it matter if she died? There was nothing left for Seiran, the fraud.

Thump. Cry.

Nothing. Nothing of worth in the interim. Nothing after. Nothing to remember her except by name and rank. Nothing to validate her mean, self-serving existence. Not on Earth. Not on the Moon. Nowhere and nothing. Nothing Seiran, the Moon rabbit, would become.

Thump. Die.

There was nothing, nothing, nothing, thump, nothing, thump, thump, nothing, thump, thump, thump—

Touch. Shake. Yell.

Alarm. Concern.

Seiran struggled. Then startled.

There was something. Someone. Someone who would remember. Not for the right reasons, not for the correct reasons, but—

Hito. His name was Hito, and he was dragging her up to a sit by gentle force, with arms she’d scratched bloody in her unconscious flailing. Thin red trails were smeared along the washed-out white sleeves of his robe.

The only person who’d cared. The only one who had given her comfort however he could. Who hadn’t just taken. The one soul, one mind Seiran didn’t need – but wanted. Wanted to live in. Wanted to love.

That want flooded back: parting the darkness, loosening seized muscles. Seiran stared and breathed in fits, clutching at the emotives writ on his familiar face, imagined though they may be: worry, anguish, fear. The underpinning – and so callously misused – affection they bled from. The pain and grief and hope and such unflinching tenderness it broke her all over again to see it focused on a traitor like Seiran.

For she was betraying him, too. A lie of omission so long she couldn’t see its tail.

The Moon go to dust; she couldn’t deceive Hito. Not him. Not her Hito. No more.

She threw herself into his arms and cried and shivered and told him everything. Who she was. What she was. What she’d done. What she still did, behind the closed doors of her den, to stave off the onset of insanity.
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From beginning to end, the Moon rabbit laid herself bare before the Earthling she loved and hoped to the Earth she would still be allowed to afterwards.
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If this story doesn't have an (at least somewhat) happy ending for our Miss Bunny, I'm going to riot.
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If this story has a happy ending for our Miss Bunny, I'm going to riot.


You're actually doing this. You're actually doing this in a story. You absolute cock.

I had a fit of giggles.
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It was an evening. Maybe. What difference did it make?

Seiran was exhausted. And sore.

It was the dustiest thing. Those weren’t her knees which ached the worst. Nor her lungs. Not even the ruptured skin of her forehead. It was her elbows. Her elbows hurt from clinging fiercely on to the inalienable pillar of security that was an ordinary, human man. Not a Lord. No one of stripes or eminence. Just one man more tolerant than all of them stewed together.

An hour or two or three or merely minutes he had knelt on the bare kitchen floor, the wounded, sobbing Moon rabbit held tight to his softly rising and falling chest. No words had been had, no admonishment spoken, since she’d concluded her whimpered confession, an unknowable count of tics ago. All there had been was the calm, unjudging silence and the unconditional warmth of his embrace.

Somehow, that had been the cure. Slowly, by ragged degrees, Seiran had quit crying. Then shaking. Then, feeling so ashamed it burned, wanting to die. In his arms, it’d all someway lost the sense. Nothing had been mended, but… but, in the here and now, she couldn’t bear to give those arms up.

Which was why, being Seiran, she did.

The lightest push split his unwavering hold as surely as if she’d pulsed the intent straight to his mind. Hito let her to peel away at her own pace, which was proving loath. At length and further, she managed to pull herself a forearm’s span away. And, hiccupping, peered up.

The mundaneness of his habitual, mild smile stunned her. It belonged to another world. To another evening – with sushi, salt, lame repartee and carping about the gentry in it. To one Seiran hadn’t irreparably spoilt.

Hito gave it to her all the same. He’d finessed an arm between them and wiped now the tears from Seiran’s left cheek. And now from her right. He brushed her nose with the reverse of his fingers; and, all at once, as foolishly as it would sound in the morning, she didn’t regret bawling her eyes out nearly as much.

Then her heart was almost rent again as his fingers came away smudged in red and chagrin twisted his hallmark feature.

“... I do not know how to help you, Seiran,” he murmured. “I want to, but I do not know...”

He’d said it with such hate. Not for Seiran, not for his own impotent self – but for the world that had made her what she was. In but one lone sentence, one unsounded emotive, she understood she could never tell him of the Moon’s pale beauty precluding some cutting, sardonic response. The wondrous Lunar Lords had in their inattention made a mortal enemy this night.

Another ribbon on her lapel.

“It isn’t—” Seiran hiccupped, “—isn’t something that can be helped. It’s part of me. It comes and—and goes. I’m fine now. I’ll be finer yet t—tomorrow.”

“After you’ve… talked to your whatsits?” Hito asked.

The rawness of the lie exposed choked her welling response. Hito noticed.

What else had he?

“We may thrash that out some other time,” he said. “When you’re in shape for it. No need to right away.”

“But—” Seiran protested.

He barred her lips with a bloodied finger. “Nothing has changed, Seiran,” he told her, with feeling. “Not a blessed thing. You’re you, and you’re here. Already had you pegged as a youkai rabbit. Accepted that. This Moon rabbit news might just mean I’m less of a firebrand than thought. That I don’t fully follow – yet – cuts no ice with me. Ask anyone. Would you like to go home?”

Something rose up Seiran’s throat, and it couldn’t, considering, have been the dinner. Her fists gripped his clothing.

“It’s your birthday,” she began; “I wouldn’t—”

Hito shook his head. “Not important. Another one next year anywise.”

“The—Then, the food—”

“Not,” he once again cut in, “important, Seiran. You are.” He thumbed a wet spot from her chin. “Gathered correct you’ll feel better if you go back to your things or didn’t I?”

“… Affirmative,” Seiran muttered.

Hito took his caring hand away. “See? There. May wear the black and gold on and off, but I’m no stuck-up nob. So, dust to the food. Shall we take you back home, Seiran?”

Seiran’s jaw clamped.

( ) “It’s your… it’s yours…”
( ) “I wouldn’t do that to you…”
( ) “Please don’t hate me…”

She let her eyes slide down and away from his. “… Yes,” she yielded, “please.”

“Then let’s,” said Hito. “Clean up that tomato of a mug first of everything, that is.”

Seiran chiselled in on the notion with a helpless, grateful little smile. They climbed up from the floor to the clicking of stale joints. Then, leaving behind the scene of Seiran’s, well, scene – and all but two of its casualties – Hito marched the waning Moon rabbit out to the washroom.

There, quite unbidden and even more unbendable, he washed Seiran’s tomato of a mug for her in the sink’s cathartically cold water. He dipped behind the screens dividing the bathing area and its tin tub – to reappear shortly with a square of linen gauze on hand. Something scented, cool and floral, had been sprinkle on it and then, unceremoniously, pressed to Seiran’s forehead. Told to hold it there till the bleeding stopped, it was all Seiran could do as the man presented his back, went to one knee and lastly bade her “Hop on.” His tone brooked no nos.

It was the single kindest thing, she would say still years on, anyone had ever done for her.

Contemporary Seiran batted away the nos crowding the crumbs of her pride. She tucked up the bottom of her kimono with the unoccupied hand then hopped on in all except the energy implicit. Hito tapped the quaint, electric glow-tubes of his house off and piggybacked her out into what had panned out as an early night.

The ride home was cosy, silent and too soon over. Ahead she might wring it for altogether any excuses, Hito ferried her under the dosshouse gate and deposited her by the door marked 3. He hovered by, observant of the universal law of lights-out hush, while Seiran fumbled the bolt out with her flagging mind.

At last, the door marked 3 consented to move aside, and Hito tensed visibly as though to pounce on the good-byes.

Seiran pinched his sleeve and entreated him inside.

No comment was made on furnishings so stark they chafed. No remark issued on makeshift fixtures and appliances that had made shift for years. Seiran sat down on the edge of the bed. Hito sat beside.

And put an arm around her.

And the second place in the kindest things footrace coalesced.

They sat there in the gloom of her quarters for a (quantified, now) hour, the Moon rabbit soaking up his presence for the solitary stretch ahead, and the Earthling – calmingly cradling her hand in his. It was Seiran, always Seiran, who brought her fill to a stop.

“… You ought to go,” she whispered, drained of even the willpower to vocalise. “You can’t… all night, here… copy?”

Hito gave it the due consideration. It didn’t last long. It did entirely too much so.

“Won’t try to hurt yourself again, will you?” he said, firmly.

It stung. All the worse that it’d needed to be asked.

“… No,” she said weakly.

“Won’t be disappointing me alone if you do, you know?”

“I know,” said Seiran, as the fleet of shame shelled the blockade on river Tears.

“Good,” said Hito, and the bombardment ceased. He made, however, no move to withdraw.

After a while, Seiran closed her eyes.

Once she opened them again, she was on her own. The door had been shut on the night outside, and she – tucked perfunctorily into bed. Still in full work uniform – not excluding the shoes on her feet, dangling off the side. Seiran bore up verticality one last time, shuffled the short distance to bolt the door and doffed her clothes on the return trip. Come to port, she collapsed back onto her bed’s dented mattress.

Her fuzzy, sideways gaze sighted by chance on the inert micro-furnace nested on the work surface she’d mounted, with the landlady’s hammer-cautious sanction, to the opposite wall.

For a bit, Seiran stared.

… Then, she rolled onto her other flank.

What was the Earthed point? The moribund thing couldn’t speak. It couldn’t feel. It couldn’t hold her hand till she fell back asleep.

In her bubble of silence, Seiran did it by herself.

Midmorning, the chaperon of the Sun striking through the blind-less window forced her to flee, blearily awake, into a bunker of blankets. She didn’t wish to get up or deploy. The light may’ve frightened off the demons of the night, but the ignominy that’d come with might as well have been getting a suntan. It was unbudgeable. If it had been any more dug in, it’d have Kishin poking its feet with spears, probably very confused.

Still and all—

Seiran upended her cotton fort for an exchange of air. Then let it close back in around her.

… Still and all, she did feel better. Maybe not fine as she’d promised, but yesterday’s Seiran had been nice enough to leave a whole lot of headroom for improvement. It’d be a feat not to – even in, or out of, her shoes. Hito had been nice, too. He had been beyond nice. He had been… He had…

He would probably forgive her.

Among everything else she hadn’t the first idea how to situate herself against, it was the sole one she understood. That book knowledge hadn’t just paid off; it’d invested. If only it had invested in a Moon rabbit who wasn’t so dim. In multiple ways.

The dividends may for all that come ahead the date – ha ha, date – fixed. An insistent, staccato knock on the door poked the Moon rabbit’s ears out a loophole in the blanket bulwark. There was but one person who both knew where she racked out and could knock like there were mitarashi dango getting cold on the other side. The rest of Seiran, alongside an indistinct, hopeful smile, extruded from the bed.

The door had no sooner cracked than a set of slim fingers wedged itself in and shoved it the remainder of the way.
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It wasn’t Hito. It couldn’t have been Hito at o’ late hundred with the Moon behind the clouds. The hips on their own would’ve blocked the drain of recognition. Never mind the floppy, rabbit ears, ruby-red eyes and an XO’s expression.

The expression was stormy. It might even have been thunderous, had Ringo been wearing one of those fleecy, Earthen berets that gathered static like woolly socks in winter instead of her own.

“Stand aside, girl,” the Eagle Ravi communications officer barked. “Hop to!”

Seiran, too stupefied for training to take over, didn’t. “How…?”

Ringo’s grimace went from pickled plum to lemon. “He gave me your whereabouts, dumb-ears. In the middle of the damn night, too, thank you very much.”

“How did he…?”

“Gave him mine,” spat Ringo, “when we met that time. Just in damn case of something like this. No risk of breach if he knew, long as neither one of us did. The ops wouldn’t spare him a glance.” Her eyes turned flinty. “Stand aside, Seiran. We’re taking that damn problem of yours and we’re throwing it the hell out. In the damn lake if I must. Can do it with your leave or without. I floored you last we sparred – remember?”

( ) Stand aside. See what goes in the lake.
( ) For once in your life, of your life, take charge.
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[x] For once in your life, of your life, take charge.
Terminally weak as I am — as all THPers of a certain age are — to the siren call of the lake, I must insist that the blue bun not jump in.
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[x] For once in your life, of your life, take charge.
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(x) For once in your life, of your life, take charge.
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(x) For once in your life, of your life, take charge.

Just do it yourself, Seiran
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[X] For once in your life, of your life, take charge
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Pissing in the wind.

(O.o) Stand aside. See what goes in the lake.

Either way I just want Seiran to get some help from those close to her. In this case, Ringo.

I don't think it's been mentioned yet, but the illustrations accompanying the posts are great. Very nice touch!


Can't unsee the fairy sweat. I can't believe OP snuck it past me. As a certain earth spider would say: Snake!
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(X) For once in your life, of your life, take charge.

Seiran remembered. Or, in this case, her coccyx did for her. Cellular memory shouldn’t have applied to bones, but the Moon’s most rugged minds would’ve been confounded by Seiran’s.

It had been back on the mountain FOB. In those months of radio silence they’d endured, trusting in The Plan. When they had been Earth Recon, still. When they’d yet kept up the veneer of Sleeping Well, Serving Well. It had been before their XO had slipped out to sample and purloin Earthen delights and spoilt the rest of the contingent therewith. All except the starch-butt Gunner Seiran.

And then, little had they known she would turn her scut on them in turn. After the order had finally come down to pull out. After the Eagle Ravi had struck the tents, packed up their kit, picked up the picnic and flown on their veils back to the home-world. Ringo had not followed. Ringo had stayed behind to close the rearward and “do one last sweep.”

Ringo had lied.

And nobody had had a clue. Since Ringo was a spook. Since she’d spent half the time in the squad’s Lattice she had without. Any and all grievances thereto had always been brushed off. “‘Cause of them sensitive titbits the brass likes to keep in my noggin,” Ringo would exculpate herself. The fact she accumulated those titbits as a matter of obsession, quite often quite by herself, had seldom featured in these discussions till XO Ringo had been unmeshed and out of earshot. No true-blue Moon rabbit appreciated an individualist. Not even Seiran.

They had never been, what you’d dub were you feeling fanciful, friends.

Seiran had harboured an unenlightened mote of an expectation that this would imperatively change once they were AWOL together. Individualistically, it had not. Ringo had continued her Ringo ways. They had met up and sitrepped each other once in a blue Earth, yes, albeit only ever at Ringo’s say-so. This was the crux of her success in exile; even on the Moon, Ringo had lived for herself. A singular Moon rabbit for whom solitude was a long, worn-in habit. Who hadn’t relinquished much beyond responsibilities by quitting the ranks.

Whereas Seiran had given up a life.

Cogitating through all this ahead Ringo threw her somehow over her own shoulder (and into the lake, if threats were delivered on) was no mean feat. The furious mental friction and inner heat, however, gave rise to something else. Anger. Anger at herself that she wasn’t like Ringo. Anger and envy for Ringo that she had never had to readjust. That she had never cared. That she still bandied their stripes about and exercised that XO’s bark as though nothing had changed.

As if Gunner Seiran was, after all, after everything she’d sacrificed, still just a subordinate.

Anger seethed and fumed out as a fistful of that overcut, yellow kimono Ringo probably drew streetfuls of eyes with in defiance of secrecy. Seiran hauled her surprised officer friend in past the threshold and smashed the door shut on collateral conspicuity. For once in a lifetime, Ringo had the illimited grace to seem taken aback. Seiran thrust her butt-first onto the bed, while she stomped away to stand by the window, hands trembling.

“I hate you,” she hissed, not looking. “You have it so easy. I hate that.”

Ringo laughed a dark, although cautiously clipped, laugh. “Not last night, girl, let me tell you. Then again, guessing,” she conceded, “neither did you, going by my door getting kicked down about it at the nearest inconvenience.”

It really was an A-lister of a day outside – ripe for dango and short-cut kimonos. Seiran eyed the well-watered and rapidly blooming bushes by the property’s fence.

Those, too, could do with a clip, submitted the part of her that was the most Seiran. Seiran ignored it. Well – for now she did.

“… What did he tell you?” she demanded, watching the hedgerow grow, as it almost appeared, in real-time.

Ringo’s scoff could have scoured good boots. “That I had best ask you! Imagine that – getting your door kicked down,” she said, and Seiran imagined she sensed a grievance being nursed, “only to be told to go elsewhere to ask why. Swear on my tail, Seiran, if I hadn’t put him down as a sharper cookie than that, I would’ve scrambled him into foaming right then and there. Thought I might’ve had a fair inkling,” she added, in a less abrasive tone, “but, your pretty face and that ugly gash tell me it might’ve been the wrong colour. All right. Spill. What’d you do to yourself, dumb-ears?”

Shame drew Seiran’s shoulders up and in. No. No running, she reminded herself inside. Nowhere to. Not anymore.

She gave the bushes outside a grim stare long enough to pierce even her own comfort barrier.

“… How long,” she eventually asked, “have you got left on your MF?”

Ringo was discreet enough not to question the question. “‘Unno, exactly. Haven’t run the diag in a while. A tittle-little, I’d reckon. Why?”

“Mine’s a year out. Or abouts.”

“You lucky foot,” commended Ringo. “Was seeing under half on mine last I checked.”

“What are you going to do when it dies?”

“Scuffed if I know,” came Ringo’s verbal shrug. “Candles aren’t the worst for light if you ventilate. Can be nice, even – if you can get some smitten male to buy you scented ones. Maybe I’ll ask my homeowner to dig me a cellar before my atmospheric goes tits-up. Ahp went last year; not like I needed it for humans, and there’re few youkai grounded enough to bend to psychic. Spell Card compliance besides. Would’ve been better off with a kinetic, tell you what. Anyhow,” she moved on, “I’ll just be damn doubly sure I’ve done all needed doing before that comes to pass. This’s what I’ll do. I mean, humans round these parts have gotten by without fine,” she pointed out. “Just part of that livin’ – and livin’ down – business. If this is all that’s about, Seiran, I believe I’ll be having words door-wise with that amateur of yours.”

Hito, thought Seiran. His name is Hito, and he’s less of an amateur than I am.

She checked her approach. Her friend (by necessity) was being altogether too reasonable in the same room with a Moon rabbit who regularly chatted weather with her paraphernalia. She smiled at the ludicrousness of it. This is what you are, Seiran. No running.

“… I have been talking to my gear,” she let out aloud.

“So? We all do, girl,” Ringo swatted it down. “Not every bunny’s a whiz who can operate their kit with pure pulse. Happen to know of only one who does. Actual. How about that?”

Seiran sighed. “That’s not just it,” she said, pained. “I have been talking to it like… like it’s people. I tell it about my day. I conduct conversations in my Lattice. I fall to motes when I’m away long… or face up to that it’ll be deaf in a year – less. I can’t picture coping without it. I may be… No. I am going crazy. No hypothetical. And there’s a solid deadline before I’m there.”

Seiran waited, holding her horses. She obviously hadn’t ever owned a horse – and only seen one up close once, led along by the reins past her stall – but it felt an apt animal to allegorise. Any tic, it felt like, her soldier’s self-esteem would yank her sideways and defenestrate her out of sheer humiliation.

Maybe she could’ve held a real horse. Maybe. She couldn’t this one. She turned. “… Ringo?”

Ringo’s face was set. It was indeed so most of the time; contemporarily, however, it was set on jamming Ringo’s front teeth under Ringo’s right thumbnail. Her narrowed eyes caught Seiran’s, and – as it was wont to be with officers – the event caused her to explode in a string of abstruse words that Seiran’s foggy acquaintance alleged to be the Lords’ interior language. It wasn’t the rarest of breaks, to hear XO Ringo disperse expletives, but when she was loading esoterics – that was when you dove for cover. Or dango.

“—Shit!” she concluded. Or not. “Shitting—damn!” Now she did. “This is what all that’s about, huh! MREs, my tail! My gods-damned tail…!”

“Um. Something you know?” Seiran dared ask.

“Of course it is!” snapped Ringo. “It’s my damn job to know! Isn’t it! Kick myself in the damn pods…!”

Seiran’s fingers cinched her forearm. “Then I am going crazy?”

Ringo reconsidered the offending thumbnail. Then allowed it to elude responsibility. “… No,” she said. “At least, no reason to expect so to my wit. You know this daft old line some Lords spout,” she sighed, “when they fancy they’re being funny – or grabbing your hiney? About how rabbits can die if we get lonely? No, right – you wouldn’t,” she caught herself out in that conversational one-way. “Stupid question. Anyhow, pure dust, but coincidental for them it does stem from a legitimate thing.” The bereted Moon rabbit slipped it off to elsewise occupy the itchy hands. Her damper clip glinted in the adventurous sunlight, high up on her floppy ear. “Hear the honours do it as a form of non-corp punishment,” she said, disgusted. “Some units in the domestic, too. Short of it, they cut you off from the Lattice, squad and social, and plonk you in a dampened cell for a spell. It’s a sort of… sort of sensory deprivation routine. Word’s mum on that, ‘cause we can technically do that to our own on our own, and nobody wants anybody to know that – least of all the so-punished.”

“And you do, because...?” Seiran wondered.

Ringo gave her a reproachful look. “Spook, Seiran,” she reminded. “Got slammed in one, also,” she admitted, “which contributed. No, not telling why. Get me drunk, first – somewhere till my liver’s dead yellow. Then I may without dying of embarrassment beforehand. Was also how I got netted into the spooks, so there’s that for it, too. They noticed it wasn’t having the desired effect, being my rolling on the floor from something else than unutterable boredom – and called in the reeves. The spooks do appreciate us bunny-rabbits who can stand keeping our minds off the grid. So, nope,” she said, crisper. “Congrats. You aren’t crazy, Seiran. Would’ve been if you weren’t affected. It’s revoltingly effective… well, so I’m told. Got to every normal rabbit there’re records of.”

“Not you, though?” noted Seiran.

Ringo snickered with no real – or as much as purported – mirth. “Ha. Nope. Not the li’l me,” she agreed in fluent self-deprecative. “Couldn’t tell you why if I wanted to, girl. Maybe I’m a deviant. Maybe mother or father was a mutie. Scratch that; I am a deviant anyhow you stir it. Always was. Whatever. The shitty thing, Seiran,” she said, tone and expression both souring weeks in a single breath, “the real shitty thing is, since you weren’t complaining… since you’d hung back with me in the first place… I’d guessworked you were like me on the sly. Just another whizzy flex. Yanno? Wouldn’t’ve put it past Gunner sensation Seiran. I had no damn first you could substitute with Lat-active gear. I didn’t know. It’s my damn job to, and I didn’t know…!”

Gunner (few-if-any-sensations) Seiran, whose woolly head was inflating with so many unsorted emotives it was beginning to feel light, observed Ringo, Ringo’s fingers and her beret engage one another in a not-so-covert tug-of-war. The moment it seemed most likely the thumbnail might as soon re-enter the fray, Ringo observed her observing.

“… All right,” she announced, deliberately letting the beret come out – and to rest – on top. “Let’s hear what we’re contending with. How bad do you have it? Anxiety? Shakes have been noted if we’re talking physical. Night terrors?”

Seiran gave a wan smile. “Worse.”

“Worse how, girl?”

“… Mesh me.”

The single tic of honest inattention and inattentive honesty revealed what Ringo thought of this idea writ in wrinkles above her nose.

“Then bridge,” said Seiran, shambling over to the other end of the windowsill to put herself within the other clip’s bubble. “I’ll lie to you if I have to put it in vocal. You know that. You know how I am. You are the closest— belay that, the only person who can tell me with a degree of competence if I’m going dust-brained. I’ll make you a new door if it turns out I’m being a prissy doe. Please. Ringo.”

I did not know that,” she definitely didn’t hear Earth Recon’s intelligence officer and all-around rumour hound mutter under her breath.

There was a period of sullen silence. On which then a period was put when a look of focus diffused Ringo’s wrinkles. She closed her eyes. Seiran followed suit.

Giddiness whirled and wobbled in the darkness behind her eyelids. Then the pulse came – warbly, attenuated by their overlaid damper fields.

+Channel open.+

Just this made her ears shoot up straight. Just this jolted her inner Lattice alive.

Just this made her urgently reassess the burdening of Ringo with her troubles. Maybe she could... could scrape by with just this. Maybe this’d be enough to sustain her for a few more weeks. Maybe—

No, Seiran, her sanity chimed in. Too little, too late. No running.

+That’s right. No running+ buzzed Ringo’s wry reply. +Tune and watch the spray, girl. I wouldn’t like to read anything you’d need to smash my head in with a brick about later.+

Seiran almost didn’t not nod on reflex. She reeled in the stray emotives pinging off the boundaries of her field and wound down to Ringo’s cue frequency. A textbook bridge for passing constrained information between two minds.

+Tuned in.+ Seiran pulsed contriteness. +Go ahead, tac-com.+

+Clear send, clear read+ Ringo satisfied the convention. Then pushed more wry restlessness. +Comfy regulars all done? Thought so. Show what you’ve got to show, girl – before I let loose something I shouldn’t.+

+Your titbits?+ sent Seiran, peace attached. +I wouldn’t go rifling in those without permission. No worries.+

+Yes. Correct.+ Ringo’s response was flat. +Show.+

And the running ended.

Seiran keyed in her inner Lattice and affixed the wavelength to the bridge. After a curt push of confirm from the other side, she slipped across an intent to her long-term memory. That wretched impression of overwhelming panic and the walls closing in that’d trawl the relevant scenes out of the sorry mire that was her mind. There was a pause – perhaps of hastily suppressed aversion – and then, diffidently, Ringo mirrored the emotive.

Seiran leaned on the wall, arms hugging her own belly. This was one of the small mercies of an access-read; she did not have to watch herself be a weak-willed fool alongside the reader. Once Ringo had the wavelength and an intent – even through a bridge – those were as good as her own memories to browse.

It nauseated her.

Not… denuding her inner self. No. There had been few things, pre-Earth, which Gunner Seiran would’ve rued to share with her peers – and even fewer which weren’t, in the incidental communication over the squad. Ringo, too, would’ve been shooting in the dark for anything concrete without the associated emotives. A wary brush along the bridge anyway verified she’d kept faith and was disinterring only the pertinent memories, beginning with the oldest. Seiran’s very first attack. That terrible, inscrutable punch of overpowering dread straight to her gut when her own legs had folded underneath her, and—

Oh, Lords…

… No. No, no, no. Not that. What had caused Seiran’s stomach to turn was that it was Ringo who had to see it. None of which was her fault. None of which the breezy, blond rabbit, living it up and down and every which way, had had as little much as a pinkie in. None of which she should need to take a mote of responsibility for. That she might picked Seiran apart. The deepest-seated of her sensibilities revolted at the thought that this morning should deprive her – or Hito, or Seiran’s neighbours, or her customers – of anything, even if it were to help the loony Gunner out of her self-imposed pit.

More memories pulsed by. These – of that awful night after the festival at the Hakurei shrine, when, tired, alone and helpless, Seiran had almost choked to—


… Hito. Hito, at least, wouldn’t hold it against her. Seiran chained herself to this faintly glowing certainty with what had been a gruellingly hounded and domesticated conviction. Hito would forgive her, because—

—and there, the rawness of last night’s events and the cause of the “ugly gash” on her forehead—

—because, because he would. This, Seiran had learnt to accept. Agonisingly. But Ringo. Ringo…

… Ringo shouldn’t have to forgive her. Not in this perfect little life she’d sieved for herself out of Earthen filth. Not of this pain-in-the-ear, dust-stricken subordinate of hers. Not the perfect, sociable, feminine Ringo. To have her stoop to this, this low, smacked of profanation. It turned Seiran’s conscience inside-out—

The bridge collapsed. So suddenly, Seiran was pitched forward by the feedback, heaving, panting for air she didn’t actually need.

“Wha— Ring—”

A wet, strangled sound swung her attention toward the bed. Another trapped the half-formed words in her larynx and Lattice. Seiran blinked – twice, thrice and again – but the unreality before her eyes refused to abide by its name.

Hunched over with her face in her hands, Ringo was crying.

The perfect, unflappable, cheerful, floppy-eared Ringo was crying.

A small, heretofore doused core of Seiran’s upbringing flared instantly stove-hot. The commanding officer was down. Hope was lost. Abort. Hide. Flee.

“Oh, Lords…” sobbed Ringo, shoulders quaking uncontrollably. “Lords, I’m so sorry…!”

Seiran stamped down the misplaced, useless instincts. Hard. Harder. These would never – could never – deal with this situation. The army life did not prepare you for tears.

Seiran’s life did. And, it had been teaching her how to combat those hands-on.

… Well. From the receiving end, but still. Hands had been involved.

And ahead she realised, she was on the move.

Startled by the intensity of her own resolution, Seiran delicately lowered herself onto the bed’s edge. And put an arm around her blubbering friend. Then two. Then, she pulled Ringo into a soft, consoling hug.

The always-composed, laid-back blond Moon rabbit recoiled, head hung, attempting on the forlorn face of it to curl up foetal around the bolus of guilt in her stomach. Seiran would have none of that. She craned her neck sideways, pressed her cheek against Ringo’s, and wrenched her friend’s head upright.
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“There,” she told the tear-streaked face, calmly. “It’s fine. So there.”

Ringo strained, mewling.

“We’ve kissed,” Seiran reminded her. “So shut, already. This is nothing.”

Ringo’s soggy eyes flew wide. “Seiraaan…!”

“That’s right. It’s me.” Still here. Still Seiran. “It’s not your fault.”

“I’m sorrryyy!” bawled her friend. “I didn’t—I didn’t know…!”

“Mhm. Stands to reason,” Seiran agreed. “I never told you.”

And she realised, as the soothing words left her largely by their unaforethought selves, that she really never had told Ringo anything.

… What was it she’d envisioned? That she’d blow past the pieces of Lunarian technology clamped to their ears and read Seiran’s mind for her eventually? That everyone would? This wasn’t how that worked, anymore. It had never worked like that.

She had never told Ringo. About this. About her fears. She had never told Hito, either. About herself. About her feelings. She had never told her squad mates. Why she hated them. Why she’d deserted. She had never presumed to tell Gunner Seiran it was all right to live. To change. To lead this life she had chosen to lead. And to want more out of it.

Ringo had to break it to her. And so, she had.

And Gunner Seiran had ignored it. The words she’d subconsciously needed to hear – for which she’d broached the subject of courting in the first place. And she’d turned a deaf ear – because she’d expected XO Ringo to disapprove like the ideal, model Moon rabbit – and been personally disappointed. She had put her own threadbare pride before sincerity.

… They never had been friends. Maybe they still weren’t.

After all, Seiran had hardly tried to be one.

This would have to be the first step. Seiran tightened her embrace, arms going all around her sniffling sister in exile. Maybe, if she’d listened, these tears wouldn’t have needed to be. Maybe, if she’d spoken to Ringo that night after the festival, her loneliness sensory deprivation wouldn’t have trounced her so near to wanting to die.

Maybe, then, Gunner Seiran wouldn’t have allowed one Hito to fill out that aching gap in her world. Maybe she wouldn’t have gotten hooked on chocolate. Or a man’s touch. Or fallen headlong in love.

Maybe. Probably not.

Spilt milk belonged in cheap eateries.

“… I’m here,” Seiran crooned, rubbing her friend’s trembling back. “We’re just going to have to figure out how to shoot through that. Together, if we can. Copy?”

Ringo’s eyes shimmered with desolate gratitude. Then, such a great sob welled up from her once accolade-festooned chest that her pink face was buried nose-first in Seiran’s. Chest, not face, mercifully.

The two estranged Moon rabbits, at long last, talked. It just wasn’t with words or the Lattice.
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In deference to their fledgling friendship, however, so as not to overpamper it, they made it a not too drawn-out a heart-to-heart. Or face-to-heart, as it would be.

In time, Ringo had cleared her tear ducts and dismissed herself to the washbasin, while Seiran came to reluctant grips with the fact that an ex-officer of hers had made rather a damp mess in her cleavage. Hito may have had the right, way back; she really ought to stop answering the door in underclothes.

The washbasin, which Seiran couldn’t recall refilling yesterday after her between-shifts splash, did its sloshy work and returned Ringo attired in sticky hairs all over her forehead and the cagey smile of those recently proven wrong twice in a rapid succession. Not for the first, but for the first time with this particular prop, Seiran wondered how many would’ve stuck a knife between her ribs to have Ringo sit on their bed looking like this.

Ringo sighed, twice, deeply, a Moon rabbit who had not exercised her lungs so since, all too likely, the last time she had sat on somebody’s bed looking like this.

“… We’ve been AWOL, what, years now?” she said, some of the earlier tartness restored to operational. “How on Earth have you held it together so long, girl?”

Seiran gave a weak shrug. “Just did. It wasn’t that big of a bugbear to begin. Just when the… the deadline started looming. The less I saw on the counter, the more I brooded about it – the worse it got. I did this to myself; before, I just got on day to day.”

Ringo grimaced. “Normal rabbits reckon this is a form of low torture,” she said, “and you just dealt.” There was a third in the procession of sighs. “Whenever I think I have you neatly boxed up, girl, you go and give me a reason to pry it back open. This is Hell on my spook-esteem. Yanno?”

“I’m not special,” insisted Seiran. “You’re dealing too. Aren’t you? With everything.”

“Yeah—” Ringo shook her head, “—but, as established, I’m far removed from normal.” She picked up her divested beret and thumbed the faded name-rune on the peak. “… Seiran,” she said then, glumly, “I’ll mesh you. We’ll have to hash out the gritty, but I’ll make time. You aren’t going through this alone. Not on my nelly.”

Seiran opened her mouth to object.

“Only, there’s this one tittle-little thing you’d best ‘preciate beforehand,” Ringo rode her over, palm upraised in the sergeantal gesture for hold fire. “See… I have a bit of a huge crush on you.”

Seiran’s mouth remained open.

“It’s just a crush, Seiran,” Ringo sped on to assure. “I’m not about to act on it. I’m what you’d call a cheat and what I call an intellectual. I can compartmentalise. It’d spill soon or late, though, so best to save yourself the newsflash.”

Seiran, who wasn’t feeling especially saved, especially from the flash, blinked it furiously away. “Um,” she managed to say, “but, didn’t you—”

“Swear on peaches and boobs I was into males?” Ringo filled in coolly. “I am. Malignantly so. This crush? It’s just you. It’s a first and a one-off, if I can help it. Again, not going to act on it. Nevertheless, it’s in there, and I don’t reckon I could’ve blanked around it, so here. Your danger-close.”

Seiran chewed on a lip. “… Why me?”

And here was her friend’s turn to execute the traditional shoulder jig. “Why not? You’re everything I could never. I was always more or less envious of you.”

“Of what, exactly?” Seiran said plaintively.

“Why, Seiran,” Ringo gasped in mock-mockery, “but it’s so dirty to angle for compliments! Tsk, tsk. What, exactly? You do things, girl,” she accused. “And never, ever by halves. No matter if it’s your shop, your work-shop or just some quick nibble for the squaddies. You put your everything into everything. I can’t picture going full bore like that day in, day out. Too jaded. Too skittish about… about getting bummed, I guess. Meanwhile, that’s the only speed I’ve seen you go. It’s admirable – and exasperating. Also—” she undercut this gravest of offences with a grin, “—your tits are bigger than mine, which oughta be grounds for immediate court martial.”

Seiran smiled at the surprise Ringoism despite every long-honed principle not to. Thanks, Hito. “Thanks, Ringo.”

“Thank your healthy eatin’, not me.”

“Thank you, eatin’.”

Ringo gave a nod. “That’d do it. In any nutcase,” her perpetually peckish friend went on, “somehow or else that’d got stuck in a feedback loop in this packed, ol’ noggin, and sooner than you turned around…”

“Mm.” Seiran nodded back. “Think I’m familiar with how that goes.”

“Righto. And then, once I heard about you and your man, that whole thing took a swerve and I reckon smashed into gate ‘missed opening,’ ‘cause sure, I can always use more of a mess up in here.”

“… I’m still at a loss how to react to this,” said Seiran, who, astounding herself perhaps most of all, hadn’t much.

The other Moon rabbit waved a magnanimous little wave as though to contrive that, against all cited evidence, she was a bigger woman than Seiran. “Same you’ve been, girl. Ignore it. I’m not about to let it get in the way of anything. Or anyone, as it were. Intellectual – right? Just a tip-off ahead misunderstandings arise. Had enough of those courtesy of me, believe me.”

Is that so? thought Seiran. But didn’t say it. It was an ugly thing to have ugly thoughts in response to someone confessing fancying you, and it was getting to be a habit. Seiran vowed not to wear it.

Within the lull, which their chats were and had been wont to interlace, the former Gunner Seiran screwed her head on, in every sense of the word, straight, while her commander performed the same feat with her ancient beret and its lawful seat. Ringo’s face betrayed nothing except the Moon as she looked back over at her, by her own account, junior crush.

“… You were piping up about something before I rudely strafed you with that?” she asked.

Seiran sat to almost automatic attention. “Um. Yes,” she admitted. “Sorry. I was going to suggest, we don’t have to mesh—”

The Moon of Ringo’s face waned. “Seiran—”

A palm went up, and this time it went upwards the ranks. “Hear me out,” Seiran pled. “I was making ends spark fine with the gear. It was knowing I was running out of time that dropped me down the spiral. I already feel… better… from bridging. I do. Maybe all I need for now is the… the security of a fallback. Um. Not that you’re a…”

But Ringo was in no mood for mollifying innuendo. “Seiran, girl,” she advised, eyes narrowed, “there’re times in life for humility and then there are times in life when you stuff it up your fuzzy lest others stuff it up your fuzzy. Hint? This’s one of the latter. I’ll not cry my damn eyes out again when you have a relapse, not on my—”

“It’s uncomfortable for you,” Seiran cut in. “Isn’t it?”

And saw at once she had cut along a tender part.

Ringo made a face. Then, Ringo sucked her teeth, looked away and made altogether a different one. It wasn’t a face Gunner Seiran would’ve pictured picturable on their self-possessed, secretive XO. It butted on the border of bunny-rabbit sulk.

—this girl in a damn box—” the blond Moon rabbit was muttering. “… It’s not,” she said, louder, venturing a sullen stare, “uncomfortable as such, Seiran. I may be half-mutie – or whatever – but I’m still a damn Moon rabbit, you. Got the ears and the sweet tooth, don’t I? I have no hang-ups about meshing… in and of itself. It’s just, when you’ve been prevaricating and putting on airs all your life—”

“It feels like a betrayal,” Seiran put in, “when your real you seeps through.”

Ringo’s replying smile was a clumsily flipped frown. “… Suppose you’d understand.”

More than seeps through, Seiran thought. “… I’d like to meet the real Ringo,” she said aloud. “Someday, once she’s all out of airs. Until then, though, bridging ought to do. Treat it as an experiment? Shrink the dosage; drip rather than feed. Yanno—” she borrowed the lectic quirk, “—like you do with the sweet tooth.”

“You wouldn’t like the real Ringo,” disagreed Ringo. “Girl has more vices than a damn tool shop. All right,” she sighed yet again, “roger that. Small doses, and let’s see what the bugger does; but, so help me, Seiran, if I don’t hear it the hour you feel like backsliding…”

“You will,” said Seiran.

“You promise?”

“You’ll hear a knock,” guaranteed Seiran. “Maybe a bunch.”

“You’d best damn promise, girl.”

“I promise.”

A small smile dawned. It might even have been the real Ringo smiling. She leaned in, and—

—and then the smile retreated someplace behind the lips framing it. Seiran winced dutifully as her friend instead clapped her deafeningly on the bare shoulder on the road to long-legged verticality. Temporarily longer-legged when Ringo bent down to tug her sawn-off kimono down. The succeeding look sighted Seiran-ward had the brass calibre of XO Ringo peeking out of it.

“All right, Gunner. What are our logisticals for this?” she demanded with a smart chop of the hand on the opposing. “I shouldn’t be seen hanging about – too many neighbours; bottom line upfront, we need a place and a time to meet up and have our sit-downs. This charming little hole’s out of the question; bad enough I’ve got your co-ords in my head, now. Somewhere public – but not too. Also, method of setting these up. Guess I can tight-beam you, since I know whereabouts here is, but you’d have to curb the ‘metrist and try not to triangulate me with the reply. Ideas?”

We’ve been AWOL for, what, years, Seiran remembered her friend saying. Are you still afraid they would send somebody after us?

Weren’t you afraid they wouldn’t? Seiran reminded Seiran.

“Um. I’m at his place a lot of the, er, most of the evenings,” she put forward. “You could pick me up there after – or wait till – we’ve both clocked off. Use it as staging. Or, let me talk him into letting us requisition some chairs again. We’ve yet to steep all the way through that tea case, anyway.”

Ringo’s ears could’ve been said to wilt in the wake of deflatingly simple reality getting in the way of her work, except then this must already have been occurring ceaselessly for as long as they’d been acquainted.

“Trust a shooter to unload all the romance out of it,” she dramatized. “Oh, all right. Quit that pout. Then, I’ll creep into your love nest to look in on you, every two…?”

She looked to Seiran for sanction.

“Whenever you like, Ringo,” said Seiran.

“… Three days, then. We can moderate as we go. I expect I’ll hear it from your man anyhow if you go awry in the middle of the night. Speaking of which door-murderer—” Her stare narrowed to a knife-point. “You’ll be going to him now, won’t you, girl?”

It felt good not to have to feign. “Yes.”

“Might want to throw some togs on for the road ‘tween.”

“I was going to, thanks.”

Seiran sloughed off the bed and descended on the clothes-trunk beside for something clean and not too creased. Something informal. Something to go to show this wasn’t just a job. In the end, she emerged with her old, blue off-duty dress on despondent hand.

“… I should’ve taken a bath,” she sniffed, half to and half at herself.

Ringo’s own nasal symphony intruded on her private criticism. “Oh, please. If I didn’t retch, girl, neither will he. Hell, you never know.”

What it was precisely she didn’t wasn’t appended. “… He didn’t really beat in your door, did he?” Seiran asked, squeezing in past the frills.

“Ah, well…” she heard Ringo say.

“… He did, then?”

“Not all in,” she granted. “Can chalk it up to my bad, anyhow. I’m in the practice of pretending nobody’s in when I hear a knock. Should’ve surmised urgency when the hinges started buckling.”

Seiran pushed her head through and gave her friend a steady gaze. “… You know – and I bet you do – but, it would’ve been much easier to take you seriously if you didn’t go and twist everything said into something witty, sometimes.”

This, perhaps harsh, sidelight was met with an equally rough shrug. “It’s how I do, girl,” Ringo said blandly. “I laugh at things, so they’ll shrink in shame and not scare me as much. Hoppin’ in those boots?”

“One tic.” Seiran tied up her hair, snatched up her satchel and then went around collecting a number of items from around her quarters, some raising the spectatorial brow or two. “Hoppin’ in,” she announced, and did.

They filed out into the light.

Seiran closed the door and swiped the bolt engaged. This regular act of prudence, somehow, caused Ringo, still within her damper’s bubble, to act as if she’d been swiped herself.

“You—” she spluttered, wide-eyed, “You didn’t just telekine the lock!”

“Um. No,” Seiran said truthfully. “There is none. No lock, I mean. Only the bolt on the inside. Can’t be picked if there’s no keyhole… er, is what I reasoned.”

Ringo had a fit of the spots. Then, a bit of the inverse. Ultimately, these all collapsed into a shrill, breathless sort of cackle.

“… Second-highest grade of psychic!” the incredulous Moon rabbit croaked. “And this girl uses it to… to prevent petty burglary! The reeves would’ve had a collective!”

“… Anybody can do it,” Seiran protested.

Ringo recovered her truant composure. “Yeah,” she said, wiping at her eyes. “Yeah, and when they do – that’s when hurdles burst out of flat dust. You would’ve been proud of my breakfast, last time I tried.”

Seiran cocked her head.

“It went far!” explained Ringo.

“… Haaa,” Seiran supposed.

Her incorrigible friend tittered anyway. “See? This is why we wouldn’t do as an item, girl,” she said, not a trace amount of rancour contained. “Men at least actually find my nonsense funny. You don’t have the, pisssh, stomach for it.”

“Mm. Ha. Sure.”

“… Something still wrong, Seiran?”

Seiran, who had been staring wistfully out at the dosshouse gate, exhaled. “… It was his birthday yesterday.”

“Oh boy,” Ringo empathised. “And?”

Seiran swung the stare around. She let her expression make its appeal in the court of courting by itself.

“… Girl,” Ringo warned, softly. “Are you positive you want my advice, here? My field manual for cheering a man up’s fairly technical – but not whatsoever subtle.”

( ) Whatever to make him happy.
( ) No. Seiran cooked it up; Seiran would have to eat it.
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[x] Whatever to make him happy.
Okay, read your implied implications loud and clear: Seiran going her own way is part of the problem half the time there's a problem. Might as well lean on a newfound friend.
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(x) Whatever to make him happy.

Just how lewd will her suggestion be
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(x) Whatever to make him happy.
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(X) Whatever to make him happy.

It seemed increasingly to Seiran that Ringo, who had tempered the art of bluntness into an invincible hammerhead, had forgotten one or two very particular spots. Then again, perhaps Seiran hadn’t ever needed to be hit particularly hard in those spots, either. Maybe it was time she was.

“Have I been notorious for being subtle?” she queried her friend.

Occasionally, Ringo’s stares could be needling indeed. This one was rather like a whole sewing kit pouring out. “No-o,” she drawled, lips curled. “Shooters aren’t as a rule, what with the occupational. And for damn sure nobody what brings up a girl’s s-lips of judgement in her weak moments merits claim of the virtue. All the same, Seiran; a bush to beat around isn’t something you’ll find on this doe. Word to the wise. Unlike some,” she added, needles slightly bending, “I’m not a hotshot at everything I’m requested to do. Sugar-coating filed under.”

Seiran let it pass, not least because that was what you did to officers superior. “I am not a prude,” she averred.

“Well. Guess not anymore,” yielded Ringo, “else you wouldn’t be openin’ the door in your unmentionables.”

“That has been a recurring mishap,” Seiran admitted.

“Pardon my doubtful.”

“... Is this to do with what you thought initially was wrong with me?”

Ringo raked her with a sergeantal “Was this girl always so clever?” look. Seiran evenly returned an infantryrabbit’s patented “Ma’am?” one. It wasn’t a sustainable exchange. It wasn’t even even.

“... Sure, affirmative,” Ringo relented, “but, I beg you, Seiran, another day. So’s I can tell it to you as a ‘ha ha’ story – rather than a ‘shit, I’m sorry’ story. I wasn’t doing my thinking with the right brain; that’s all I’ll say for the meanwhile. You wanted that advice or what?”

Seiran endeavoured to look attentive and look attentively at her friend – as a friend. “Mhm.”

The relief on Ringo’s slippery lips could’ve greased more mistakes. Throughout the oncoming moment, however, it gelled over into a crust of seriousness. “All right. Then prick up those whizz ears, whizz-ears,” she said drily. “He’s a late riser by his own indictment, right?”

“Mm.” Seiran nodded. “Correct.”

“Then this is what you do, girl.” Her ex-XO stepped close and thrust a finger at her chin from below. “You go there. You tread as light as you did sneaking out on Lord Tsukuyomi’s. You go into that big bloomin’ galley of his and cook up a breakfast to end all breakfasts. His favouritest of the favourite. Then you take all that and slip into his bedroom and lay it all aside for the mo’. With me so far, Gunner?”


“Good job. ‘Cause then—” Ringo lowered her voice, “—cause then, girl, you’re gonna wanna get up on top of him. Gently! No waking him up just yet. Get up there and get comfortable. You’re going to bend down, listen you, and you’re going to press these lovely lips riiight on his. You’re going to leave them there, hear? So that, when he does wake up, the first thing he sees is this lovely doe. So that the first thing comes to him is, ‘I could be wakin’ up to this beautiful face for the rest of my life.’ Melts the knees right out from under them. Which might make it a female dog to get ‘em out of that bed,” she added, a slight smile re-entering the contention, “but not the end of the world, depending on how you feel about crumbs in your hair afterwards.”

Seiran blinked, a flush of awkwardness storming up her neckline at hearing this – very possibly – very personal fantasy.

“Sorry,” Ringo excused herself, trailing it with her eyes, “for having a romantic wishbone in my body.”

“Um. And have you ever…?” Seiran left the question half-fired.

“Some distinct parts,” Ringo owned up. “Never the breakfast; didn’t want to present too false of a promise. You can, though. You’re a more proper romantic than I am; you’re built for this sort of huggy, mushy affair. Yanno, with your bigger—”

She gestured.

“… They haven’t helped me much,” Seiran complained, “with anything other than channelling sweat, yet.”

“Tell that to him next you two hug,” Ringo suggested. “Ask if he’d’ve liked more ribs to go. Never mind this, girl. We can swap bedroom tips another date; I’ll be seeing you in a solar or three, anyhow. What the hell, I’ll show you some nice tricks, if you like, while we’re there and meshed— uh, bridging. You aren’t me; no need for you to resort to… to sexual wiles. You’re Seiran. He loves Seiran. Give him Seiran – no more, no less – and you’re home-free.”

I want to, though, Seiran sulked inside. I want to give him more Seiran. She reached out to remove the still-trained finger-y bayonet from the propinquity of her chin – and ran aground on her ex-XO’s newly re-militarised gaze.

“Whatever else you do, girl,” said Ringo, all traces of humour evaporated, “there is one thing you must. No buts. You must. He told me, last night – once I pried it out of him, in any – what set off your… your…”

“… Episode?” Seiran supplied.

“That. Your episode. You must straighten this out, Seiran,” Ringo insisted. “Men can… they can get hung up on words. All right? Universal deficiency of the sex. He already has, going by the fact he did tell me. You mustn’t leave him up there, Seiran. Clarify. In no ambivalent terms. Smack him on the mouth with it if need be, but do. This’ll all seem silly doe stuff after you have, but it’s the most important thing right now. Got it?”

“Um. Yes,” mumbled Seiran, who wasn’t wholly positive she had.

“Have you got it, girl?!” barked Ringo.

“Yes, Ma’am!”

This slaked the lingering Eagle Ravi hierarchy.

A pointed finger always commanded attention. The wielder was seldom what it was meant to draw attention to; in this instance, however, Ringo’s specimen remaining levelled whilst she backed away racked Seiran’s heed right along it to her friend’s face breaking out in a sudden, frank – familiar – grin.
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“You’re going to be happy, girl,” said Ringo.

In a yellow kimono lashed closed with a slapdash, coffee-brown belt, its overcut skirts and a beret that’d gone out of style, by the buff of it, at a time when Lady Chang’e had walked the sands still, you would’ve had your tail up the wall to keep seeing her as the stripes on her Eagle Ravi holottoo.

Seiran tried regardless. “Is that an order?”

Ringo jogged her shoulders. “A diagnosis.”

Seiran couldn’t help a small, sardonic smile. “You’re my medic as well as shrink, now? Oh no. Is it terminal?”

“I was with the hospitallers for a stint, yanno,” argued Ringo. “When I’d yet fancied I wanted to help people – before the spooks scooped me up. Albeit, this one, I learnt even earlier – with the domestics. I met a happy doe there, once. You have all the self-same symptoms. Trust me.”

“Is there anything you haven’t done?” wondered Seiran.

“I haven’t been married,” Ringo admitted. “Or in a relationship longer than a month, at the brass tacks. That, I fear me, is your road to recon, Recon.”

“Why me?” Seiran wanted to know.

“‘Cause you can, girl.” The pink-nailed bayonet fell by the other Moon rabbit’s flank. “‘Cause you, of all of us,” she said, emphatically, “deserve it first and foremost.”

“Someday—” Seiran shook her head, “Someday, I’m going to finally figure out what it is you actually mean when you get philosophical like this,” she vowed. “And then, a right silly fool you’re going to feel.”

“One can hope.”

“… Ringo?”


“Thank you. And, I’m sorry.”

If ever words could be taken as bitter medicine, Ringo would’ve been swallowing a fistful. “… Can we put the blame-of-war on ice for the nonce?” she begged, following a moment’s internal scuffle. “We’d both like it aaall to ourselves, I’m damn well sure – but you’ve got stickier mochi to pound before that, girl. Go. Kick him for me. And then kiss him for you. Seriously.”

The sheer occurrence of her inveterate friend not playing further on the purported stickiness told Seiran it seriously was a matter of seriousness. She gave a smart salute. Then, she stepped forth to give Ringo a much less smart hug.

Her ex-XO slithered out and under her enclosing arms with the oily slickness of one long practiced.

“In three!” Ringo reminded, skipping backwards for the gate on one sandalled foot. “And I’m standing in the slips if something goes skew-whiff. Always will. Send your man. Speakin’ whomof – careful with the dangly bits. Ta-ta!”

And, this parting bundle of wisdom delivered (though maybe not yet signed or paid), the blonde Moon rabbit joined the morning street hubbub of the town one of them at least had come to believe she could call home.

Lords unwilling, perhaps one day the other could, too.
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Seiran did not come home. This would’ve been news to her surface sensibilities once the front door of Hito’s manor clicked shut behind her. She was sure, unruffled and calm.

She should have been terrified. A confrontation she hadn’t apprehended till (a tad under) another year was poised with its jaws spread, waiting a hapless Moon rabbit to hop on down. Still, this wasn’t what her body was communicating. Her ears were straight. Her feet weaved her around the ceiling supports of the restaurant floor so stub-lessly her eyes had scarce anything to contribute – although remained alert for the eventuality of toe-level ambushes. Her mouth might have been slightly screwed up, but only because one had already waylaid her outside in the shape of a sneaky parasol hole in the patio.

If you’d but asked, these would’ve told you – in presumably the same language you had – that this was as natural of a place for Seiran to be as the inside of her socks. That she was coming in for little else than yet another shift of light housework, snacks and daringly inappropriate workplace relations. That she hadn’t broken down, cried, split her forehead on the floor or lied for months to her would-be man about being a recreant rabbit from the Moon.

That not even this mattered in this place.

Seiran entered the annexe through the always-open door. She didn’t waste the morning light on scanning the dirt on the floor, speculating about the lights or psy-touching other doors. She strode into the dinette, a self-made Moon rabbit with intent and a purpose.

And there the first hurdle burst out of flat dust.

Hito wasn’t in bed. Hito was quite up, vertical and standing by one of the annexe’s (they’d had to be) expensive, glass windows. The earthy smell of coffee perfused the air. A plain, enamel-white cup of it was held in the man’s unwavering hand, stalled absently halfway to his mouth.

He hadn’t heard her enter. And, in that heartbeat crack between surreptition and notice, Seiran somewise knew that he had stood there – right there, just like this – dozens and dozens of times before. If she’d but pulsed at the floor, she was ineffably sure, she might’ve found the subtle grooves his feet had buffed in the stone from doing this morning in, morning out, for days and days and days.

Staring out this window at nothing in particular… expecting no more… and yet hoping against hope for something. A hint. Anything.

Until hope died, too.

In that moment, there was not a thing, not a ball of filth or dust Seiran hated more than the one which had given him cause to stand like so. Then the moment melted away on coffee fumes and the attention of eyes as grey as the Moon and as soft as it could never be.

“… Good day, Miss Seiran,” Hito said, unperturbed.

There was no smile – except the one inside, reserved for Seiran, which needn’t overt displays.

“Mm,” she replied.

Hito looked her over. “How are you feeling?”

“I’m better.”

“That’s a load off. Has your friend been by?”

Seiran brushed past the question for now, depositing her heavy satchel on the table. Thereon, the disburdened Moon rabbit walked herself over to the human’s favoured spot for solitude. To stand close by his side.

Closer. Closer. Till her back was nestled in the crook of his unoccupied arm.

It was selfishness. And it didn’t matter. He let her to do it all the same – to extract this small declaration of an affection that hadn’t been spoken aloud for fear of causing her offence, but been there whenever she’d needed it. His big, reliable hand couldn’t seem to decide where to come to port – so, Seiran helped it along by offering up the inside of her palm. She laced her smaller, work-stained fingers through his – a heartbeat before he could. He squeezed, surprised – but obliging even so.

It was this easy. It had always been. To take advantage of that four-letter thing he’d felt. This man who gazed out empty windows like in Seiran’s tearjerker novels when he thought nobody saw. It was the Moon’s own mercy and miracle he hadn’t been snatched up well ahead she’d come about in his life. It made a woman’s heart race, this sort of mooning. At least, it did Seiran’s.

And it was only one way in which he did.

The morning spent talking and now the man’s intoxicating nearness were proving altogether inconducive to proper hydration. Seiran lightly – easily – wrested the cup from his other hand and took a sip.

And, subsequently, shuddered. The coffee was lukewarm; what it wanted for, however, in thermal temperament, it made up in not so much taste – as texture.

Khm. Ugh. No cream?” she asked, plaintively. “Not a dollop?”

“Hadn’t occurred to run out and get some,” Hito excused his complicity in the assault on her taste buds. “Cream doesn’t keep, even in a cellar; has to be got fresh. Milk’s a decent stand-in, but same applies. Wasn’t drinking for taste, anywise.” He paused. “I wanted to be here when you came in, Seiran,” he translated, in case that was required.

It hadn’t been, but she permitted herself a tingle of reassurance from hearing it anyway. She downed the rest of the oily, caustic coffee, survived, and let Hito relieve her of the drained cup. He set it down on the windowsill – and then replaced its spot in his hand with Seiran’s. Her fingers curled around the edge of his broad palm, almost by themselves – almost like they had when they’d very first held hands. After his bout of impetuous charity and a certain Moon rabbit’s explosive overreaction thereto. He hadn’t given up on her then.

He wasn’t now.

Nothing had changed. These hadn’t been just words. Nothing would change if she didn’t want it. A youkai rabbit, a fugitive from the Moon or whatever else she would yet turn out to be. It made no difference to this man who cared only for the Seiran he’d known. Anything before or beyond, anything added – was mere seasoning on top. And he’d eat it regardless, words and everything. No matter how long she cooked. No matter how long she stood there, silent, stewing secrets, making up her own bedraggled mind. He would wait. As he had. As he was.

Because love – real, mundane love – wasn’t cream or milk. It didn’t expire suddenly in a puff of tragedy.

How lucky are you? thought Seiran. How lucky have you been and sleeping on it?

She must’ve looked farther out of sorts than she’d claimed, because then Hito urged, “Hmm?”

Seiran sighed, feigning for his benefit a mild exasperation with his silently broadcast questions.

“... She’s been by,” she reported at last. “We... She figured it out. What is wrong with me.”

“Was it a—” Hito groped for innocuous terms – a task not cut out for a human with both his hands full of a Moon rabbit’s. “... A your-kind thing?”

“Yes. To start,” Seiran warranted. “Then the rest – the deep end – that was me. I took a simple, innate problem, bottled it up – and let it ferment till it ballooned and blew up. I’ll explain... try to... if you want to hear it, but the takeaway is: I did it to myself. Ignorant as I was. I kept poking and itching and dusting on more, and...”

“Simple problems can be like that,” Hito confirmed. “What about your friend? She going to help? Can she?”

“Mm. She refused not to. We’re going to sit down and bang our heads together to see what we can do about me. Weaning me off of all this’d be the best-case, but if that falls through, seeing her every now and then might help me get by. At least, I’ll be aware she’s there. Just in case. Might stop me itching.” Seiran slumped in his embrace. “... I should have told her earlier,” she murmured. “She realised what was up straight away. I should have told her, but I just... I didn’t want to get in the way of her life. You know? I didn’t want her to—to have to shoulder my worries as well. To stoop to my level. When we’re both Moon rabbits. When we’re both in the same pit. Is that silly or what?”

“We do do that,” said Hito, petting the reverse of her palm, “to those we admire.”

“Speaking from experience?” she wondered, not willing to contradict him.

“Speaking from two.”

“... I didn’t tell you, either,” Seiran pushed on, skirting an implication she wasn’t ready to unravel.

“You did,” he corrected, “eventually.”

“Too late.”

“Never too late,” Hito disagreed, “long as you still wake up in the morning.”

She couldn’t help it. “Or the afternoon,” she added.

He didn’t laugh. Then again, it hadn’t been exactly a knee-slapper-grade joke; and, anyway, she felt that the brisk, warm breath and an even warmer kiss delivered to one of her ears might be the preferred reward.

With an odd, clinical sense of detachment, she finally put a word to what she’d been feeling. Safe. She was safe here. In this house, between this man’s arms, maybe bad things could happen still – but they’d be padded and have training wheels on, and he’d be there to catch any indiscretions unwittingly knocked loose. Not on the Moon, not among her kin or army squad mates but here was where Seiran felt, for the first time, that she was allowed to make mistakes. This was what safety meant. Wasn’t it? You didn’t have to be pure, punctual and perfect.

You just had to try and be your best – and trust those you admired to handle your worst.

And the latest of Seiran’s worsts already had been handled by both of those. It was not the prevailing problem. The prevailing problem were the misconceptions it’d left seeded in its wake. All she herself had to do was stomp on them ahead they took root.

“… Can we get something crystal?” she said, weaving about it every wisp of willpower remained in her mooning head. “What happened… It didn’t happen because of what you said. OK? It might’ve looked like it did from your scope,” she went on, brooking no counter-opinion, “but I made a dozen internal leaps before I wrestled myself down that pit. It was me. It wasn’t because you said what you did. I don’t want you to… I don’t want you not saying it. So…”

“… Suppose your friend talked,” guessed Hito.

“She does that,” acknowledged Seiran, “but that’s beside the thrust. I was happy. Until I managed to turn it inside-out, anyway – but I was happy when you said it. So, please, don’t not say it for fear of me… relapsing or collapsing or whatever else it might be. I won’t. I’ll get better. I’ll work on myself. For you, if not for me.”

“Seiran—” he began.

“I know how it sounds,” she assured him, “but that is what I want. Maybe it is what I need. My life’s been regimented since my bunny years; maybe I need someone above me to impress to function properly. And, if I were to have my pick, my first would be you. You’re very tall, for one.”

“An airy head does that to a man,” Hito entertained her outpour of humour. “It wants to float on up.”

“Mm,” Seiran agreed. Then, ahead either of their heads might inflate further, she said, very fast, “I’m sorry. For lying about what I am.”

At this, he exhaled between her ears. “… Would’ve been remiss not to in the situation, from what I gather,” he forgave her. “Makes sense of some of the words you’re fond of tossing around – if nothing else.”

“We boots do like playing with our SAAs,” Seiran granted. “… That’s ‘Silly Acronyms and Affectations,’ sir. I do try to cut down on those,” she said then, more seriously, “least when speaking to civvies, but with you… I don’t know. Somehow, my tongue goes all loose. Stupid thing.”

“Can chalk it up to you falling in your element?” suggested Hito.

“Mm,” she murmured. “Copy. Wilco.”

He was Seiran-versed enough not to question what on Earth that stood for. And she was enough of a Hito veteran not to offend at the overdelicate way of noticing she felt comfortable enough around him for her natural vernacular to bubble to the surface. They could lie to each other in these small, flattering ways. They knew what the obfuscated parts meant anyway.

With no Lattice. Without so little as a bridge. A Moon rabbit and a human were communicating. Truly.

It beggared belief.

“… How did I wind up here, again?” she wondered aloud.

“The doors were open,” Hito speculated back. “Weren’t they?”

These were his words. His hands read differently. They said: “I held them open. For you. Till you were ready to come through. A veritable Seiran wrangler, I am.”

And she supposed he was.

They stood there for minutes on end, burning the morning light and not overmuch caring. Hito’s thumbs kept gliding gently along her knuckles: half petting, half drumming a tuneless solo on the small, work-toughened ridges. Someday, Seiran determined, she would demand he explain in objective terms this fixation with such an obviously unfeminine part of her body. No rush, though. Those knuckles still had some skin on them.

In that end and an event to break a streak as well as the silence, it was Hito who did both.

“… Seiran,” he said, quiet and firm. “A favour. If I’m wrong for you, please tell me.”

Seiran’s knuckles twitched tight. “What are you—”

A palm slid over her widening mouth, having before swiftly disengaged from one of hers. Uncharacteristically, it was accompanied by no alarm. Stranger still, her reflexive grip on the restraining arm slacked quite by itself within moments.

“No drama,” she heard Hito declare above the swaddle of meekness that’d misted her head. “You have a problem, Seiran. Much’s the obvious. I’ve been doing my damnedest to buff away at it for you, but—” he sighed, “—well, but here we are. Took one of yours after all to cut to the pith of it – is what I mean. Could be this hasn’t murked through, but I don’t anguish much over what happens to me. The best for you is everything and all that I want. If you need this, Seiran,” he insisted, “if you need to be with one of yours: a nice, whatsit, buck to keep you on the mend – all I’d like’s to be told. Too old for histrionics, but not for… for surprises, he concluded, a mote more melodramatically, perhaps, than intended. “Just… tell me, please.”

Seiran didn’t bridle. Whether this was due to Hito’s broad, smothering palm already fulfilling that function on her mouth or her chin having been on the up since her ear-wag with her feelings, there was no discerning. It didn’t matter for dust, anyway. Nor did this. Seiran pulled the palm down, finding – on some quaint level, disappointingly – no resistance.

“… To begin with,” she began with, “I haven’t the dustiest whether there even are any more kin – let alone bucks, let alone nice ones – down here on Earth. That’s to begin with. To end with, I don’t want one.”

“Seiran—” he began himself.

“Shall I tell you why?” she spoke on over him. “It’s because they would’ve been military, too. No other kin would’ve had access to a Lunar Veil—the thing we used to fly on down from the Moon. They would’ve been like me.

“… Guessing that don’t mean hippy and easy on the eyes.”

“Stubborn,” Seiran corrected. “Conceited. Stick halfway up the large intestine. So deep entrenched in that dream of purity we like to foster that they can scarcely conceive of a life of not mooning over the Lords. I’ve known… knew… a few, myself. Want to hear what it’d be like if you’d been kin? If we’d met in the army? On the Moon? The absolute most we would’ve had to do with each other,” she vented on, waiting no reply, “would’ve been the odd parade. Maybe we could’ve had a tumble in the ring in some inter-regimentals; maybe we would’ve glimpsed each other across this or that training ground. The brass is beyond particular about intermingling; not that it crosses your mind very often in the first place when you’re being run around the wire day in, day out. So-called nice bucks aren’t a feature of that sort of life.

“Of course, though,” she granted, attiring a rather expired smile, “I’m what is called good material. You won’t catch me admitting it to Ringo with my ears still attached, but that’s the light and the dark side. I’ve seen our acuity tests; I’m good. Had I stayed, I haven’t a doubt I would’ve been picked to pass it on. They would have given me a similarly-scoring buck, a solitary and a fortnight or so to… to do the deed. Then I would’ve gone on maternal – and never clapped eyes on that buck again. Then I would’ve popped the bunny boy or girl out, handed them over to the nursery and like as not never seen them again, either. That’s how it crumbles in the army. The civvies may have it a little less stringent, but not us. We’re numbers. Commodities – pet projects. And we cosy up with the thought,” she sniffed, “we lap it up, make it ours, because we fancy it brings us closer to the purity of our Lunar Lords. Gunner Seiran did: lock, stock and barrel.”

A bitter lull poured over her, which even Hito daren’t stir. Seiran shook herself dry before too long.

“… If you’d been kin,” she delivered the thrust, “we wouldn’t be here. You wouldn’t have taken me on silly dates or spoilt me on sweets and food. You wouldn’t have shown me that it’s fine to be me. To live for myself. To have chosen what I chose. Maybe I wouldn’t have gotten as bad with my… recurring problems, but I wouldn’t have lived. You were helping,” she told him, tenaciously. “You are, still. You are what I needed. I just didn’t want to accept it because… because I didn’t believe I’d deserved that help.”

“Help shouldn’t lean on whether you’ve deserved it or no,” said Hito.

“Maybe it doesn’t,” Seiran agreed, “but you try explaining that to a doe with dust in her eyes and a stick halfway up the large intestine.”

He didn’t laugh now, either. He just held her, whether she deserved it or no.

“… Hito?” she said then.


“You are who I want.”

“All right.”

The casual abruptness of it set her to a titter. “That easy?”

She felt his great shrug all over her back. “Know my sentiment on the matter.”

Seiran did, at that. It had shaken her world. It’d burnt the foundations out from under a lifetime’s misbelief.

The prudent thing, the soldier, the dangonista and the housekeeper all concurred, would be to return that fire.

And so, Seiran shouldered her way out of his arms. It hadn’t been whatsoever difficult, because Hito had read from her unpulsed thoughts what was incoming. Or, if he hadn’t, then he’d hoped for it… for who could say how long. She turned around.

She laid a hand on his robed chest. Stood up a little on her tiptoes. Closed her eyes and craned up her chin.

Hito did similarly, except the inappropriate parts.
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And then it happened. Naturally. Just as she’d told Ringo she’d wanted it.

The turncoat Moon rabbit kissed a human.

It was… an ordinary sensation. A touch of the lips. A withheld breath. A brush of nose on the cheek. It wasn’t unfamiliar. After all, Ringo had already showcased to her what it entailed. It was pleasant – in that soft, subduing way expressions of trust were – but nothing knee-melting. He’d been kissing her elsewhere forever, anyway. It didn’t feel half the fantastic thing it was storied to be.

… Until she sighted a thought at pulling away. And found, with a wrench of the heart that was nearly physical, how so very badly she didn’t want to.

As though that sparked some sensitivities left numb in her head by military life, Seiran shook her arms loose and looped them fiercely behind Hito’s neck. Something she’d done dozens of times before for its sheer convenience – and never before thrilled to the roots of her ears for it. She did now. Hito cinched their usual arrangement, seizing the Moon rabbit by the small of her back.

Their tactfully retained breaths erupted from their chests as he squeezed their bodies tight together. Without breaking off their first, precious kiss for a single heartbeat, the Earthling man lifted Seiran up – to then swivel around and slide her up onto one of the dinette’s cupboard countertops. He leaned against her, hands on either side of her seat, murmured something that didn’t anyhow edge past their mouths – and gave up all pretence of being fine with not having done this before.

So too did Seiran. She melted into the warm, forthright affection – and collaborated to the best of her burgeoning ability in acquainting every corner of her lips with every feasible one of his. The minutes in consequence proved there were more of these than a Moon rabbit’s psychometry might purport. And not very quick acquaintances.

At length… they didn’t stop yet.

At a bit longer, however, Hito gave her lips a parting, lengthwise slide, a goodbye buss on the edge, a farewell peck on the side of her jaw and then grazed his nose down the slope of her neck, where he buried that exemplar of his handsome features in the frilly collar of her dress. There, he breathed in such a shuddering breath that its aftershocks cascaded down Seiran’s spine – and left the skin above her collarbone cooled by the gusting air. His mouth returned that warmth forthwith, directly, in small, smooched increments.

Seiran swallowed. She didn’t believe she was blushing – but then Hito hadn’t believed in hunger gods either, and now look at them. Well, reportedly.

She reeled in her fluttering thoughts. The same couldn’t be done to the racing emotives. In this unguarded, utterly impure instant, she understood Ringo’s fascination with what a man might do to your body with his. And this had been just a kiss.

… A kiss so long past due, Seiran fully anticipated, they’d be making up for it for weeks to come.

She tried not to feel too giddy about that.

“How long—” she began, tried a touch harder and then started anew. “How long,” she asked in a voice still a little thin for confidence, “have I made you wait for this?”

Hito’s nose roused with a familiar noise in its burrow between her neck and her collar. “Seiran—”

“Come, be honest.”

He exhaled. It went on a while. “… Since after our first date,” he obliged her. “Since you asked me to pet you.”

Seiran frowned. “… Why that?”

“Was the first you ever openly wanted something out of me,” Hito explained. The words teased her bare skin. “The first I really reckoned the whole thing might work out after all.”

“Was I that demoralising?” Seiran asked with a faint shiver.

“Assumed rabbit youkai business besides? Close-mouthed is all.”

“Mm,” she admitted.

“Mm,” he agreed. Then paused. “… Very fetching, regardless.”

“… Mmrm.”

“Take the compliment,” he advised her, or at the very least her collarbone. “Hear these grow sparser with age. Mentioning which—” His face peeked out of its retreat among the frills long enough for the lips to brush her neck. “—definitely too old to be feeling like this,” Hito complained. “You’re ruining me, Seiran.”

“… Am I?”

A slight, confined nod stamped her condemnation. “May not look it presently,” Hito judged, “but I’m supposed to be what’s called ‘good material’ too. To wear the name. You remember all those robes at the young Hieda lady’s assembly? Sort of like that. Quivering like a teenage boy with his first crush,” he breathed, “probably doesn’t do the honour. Not to forget my heart. If it gives out – that’s on you.”

Seiran smiled in spite of the heaped responsibility. “If it helps,” she offered, “I barely didn’t notice.”

“Thanks,” Hito said tartly.

“It was a good kiss,” she assured. “Um. As far as I can tell.”

“The Moon didn’t fall?” he guessed.

“No,” she glossed over his commandeering of one of her SAAs. Then, whimsy striking through the happy fog between her ears, she hazarded, “… I imagined there’d be at least a little tongue, though.”

If he was any taken aback by an unleashed Moon rabbit’s imagination, he wasn’t about to be that literally. “… Uh, Seiran?” he said instead.

“Yes. Still me,” she promised.

“… There are, er,” he put forward delicately, “bound to be better times for that. When I haven’t had about twelve coffees and a bunch of stale sushi through me, for one. Can taste the back of my own palate, and tell you that’s never a good portent.”

“Mm. Copy,” she said, considering.

“And then,” he went on, “there’s the— eee—”

Abruptly – and not a little too soon for her like – Hito pulled back from her neck. As far, anyway, as her unbroken embrace stretched. Then he yawned cavernously. So cavernously, in fact, Seiran could hear the tectonic pop of his jawbone joints.

“—The that,” Hito sniffed, teary-eyed. He rubbed at his tired eyes. “Had a, right, long night. Could use some fresh togs, too,” he said critically. “That coffee must all be going out my pores instead of to the blood.”

Not being a caffeine cognoscente quite yet, Seiran didn’t argue whether it could or couldn’t do that.

( ) “Want to take a bath? Together?”
( ) “Want to go to sleep? Together?”
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[x] “Want to take a bath? Together?”
Doubt a moon rabbit can handle smelly humie smell too long.
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(x) “Want to take a bath? Together?”

This is adorable
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(X) “Want to take a bath? Together?”

Give me the lewds.
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(X) “Want to take a bath? Together?”
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For Pete's sake, y'all too horny. The bun just had the second kiss in her life, we're less than 24 hours after a major emotional breakdown, how's about let's not go jumping in the bath right away?

(X) “Want to go to sleep? Together?”
-> Our lad can take a quick bath first, if he's ripe.

That said, beautiful chapter OP. We're near the end, aren't we? Keep up the good work.

Companion /at/ sidethread:
(X) “Want to take a bath? Together?”

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If you think bathing together necessarily implies sexual activity, that's on you, fam. I voted for it because baths are good and cozy.
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Baths are good and cozy, and they don't necessarily imply sexual shenanignas, but they do require being comfortable with casual nudity around your significant other.

These two might not be fumbling teenagers, but by both their own admission they're either inexperienced or long out of the dating game. It took them two threads to get to kissing, for crying out loud!
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(X) “Want to take a bath? Together?”

I think she'd rather have him awake than asleep.
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(X) “Want to take a bath? Together?”

If, however, that was what it did then Seiran had a working solution therefor. The solution being water. Hot water, preferably; and preferably hot water in large quantities, in a tin container that Seiran had fantasised forever about sprawling inside – which was, incidentally, a container big enough for two.

The latter revelation spread itself over the moment like much too much sweet sauce over an inadequate stick of dango. It took only the stiffest self-restraint not to dwell on that analogy. Or this one.

“… Would you,” Seiran asked, restraint momentarily distracted, “like to take a bath? Um. Together?”

Hito stared at her. Which is a pregnant act when applied from narrowly two handspans away. Then his eyelids were dropped shut on that dramatic trapdoor. He pooled his brows together for a wrinkly think-tank.

“… Could be,” he murmured after a while’s scientific debate, “that I lost some hours here and there, but I’m almost sure my birthday was yesterday?”

“Said it yourself,” pointed out Seiran. “It wasn’t all that necessary then. Now, though…”

“And why the attached present?”

She shook her head. Which might’ve been a useless weapon against a man who wasn’t looking, but from two handspans away a lot of things were conveyed beyond the visual. “It’s not. I’ll give you one… um, later. Some time.” Or Ringo’s going to kick me in the tail for wasting her ideas, she added inside. “This’ll be just a bath.”

“Together,” Hito noted.

“Together.” Seiran nodded.

And then he did look again. With not at all unwrinkled reproach. “… I’m not going to say no to that, you know?” he wanted to know. “Have to hand in my, whatsit, armour-proper if I did.”

“I wasn’t planning on you saying no.”



“The answer’s yes, please,” he assured her, “but are you sure?

Seiran was. Almost. She almost was, because the part of her which would’ve flinched from indulging four-letter feelings had taken its biff chit and was presently dust-kayaking around the Sea of Tranquility back on the Moon. Might be this was charging in with bayonets affixed as far as romance went, but she’d sieged that hill long enough. Whatever the books averred, pining from afar lost its lustre even for the starchiest Moon rabbit eventually. You could die on that hill, certainly – but then you wouldn’t die on the one you actually wanted to.

… These Moon-eyed thoughts aside, there was a practical to it, too. It was generally agreed that naught short of regular medication could stop a male of any species from wondering what its females looked like underneath the fur/flab/clothes – and tacitly untalked-of that the reverse held true just as well. This tended to become more and more pressing of a question with proximity, and relieving some of it on controlled, neutral ground – or waters, as it were – was a smart and responsible recourse for aforesaid females. She and Hito weren’t of a kind, no – though, that hadn’t exactly stopped the kisses, hugs or the traditional lovers’ spats. It stood to what he probably thought was reason that he was curious. Whereas she had it on an outspoken authority there was plenty to be curious about.

It was all, come down to it, very sensible. Tactical. Seiran was simply being expedient in light of recent developments.

She was also, in light of the aforementioned, more than a mote impatient. Some might say trigger-happy – but then some might Earthed well turn collateral.

Seiran, who maybe wasn’t one hundred per-cent so and maybe had only bathed with her squad mates before but wasn’t blind to the benefits of doing what she and Hito had already been doing – sans clothing, said, “I’m sure.”

Hito detected the permille of hesitation in a single radar twitching of his truncated, human ear. “Seiran—”

A kiss killed the objection.

It wasn’t even full-on. A peck – with just the middles of their lips really touching. It needn’t be to be a lethal objectioncide. A well-rested and brighter-witted Hito might have battled through it (even if he might not have wanted to); the specimen in Seiran’s arms right now had only a slack-jawed frown to shoot back.

It was a heady, empowering thing to see it dissolve under the double-tap.

“… I know it,” Seiran told him, making the O yet another, brief cause for close-quarters conversation. “That hang-up of yours. You aren’t… pushing me… into anything,” she insisted. “And, I’m not a prude. I’m well aware of what a relationship entails. I’m not all pots and guns. I may not have experience, but – that’s what I have you for. Isn’t it? To hold my hand throughout? And, besides, a lot of it is things I myself have wanted to… to…”

“Try?” cued Hito.

“… To do,” Seiran disagreed. “I’ve tried trying. For years. It never panned out. Not how I wished it would. A friend of mine advised me I’m at my peak when I just do whatever it is I have my hands in. So, from here on out, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to do,” she decided, “and maneouvre as I go. Call it trusting my instincts. Got those in surplus. Soldier – right? Not to forget a female. And, at present—” she tugged at his robe’s sweat-damp collar, “—my female instincts are saying you need a bath.”

“With a complementary Moon rabbit?” Hito supposed.

“It’s two whatsits with one whatsit,” said Seiran, loaning from Earth’s rich and varied vocabulary. Then, more soberly, she explained, “I may not end up being... everything... you might want me to be – but a complementary Moon rabbit’s well within my make-up.”

“Seiran.” The rebuke rode pillion behind an intense, grey stare. “You already are everything I want you to be.”

She could dispute him. She could contend he didn’t want her to be miserable, bleeding or spoiling his birthdays. But that’d be itching. For now, she posited, “... That’s not entirely true, is it?”

Hito sighed. “... No,” he accepted.

“We’ve talked about this. Haven’t we?”

“We have.”

“Then let’s acknowledge I wouldn’t have asked if I hadn’t been at least grudgingly interested. My other problems are... other problems,” she succinctly condensed what would’ve taken the unit’s shrink no less than three visits and about as many bribes. “I’m done contorting myself around those, anyway. I want to contort around something else. Something neither one of us is too old for yet. We would’ve had to start on that somewhere, and that tub’s been teasing me forever. No such luxuries at my place. Again, two whatsits. Will this do for an excuse, or do I gun on?”

Hito’s expression was bitterly beaten. “You have me at a sound disadvantage, Miss Seiran.”

“Trained to do that to Earthlings, sir,” she reminded. Then threw in a finishing smile. “Why do I have to painstakingly talk you into taking a bath with an oh-so-fetching girl?”

“Wondering that myself,” Hito admitted.

“Have you wondered up anything worthwhile?”

“Never once.” He gave up a grunt of inglorious surrender. “… All right. Guessing I’m on waterpot watch, then. Had best get on that. That tub’s a thirsty one.”

Seiran didn’t let go. “Negative. Here’s what we’ll do,” she commanded. “You – off to the washroom and fill that tub up from the cistern. Me, I’ll stay here and fix us some morning rats in the meanwhile. Once the tub’s full, I’ll go set up a heating solution and then come back to eat. The water ought to be nice and hot by the time we’re done. Then we can steep till noon. Solid copy?”


Solid copy?

Hito surrendered, nodded and, until a better word occurs, saluted. “Yes, Miss.”

“Hito, though?” she added, stopping him gently straining at her arms. “One more thing.”

“… Hmm?”

“I love you too.”

No snappy nor clever retort issued in response to that obvious obviousness. This was easily accounted for. After all, as Seiran had lately learnt, it was nigh on impossible to be practicably clever while you were being kissed.

Hito’s face was a combat zone of emotives not quite at odds but acutely deprived of leadership once she let him and his lips go. He made a feeble grab at cleverness that dashed itself at the lung stage on her hand laid flat on his chest.

“Tub,” she reminded. “Water. Hop to.”

The Earthling man blinked once, twice then once more on general principles – and stumbled out the palely lit dinette in a daze.

Seiran remained up on the counter, pondering idly why it was that a blush made a man seem so much younger and more attractive, smiling at everything that hadn’t warranted smiling at before in her life.
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It was so simple. If the brass on the Moon had heard, the army would’ve disbanded overnight. You didn’t need guns, mallets or Lunatic eyes to reduce an Earthling to a stunned mess. All it took were some words you’d both privately known, a mote of courage, an atom of honesty and a touch of something your friend had rightly predicted you’d enjoy giving. Stories – never mind lives – had been ended with less. It was power without crystals or amplifiers. No miraculous technology. Not even delicious dango.

Just your self being yourself.

A Moon rabbit could get used to that.
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There had been an adage among the boots that bravado only won you good prizes in the mess hall. It wasn’t unfounded. Seiran’s, for example, was at present ratifying that theory by winning her the dubious honours of undressing with someone else in the room and only a folding screen wall for cover.

It had taken a fair (and unfair) while to quench the great tin tub, during which Seiran had made herself at work, if not home, in the kitchen. The still-fresh memories of the previous night had soon been steamed in the fumes of industry as she’d corralled the unassorted leftovers and supplies into a satisfactory semblance of a breakfast. And, wherever they’d remained raw – the memories, not the ingredients – she’d spiced them in spades with those of the preceding hour or so. Once their chief catalyst had reported in from the washroom, Seiran had grabbed her satchel and skipped out to set up the essentials. Then, they’d eaten. Without mutual assistance. Which might’ve come off as a relieved surprise to some naïve young rabbits yet unschooled in the strange things that lovers did.

And lastly, they’d filed out for their appointed bath.

Hito had locked them in – or whatever ghosts might be overly inquisitive out – hadn’t scrunched his handsome forehead too badly up at the warm, fogged-over state of the washroom achieved despite the glaring underemployment of formerly irreplaceable manpower and, perhaps in an effort of job retention, volunteered to go in first. He’d stepped behind the tub-ward side of the screen, whence Seiran had heard the concise rustle of clothes coming off – leaving her with the spacious privacy of the rest of the room and the sounds of a tussle ensuing briefly with the tub-side cabinet.

As well as her now somewhat subdued bravado.

Seiran was not, in the strictest terms, opposed to shared bathing; there had been a circumspect cause for her paying out of pocket for the old, obviously handed-me-down hip bath at the town’s market at once upon spotting it that’d had little in the way of prudish ideals. In every unit and on every base she’d been stationed, the ultimate link in the chain of command had been expected to harbour no secrets from its immediate adjacents. There were few things, too, you weren’t sharing your indecency with when all you had in the mode of hygiene were a rather lively lake and a minimally less so (and by far chillier) mountain stream. Your squad mates being about the least nosy. No. Communal water access wasn’t an issue. She wouldn’t have minded haunting one of the town’s handful of public bathhouses, either.

She would, however, have minded the mind being overpaid to her by the other frequenters. The hip bath had solved that hypothetical breach of her low profile by employing the four walls of her rented quarters as confidentiality. All the while supplying more comfort than wiping yourself down with towels dunked in the cold water from the well. Whilst her ears stood out all they fuzzy well wanted without giving overmuch offence.

No amount of hip currently emerging from beneath her dress might, even so, obscure the reality that she had never taken a bath with a man.

The glunk of hot water in a large, metal container being disturbed tried – and failed – to disturb the trajectory of that thought. Seiran gave it the main gunner’s inspection as she wriggled out of the bottom of her dress, loosed and then re-tied her hair higher up on her head in safety twintails. Therapeutic although drying and pampering it could be as a usual resort, she had mysteriously no especial wish to do it today. It may or may not have had to do with the shiny, new resort waiting her a screen wall and sheet of tin away.

… It wasn’t that she’d lied – neither to him, nor herself – when she’d announced the desire to pick away all remainders of ice around their relationship. There really was no time more convenient to buckle down to it, either, than while they were still too emotionally or energetically drained to roll out their worst overreactions. Could be this was the compulsive organiser speaking, but she wasn’t speaking out of turn. She wanted to do it; she had wanted to do it; now, there was but the actual doing left to do. Something Seiran had herself determined to, indeed, do.

She felt all the same immensely silly pulling the final article of her underclothes off and finding her arms folded protectively across her bust. Not least because of how little and less the reflex had done for all the other contentious parts of a female Moon rabbit’s physique. For once in her military post-career she was grateful for the lectures on personal hygiene and grooming inflicted on the greenhorns by purity-espousing sergeantry. At last, these would come into their own in sparing Gunner Seiran an even bluer incident. Though for sure not in the MO they’d been intended.

Seiran breathed in – left the awkward smile she hadn’t the first notion what to do with where it was – and shuffled out from behind the screen. Hito, it turned out, had pre-empted that and a range of other problems by leaning back in the steaming tub with his eyes at rest. Seiran crossed the floor therefore not on pins and needles but on hard, stone tiles – which could definitely do with a mat or sacrificial towel next time… – and nerves merely half-cocked. She took in the tactical of the tub and the naked man within at a glance – a discreetly quick one, in the latter’s case – and adjudged a face-to-face approach to be ill-advised. To head off a head-on firing lane, she lifted a leg over the edge instead with her behind primly – or not – toward Hito’s front.

The nerves were pulled to full battery as she lowered herself into the hot and, now she was too close not to notice, oddly opalescent and camphor-scented water. Skin brushed along skin, and they fired off the regular ordnance of a soldier on tenterhooks.
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“Is this something you do with every doe you bring home, sir?” she asked with wry humour.

Hito’s indulgent smile tapered his responding vowels. “Only ones that cook up a mean dinner, Miss Seiran. On my soul.”

Seiran sniffed. “If you want mean, you ought to try my boot camp’s mess hall mid-week. Some of that stuff could stay with you for the rest of the day. If you were lucky.” She negotiated her hind quarters, at no trivial cost to her self-image, past the man’s flanking thighs. The tub was none too wide without additional spacers; Seiran was a none too narrow rabbit to begin with. Hito, ever the silent agent of courtesy, bent his legs at the knee to present her the requisite room. Seiran settled at last down, butt to the warmed bottom of the tub. “… What have you done with the water?”

“Salt.” He ground out the verbal equivalent of a shrug, ostensibly unconcerned by the event of his legs girdling a nude Moon rabbit’s waist. “One of the Geidontei’s staff went on a trip to her home town a while back. Hot spot for hot springs, by her own account. Lugged back a whole sack of local bath salts as a souvenir. Owner passed it out to the kit and caboodle. Thought this was the opportunity.”

“Mm,” Seiran murmured. Then wondered, “… Are you on gift-giving terms with every food purveyor in town? Should I be jealous?”

She felt his scoff blow past her ears. “Ha. No. Not me. Jirou is – with half the former syndicate, anywise. The rest begrudge him throwing in with old Itou. He doesn’t own a bath, though. So, here it wound up. Geidontei’s owner is foggily aware of me as the chap who kindly drags that other mouthy chap outside the odd night – at most. Wouldn’t kiss him,” he assured, “so no worries.”

“Not even for a sack of actual salt?”

Hito made a conflicted sound. “… Ugh. Maybe,” he grunted, “but I’d grimace.”

She couldn’t not laugh at that. Not the response – droll as it had been. The relief it’d elicited from her own, jittery mind was by far more laughable. The fact they could still talk – still joke – about what had immediately preceded her deplorable display without it being eclipsed by the latter. It was a release. Words, hugs and kisses had been all nice – beyond nice, beyond beyond nice – but constancy was a Moon rabbit’s true respite. On this facet, at least, they’d never had to emulate their changeless Lunar Lords. Well, too hard.

Seiran let her shoulders relax and her attention to glaze over the legs scissoring her waist and then the water they stuck out of. The woody scent of camphor was peculiar, vaguely pharmaceutical – but not one she couldn’t learn to associate with preferably hot, preferably hour-long, preferably frequent baths. Company volitional.

She sighed drily at her lot. Who’s ruining whom, now?

A hitherto idle arm slid down from its roost on the tub’s edge to trail its hand up along Seiran’s and over her shoulder. There were no cajoling words. No suggestive pressure of fingers on her bare skin. No overt invitation. Seiran received it all the same.

The straightest road, she knew, would’ve been to accept it. The straightest road seldom appealed to a wary reconnoitrer who didn’t want her squad gunned down in a blatant ambush, but this wasn’t a field exercise. This was life. And that other four-letter word.

So, Seiran sank – literally and not – back against the steady, reassuring seatback of Hito’s chest. The stitch of apprehension at the inordinate proximity was smoothed over by reason supplying that they’d done it all before. The conspicuous absence of clothes, the full skin-on-skin contact, the unsubtle thrill of closeness magnified thereby – these were but a natural development of what she’d already felt. It was perfectly natural for Seiran to start – then blush heatedly – then stumble from agitation straight into ear-withering ease once the arm slipped around her body to drape itself, shoulder to naked shoulder, across her collarbones. With little aforethought intent, let alone a shiny cause, she hooked her fingers around its rugged palm.

And then, cocking a deaf ear at the pure remonstrance inside that she should’ve flown out of her hide at the mere idea, for a blissful minute, Seiran basked in a sensation which should have been, according to books and certain other does, a commonplace affair from their third date onwards. This was what she’d been bolting circles around. A trilling nervousness that bordered on the pleasant – and intimacy she couldn’t help but hope they wouldn’t need such a tired excuse to indulge in again.

The minute stole by, barely flagged, and the Seiran that Seiran was tipped her commissarial mind at the responsibilities in the wings.

“… Status?” she asked of the hand tenderly enfolding her shoulder as much as the man attached.

She felt his forehead rest against the back of hers. His breath breezed down the nape of her neck.

“… Tense,” Hito reported.

Seiran blinked at that. “Tense?”

“And on edge,” he added with unruffled calm. “Has been pretty years since I was with a woman in a state of undress. Can’t elect what to do with my hands. Worse, whatever I might wish to, right now I haven’t it in me to take to the finish.” He sighed into – then kissed – her hair. “Worst of all, she won’t let me explain why it’s a big burr for me without wrinkling her nose like a rock garden. It’s downright torture. Oh, and,” he added, offhand, “her tail’s tickling me in an awfully unfunny place. Slipped from me she had one – somewise. That’d be about it. Yeah. Think that covers everything.”

Seiran kept her reply carefully level. “It’s a pain in the… tail,” she said, striving with main will not to triangulate its whereabouts, “to modify Earthen clothing to pop it out, I mean. I’m only passable with a needle, too. Leaving it under isn’t the end of the world beside a constant draft in your jocks because you made the hole too big. Which I’ve done. The fur gets matted is the only bur.”

“I see.”

“... Thank you for saying it, though.”

“Saying what, now?” asked Hito, innocently.

Seiran reached up and exacted a tweaking revenge upon a lock of his own hair. “That you’re quaking in your boo— um, that you’re nervous,” she said. “I’m not totally dust-brained. It was for my benefit, wasn’t it? So that I wouldn’t somehow construe I’m the only one with nerves?”

“Might’ve been,” he granted.

“Mm. Understood, anyway,” Seiran sympathised. “I’ve been there after some midwatches. It’s just a bath, though – just. Already said so. I’m not... expecting... any particular thing.”


“Not at this time,” she guaranteed.

Hito exaggerated a sigh of release. “That’s a load off.”

Seiran shooed away the Ringoism prodding her funny bone. “There’ll be other times you’re going to need a bath and I’ll be nearby to assist, I’m sure—but,” she hurried one before the bone could elbow in, “what I was referring to really was the water. Isn’t it too hot? This is around what I go for, but my puny bath’s so small my legs stick out, so there’s that heat sink.”

“A mite sultry, maybe,” Hito admitted. “Most days I don’t go over two pots per tub. Feels a waste, somewise. Would slog it to a bath house instead – if I didn’t always get offensively muddy on the trip back through the Artisans’. This’s a right stew, compared.”

“Copy,” Seiran acknowledged. “Turning down now.”

She spurred her lolling ears to work – brushing a pure, inarticulate pulse by the micro-furnace’s live circuitry. The automatic sting of guilt at her earlier boasting of her psychic acuity was neatly shouldered aside by the challenge of nudging her way out from between Hito’s. Seiran waited the conditioned dozen tics for the gyroscopic core-cage to wind down and then stooped forward to fish the cooling device out of the oddly tinted water.

The brass-cased, nonagonal piece of the Moon’s scientific attainment steamed its psy-silent reprimand at the recalcitrant Moon rabbit who’d used of its priceless fuel to warm up a bath for a filthy Earthling.
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… Only, it did not. It never once had. That had been all Seiran. The battered micro-furnace was just that – a lump of useful, yet inanimate, equipment. It’d never been more, no matter how long and often she’d crooned and prattled at it across her Lattice. It was just a tool. It couldn’t stand in for another rabbit, and she’d been a fool for trying to make it. It couldn’t even do that for an Earthling.

The aforesaid beneficiary instance of which was peering over her shoulder at what must’ve been a more alien-seeming thing than even Seiran’s unruly tail.

“Is that the…?” Hito left the question pendent, the easier to duck if she believed there was a need.

Seiran didn’t. Not anymore. “The dusted thing I said was giving me a mother of a headache by running out of juice,” she sighed. Then watched the Earthling man entreatingly extend a hand for a device more precious than the sum whole of his possessions and likely his life to boot. “… The copper-coloured ridges on top are radiators,” she forewarned. “So be careful. The casing’s only warm, but those’ll be scalding hot still.”

Hito let her slide the device gingerly onto his waiting palm. He hefted it in the air, as you would a suspiciously cheap box of confectionery.

“… Heavy,” he divined.

“It is,” conceded Seiran.

“In more ways than one, I reckon.”

She could do little else than swipe him across the forearm for that. “They didn’t apprise me sir was a poet as well. The inner cage is made of an ultra-dense alloy,” she explained on as Hito brushed his lips on the base of one of her ears in apology, “to prevent warping when it heats up to some of the higher spectra. That accounts for most of the weight. It’s called an orichalcine micro-furnace. Standard issue for most operations abroad from the Capital. I’ve been using it to warm my quarters in the winter and in emergency cooking situations, but that’s not really its primary. The main design’s to mesh with our personal Lattices and—”

Seiran hesitated. What could she say? That the state-of-the-art device was meant to mesh with their personal Lattices for energy transference between itself and other instances of their Lat-active kit? That orichalcum, that purest of elements on the Moon and thunderstrike-rare on Earth, burned at temperatures so far up the ranges of thermal that they edged into the psychic? Or perhaps that these psychic emanations could then be manipulated by the Moon rabbits – who were evolutionarily adapted to the task – to enliven the crystalline facsimiles of neural structures in their equipment, the very way the soul motivates the body? Sans the filth inherent in biological life?

Ringo had blabbed once that the Earthlings had been reported to have groped at an approximation of the technology in something they’d proudly christened “piezo-electricity” – yet theirs had been a crude implementation, relying still on mechanical input and producing negligible effects. The crystalline quasi-brains of Moon-make, meanwhile, simply were – their induced neural activity outputting a more mundane electron charge as long as they remained “alive.” This was then routed to other components of a given device, generator-like, in lieu of or into an electrochemical accumulator. The side-effect of thusly enabling kin to interact with their tools precluding the bother of buttons, levers and likewise manual controls had been merely fortunate. No one in the Moon’s vast dungeons of R&D had actually meant to make the Moon rabbits’ lives easier.

No one had meant to give them the chance of self-sufficiency.

Hito could never understand. Seiran didn’t, and she’d been speaking to these fake friends since she’d been a bunny-rabbit toddling around one of the army nurseries. She’d capitulated to the puzzle of repairing her cracked purifying mirror, and she couldn’t hardly begin to guess at what actually persuaded the orichalcine core of her micro-furnace not to burn her breakfast, never mind the town wholesale. Other than her religious belief in its engineering, that is.

This was the trouble with technology. It was only lastingly practical in a place already abounding in it.

Seiran sighed. “… It sort of—it keeps our other stuff going,” she struggled to define the everyday item in everyday words, “like… like your kerosene generator out back does for the lights. And, um, as I mentioned yesterday – keeps it communicable. So that we can talk to it. The dust-scuffed thing is,” she dodged the details, backing against Hito’s chest for support, “they don’t teach us how to swap the cores out once they’re depleted. If I could even find uncontaminated orichalcum here on Earth in the first place. So, when it goes – everything soon goes with. Just a bunch of mute metal.”

It should’ve hurt to say so. To acknowledge the inevitable. At the very least a small, Moon-loyal knot in her throat. There always had been one.

There were none now. Seiran breathed in – and out – with no obstruction. Her abdominals did tense, but only because Hito was belting her in place again with the unoccupied arm at the appropriate – for the word, anyway – level. He thumbed the edge of the micro-furnace up to examine the etched circumference.

“… This writing on the side?” he surmised.

Seiran nodded – needlessly. “Yes. Um. Unit’s credo. ‘Serve well. Sleep well.’ Meaning being, if we served well, there’d be no further threats to the Capital, and so we may sleep well. We liked to read it the wrong way around, though.”

“Sleep well, serve well…?” Hito cogitated his way through that. “… Ah. Think I got it. If I get a good night’s sleep, right, I’ll serve better tomorrow. So buzz off and let me at it.”

Seiran smiled at the incisive analysis. “Soldiers’ humour.”

“Words to sleep by. Well, hopefully.” He paused, a question bulging the comforting breadth of his chest. It didn’t find the egress it’d wanted, and Hito respectfully handed the micro-furnace back. “Speaking of,” he said, “hope I didn’t mess it up bad by seasoning the water.”

“No worries.” Seiran placed it back on the tub-bottom and slid it away with a foot. “It’s hermetic— um, watertight till I tell it to disengage the seals. It’s been in worse. The casing might smell less like an old parade tuba for a time, if anything.”

Hito traced the fingers of the furnace-freed hand contemplatively up the reverse of hers. “… What other toys have you got?”

“There’s the— mm, the atmospheric regulator,” she not-quite-ignored the distraction being applied to her skin. “Imagine a, a refrigerator – or an ice-box, only without ice. Size of about a small chest or large, metal breadbox. It can dry and rehydrate foods, too. Then there’s my glow-globe. Jewel, technically – since it’s a polished Moon-sand crystal. It can give off an array of lights, radiation, antiseptic wavelengths, even deodorise the air. Glorified lightbulb most of the time, though. And, um, since I’m a soldier, they issued me with a complementary gun.”

“Seen one of those,” Hito surprised her mildly by recalling. “Curio store by the forest has it hung up in a display cabinet these days. Can’t shoot, so the storekeeper avows. No, whatsit, magic powder to make it go.”

“Mine can,” Seiran avowed in turn, “but mine’s not a kinetic— not a missile-thrower like that. I’m reconnaissance; I wasn’t allowed to shoot and leave evidence. Um. Among other doctrinal complications. Mine’s more of a… an extension of me. There’s a sort of magic crystal in it, too, imprinted with my own mind as I was when I was drafted into the unit. It can’t do much on its own, but holding it, it’s like putting two or more of me together.”

“And then what can you do?”

“Take the sensation out of your body, knock the feeling out of your legs, knock you out at a stretch. The point’s no direct or manifest damage. Causing death begets impurity; and, those weapons sanctioned to remove our enemies… permanently… weren’t accorded to us. We were the recon, not the reckoning.

If she’d been here yesterday… well, first of all she wouldn’t be here, but secondly, she might’ve expected Hito to meet the grittier side of her past with alarm. Consternation. Fear, even.

Hito of today digested the information as he did dango – which mercifully was a quiet process. His fingers brushed and bumped back and forth across her knuckles all the while he did. Hito of today was an autoclave of revelations, rendering them down into inoffensive – irrelevant – little truths.

… No. That wasn’t it. Hito of today was no different from any other’s. He didn’t care a mote of dust for what she’d been. Only for what she was. It had always been Seiran who’d clung onto the past like patinated badges to a uniform. She could’ve told him yesterday, a week ago, a fortnight ago, and the response would’ve been just the same.

A musing murmur. A continued caress of her work-roughed hand.

A placid confession that some of it was as new as last year’s pea-soup stuck in the safety valve. “… May have seen some of those,” he said, in fact, matter-of-factly. “The atmowhatsitbox rings the biggest bell.”

“What?” Seiran ears shot straight. “Where?!”

A jolt of self-consciousness ran down her woolly state of mind in the delay that must’ve been Hito noticing.

“… Are you aware of the clinic in the Bamboo Forest?” he asked even so.

The ears went stiff. “… I am,” Seiran conceded, “aware of it. Why?”

“The… folks, there,” he picked the word as though with chopsticks, “used to display their knickknacks every now and off as a kind of exhibit. They’d lay them out on the grass in the side yard and let us gawk, while one of the rabbits went around with a collection plate. Always figured it for a bit of a, excuse me, cock-and-bull, way our guide lady span the yarn. Never turned a piece of it on, too. Not like you just did. Maybe I need to revise that opinion.”

“… They,” Seiran put forward carefully, “um, might not have access to pure orichalcum. The Sage—that is, the doctor, she may not have wished to waste it on public entertainment. Or they’d run out, and it’s all dead by now.”

“They are said to have been here awhile,” Hito remembered.

“Yes,” Seiran confirmed.

“And they do have rabbits there.”


“And,” Hito reasoned on inexorably, “some believe the story they come from the Moon themselves.”

“… Mm.”

The conclusions drew themselves out over the succeeding moments. The morning outside the washroom’s single, high window shone whitely on. The tub plonked periodically as the imperfectly-cut tin sheets popped in or out from the heat. Seiran waited logic to complete its parabola.

“… Never gave a thought to going over to them?” it landed before long.

Seiran exhaled. She had, in her low moments. Time and time and time and time again. But it wasn’t to be.

Seiran’s mind raced back to Reisen. The “original traitor,” she’d been dubbed by those few privy to her fate or pliable enough to pick up her four-hundred-thousand-kilometre-distant pulsing. Not for any feelings of betrayal, either; Reisen served a Lunar Lord still, corroborated further by their run-in at the Hieda noblewoman’s estate. The fugitive Sage commanded too great of a respect to wipe away her rank among the Lords utterly. The trouble lay with being caught sympathising with the runaway, not the indictability of her status.

“Traitor” though she was maligned, Reisen had remained loyal to the Moon. She wasn’t like Ringo or Seiran. She didn’t try to live for herself.

And that was why following her footsteps had been an immaterial bridge. Supposing, even, that the Sage had deigned to extend her protection to another army stray, it would’ve been to accept that nothing had changed. To throw down her gun for another one. To keep swallowing the same lies.

It wasn’t what Seiran wanted.

Seiran exhaled. Unclenched her fists.

… That wasn’t the earthed whole of it. Not near. If Reisen had warned her in good faith, and the Old Heron – Lady Sagume – really was paying regular visits to the Sage’s domicile on Earth, to base herself there would’ve been to dish the AWOL rabbits’ whereabouts up to her on a dust-silver platter. Seiran might have slid the rule even then – but the crux of doing things as a team, up to and past defection, was that you weren’t responsible solely for yourself.

And one treason had been enough.

“… They,” Seiran eked out, “aren’t friends.”

Hito’s hand closed around hers. “All right.”

“There’s more to it,” Seiran disagreed, fidgeting between his legs. “The rabbits there—” majority of them, anyway, “—are Earthen kin. They aren’t like us apart from the tails and the ears. They’re just youkai. We’re not. There’s a link – said to be – but they haven’t the same capabilities or needs as us. It may not even have helped my problem.”

“Said all right, Seiran,” Hito reminded her softly. “No need to go on if you don’t want.”

She shook her head. “I want to. I want it crystal,” she protested. “This—This is the only place I can be. There are no other options. There aren’t – because this is where I want to be. Not on the Moon. Not under another Lord. Here. With my problems. With you. All right?”

“… All right,” Hito surrendered.

And, as he worked his hand beneath hers to press their palms together and interlock their fingers, she felt, once again this eye-opening day, that it truly, truly, truly was all right.

Seiran leaned into that knowledge. Into its source. A man’s chest for a pillow would’ve made her boot camp’s barracks infinitely more bearable.

Tics slipped into more comfortable minutes. Someone on the abutting property shooed their child off to school with playful threats. The tub plonked.

Hito said, “Seiran. Move in here with me.”

Seiran didn’t reply.

“It’s a big place,” the man forged ahead, wrapping up liable decades of monetary accruement into a fistful of syllables. “More than enough room for thrice you and me. Could widen the gate for your dango wagon; hedge is a headache to keep neat, anywise. Space enough in the front yard easily for yours and Miss Ringo’s to boot. Got the facilities here. You wouldn’t have to burn out your furnace. Would be smack in the middle of town, too; straight toss to every one of your haunts.”

Seiran half-turned, unspeaking.

The Hito-hallmark smile didn’t waver under tenant-ive scrutiny. “No rent,” he delivered the all-mighty argument.

Seiran was about to ruin him once again. “… Not yet,” she said.

Nowhen before had the twitch of a corner of somebody’s lips caused her almost physical pain. Hito’s were heaved back up just as soon, but the sore spot was laid bare. He opened his mouth to play it off, to play it down. Seiran barred it with a finger.

“I said – not yet. I will – eventually. I want to… I need to rid myself of my problem first – on my own means, without this crutch. I want to prove, to myself, that I’ve been in the wrong from the outset. That I could have lived differently even if you hadn’t come along. As a dust-poor dangonista. In the meantime, I’ll keep coming here – every day,” she promised. “I promise. I like it here. I want to be here. I’m sorry if I’m not making sense.”

Hito squeezed her other hand. “Making a frightening amount if I’ve known Miss Seiran.”

Seiran squeezed back, thankful. “Once I find I can,” she assured him, “I’ll move in here. If I find I can’t – I’ll move in, too. If it takes too long to tip either way – the same. On my soul. I just need a while to pound myself over the head with it.”

“Not too hard?” Hito stipulated.

“Not too,” Seiran swore. “I’ve hung up that mallet.” Then a beret slid down the clothesline of recollection. “Um. There’s something else, too.”

“Uh oh.”

She suppressed a smile. “Not that bad,” she warranted. “I, um, told Ringo we’d use your place as a beachhead for our… sessions. Or that we’d use it, period. Case pertinent is, Ringo is paranoid. About deniability. It’s a bur she carried out of the army. If she were to realise that I lived here permanently, she’d dig up every excuse under the Moon to drag me out elsewhere. And I’d… I’d rather be here than elsewhere.”

“All right.”

“I didn’t request permission beforehand. I’m sorry.”

Gently, Hito peeled away the finger that hadn’t left his lips. His look went, briefly but meaningfully, hard. “Seiran. Of course.”

Seiran gave a contrite nod. “And you aren’t going to hold it against Ringo? You’ve met. She’ll talk your what-passes-for-ears off if she hangs around.”

He smiled again. “Happen to be handy with the blustering, touchy type,” he reminded. “Maybe even like it.” The smile quirked. “Or maybe it’s a defensive reaction. For your sake, though? I’ll risk an ear or two. I love you, Seiran.”

Seiran’s breath caught. Heart thumped.

Yes. He did love her. He had loved her. And that was fine. More than fine.

It was more precious than all the treasures of the Moon.

With the aid of an arm slung behind his neck and that of prudence flung out the window, Seiran turned fully around to kiss the Earthling man. It was (im)pure magic. For all the apprehension that it’d be limited to their first one or two, this kiss’s impact wasn’t whatsoever lessened. Once her head was atilt and her eyes dropped shut, once her lips were touched to his – everything was mush.


… Seiran pulled away. None too soon, much too soon – tightness, regret and elation all hammering on her ribs as one happy little mallet. Hito’s half-inch-distant gaze wasn’t hard anymore. It was the softest thing on Earth.

“… Already said I loved you,” he whispered, inexplicably hoarse. “Needn’t seduce me anymore.”

“Wasn’t,” Seiran whispered back.

“Feeling mighty seduced, Seiran,” he disagreed, eyes flicking down.

Seiran’s replying smile was nervous – albeit only for its inexperience. He had, of course, the right. Soft things were pressed against firm things and firm things were pressing into soft things, which could have been misconstrued.

She couldn’t shake the giddy satisfaction that it had been.

“… Just a bath?” she repeated.

“Just a bath,” Hito said staunchly. “Less the miss wants me nodding off in the middle.”

In the middle of what was the miss’s refractorily ready guess. Seiran bobbed her chin up and down with bad grace and wriggled back around with an even worse one. She was relieved, placated, disappointed – but, above anything else, a mental parallel for Hito’s flagging arms.

She drew those arms about herself, letting their weight and love calm her as they had for weeks by any other term. Any other term hadn’t belied duck egg about the truth.

She would be lying to Ringo. Home already was here.

Some tics after, a slacking of the muscles and a faint snore on her six informed Seiran that Hito had lost the ongoing battle against the protracted night. She couldn’t help a veteran smile. Many an anecdotal officer had met their funny end by falling asleep in a luxurious bath while the grunts were racking out on their hard, dusty cots. Hito, however, wore no stripes. They would only have demeaned him. And, Seiran was here. She would let him rest. A little.

But, the least she could do was save him from total pruneification.
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If it’d been possible to stop the passage of days altogether, there would’ve been no need for the Eagle Ravi. No need for an army. The Lunar Capital jointly would have shunned the overflowing gutter of time, as some of its more puissant Lords already did, and no enemy would ever again be able to reach it. Insofar as the notion of “ever” applied still afterwards. Or, er, whenever. Uh…

… Anyway, time was a possessive waterslide. And so, with the Lords’ slightly damp but eternal forbearance, days floated by. Two of Seiran’s did.

She felt better. This could not be denied – even if she were handsomely tempted with therapeutic, ten-minute-long hugs and it’s-all-right kisses. Although the memory of breaking down still made her seize in whatever she was doing, fingernails jabbing into the palm, it didn’t happen more than thrice, and each one the knots in her muscles melted away under the emotive echo of Hito’s ensuing compassion. It was a nick on her soldierly self-esteem – but, if she smeared enough selfish varnish on top, even a Seiran could hardly tell. And Hito was a varnish victualer of proficiency – even if Seiran wasn’t the most gracious receiver.

That first day, after he’d dozed off in the bath, Seiran had gotten out. Gotten dressed. Woken him up. Candour had compelled her to acknowledge that little of interest could be done with him in a half-fugue state (beyond another half-hour’s nestling in his arms went unmentioned) and that he ought to catch his Zs in a place that wouldn’t require her standing maritime watch. She’d collected her knickknacks, bundled up the bric-a-bracs, gathered up her gear, met her man at the manse’s door – and there kissed him good-bye. Then, she had left to her work. The real, physical, flour-and-sugar-strewn work.

Some would say this was cold of a newly confessed-to rabbit. But Ringo hadn’t gone wide in her assessment; Seiran did have only one safety setting. It was: go. And her responsibility wasn’t to her ex-XO or Hito alone. There had been mouths hungering all over town. So, she’d marched home (for a bit yet), de-iced the dango – and rolled out the Seiran-ya for a shift.

It was what Seiran was.

Hito had swung by in the afternoon, as he did, for his daily mitarashi intake. What Seiran hadn’t picked out of the routine before he’d walked away was that their long dango hand-off ritual had unobtrusively staved off an amatory episode in the middle of a thoroughfare. She hadn’t been positive how to feel about that – except Seiranal, which was turning into a fast synonym for “ruefully relieved.”

That unobtrusiveness was left hanging on the coatrack by the front door of Hito’s home and thus hadn’t extended over the afternoon or then the evening. And it’d be pursuing one such episode, starring a kiss which would leave Seiran shivering – shivering! – like a leaf on Hito’s lap despite being very much just – but very much a long and thorough – kiss, that the recreant Moon rabbit would reach another resolution.

For the second time in her life on Earth, she would follow Ringo’s advice.

The plan was laid down before Seiran was that evening, on her dosshouse quarters’ bed. The morning after, she rose early – enough to swap cordially surprised greetings with the departing upstairs neighbour whose romance book she was still keeping overdue. Seiran bolted the door and went.

The futon Hito had hung out under the eaves back during the brief rainy season hung as continually as you like – although not yet for long. Seiran deposited it by the door of the man’s den and then re-routed her mind and attention toward the kitchen. A number of bustling minutes later, the Moon rabbit returned, a tray lading her hands and prompting a foot to take care of jimmying the door aside.

Hito’s bedroom was almost as bare as Seiran’s would’ve been without her Lunarian equipage. The same, dark wood-inlaid floor as the rest of the building else than the work areas. Shouji panels on the east-ward wall for light. No loose clothes nor laundry littering the space. No table, desk, lamp or open, unfinished books. No everyday detritus as far as the four, empty corners.

Hito may have slept here – but he didn’t live here.

The one outlier were indeed his sleeping accommodations. A frayed-looking, rope hammock had been nailed between a pair of roof supports in one of those corners. A bundle of blankets lay in it like in a pendulous basket. A bundle of white robe, head, arms and legs – in those.

Seiran moved everything into the room. Shut the door. Then, in the paper-filtered dawn, she ducked underneath the hammock, come out and straightened on the other side and sought out the sleeping man’s face. She smiled. Leaned down.

And slowly, conclusively, pressed her lips to his.

The lovingly grey eyes tugged open by degrees. They blinked, melted through layers of emotives Seiran needn’t the intimacy of a mesh to understand. She let the alarm, shock, recognition, more shock – all crash to bits on the sensation of her lips inaugurating his day.

“… Good day,” she whispered, once she was certain the facts had sunk in.

Then she upended the hammock. A symmetrical telekine twist ensured the man was dumped evenly onto the futon below.

Seiran bulled through the questions and brought forth the food-fraught tray. Short notice had seen to it that these noticeably weren’t Hito’s favourite, but – and here selfishness flashed its varnish – perhaps they would climb a spot after today.

He ate. After he had, Seiran handed him a glass of saline wash, ordered him swill and then to spit. She set it aside and replaced the tray on his lap with a Moon rabbit after developments. Qualms dried up in the bed-heat of his embrace. His did on the tip of her tongue, when she poked it at the seal between his lips. They opened, half in surprise. So did hers – eagerly.

See? Not a prude.

The after-taste of salt was soon scoured away – as Seiran’s pernicious literature theoreticals metamorphosed into bodily, breath-and-saliva practicals. Never before had she featured that the tongue was a muscle that tired. Never before had the winded, laboured grunts of a man caused her chest and abdomen to tingle with anything else than professional disdain. They did now – both, in a serious way.

Things escalated. It was a neat word, encapsulating a wealth of touching, shifting, rubbing, gasped advice and agitated removal of clothes in but three, conscience-safe syllables.

“… Seiran,” Hito panted at some point. “No rush.” The event that he was attempting to pull Seiran’s dress up through her arms, which were for the while looped behind his own back, seemed not to register. She swelled up to her knees, swamping his face thereby in her softness, and then shook her hair behind her shoulders once the dress was ripped up over her head. She flopped, in several respects, back down.

Onto hard, indisputable evidence that this was what he’d wanted to see.

Seiran, who hadn’t ahead now been wanted for anything except her sterling skillset, decided this was excellent. At least, she hadn’t not worn a brassiere in vain.
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Minutes later, she was giving him his belated birthday gift. It was a continuous process because it came in a dozen dozens of staggered, back-arching instalments. He gave it back as best he could, a man to whom “leave it to me” was an invitation to horn in.

Noon came. Went. Left no tip. Hito had stepped out – in the nude, but who watched? – to brew up some coffee. Seiran loafed on the futon, basking in what she’d read was called “afterglow” but hadn’t pictured – when she’d dared picture – that it would feel this close to literal. Once he returned, even floppier than she’d thought she was out of her clothes, they drank, complained as tradition required of the taste and lay back down in the messy covers.
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His hand went to envelop hers, fingers playing, as always, along her knuckles. She met his gaze. Smiled. Said nothing. Neither did he.

Mesh or no, they didn’t need to.

Seiran didn’t go to work that day. Which wasn’t to say she didn’t ache as though she’d done a triple shift afterwards. And it felt just as good. Worn out, exhausted – but in a good, productive way. Smarter for it, too; it’d pay to have a basin and towels nearby, rather than across the house, for next time. For there would be a next time. Seiran couldn’t imagine a world where there wasn’t.

Thank you, Ringo. For blazing the trail with your shorts.

And so, the waterslide of time water-slid. In most circumstances, in the vast majority of cases, it could be counted on to flow on ever down, placidly, toward this or that boundless sea. Sometimes, however, a river did the juvenile thing and took an impulsive, ill-advised shortcut. The shimmer at the end of the blue ribbon could, therefore, be not the calm sea you were so looking forward to, and might, instead, for example, turn out to be the spray from an impending waterfall.

One of the mercies of time was that it always flowed at a steady rate. You couldn’t row out of it, but you could batten down. Tie down the baggage. Make amends with the grouchy fellow at the rudder.

But if those who fancied Lording over time willed you fall… fall you would. It was at their pleasure whether you’d emerge over or under. Time had mercy. But the greatest self-perceived victims rocked the boat the hardest.

Seiran lashed down one of these before they went over the edge:

( ) Apple Therapy
( ) Outlaw’s In-Law
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[x] Outlaw’s In-Law
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(x) Apple Therapy

My infernal lust for rabbits is not sated
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(x) Apple Therapy
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[x] Outlaw’s In-Law
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(X) Apple Therapy
Royal Gala apples are my favourite.
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(X) Outlaw’s In-Law

Lunarian lagomorph lecturing lawless lineage's in-law.
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Um, so this is kind of an awkward thing to ask, considering votes are long over, but who is the 'Outlaw's In-Law' actually referring to? It's been a while, and I haven't been able to keep what's happened in the story straight.

Yeah, I could just wait and find out, but it feels awkward to have voted for it without knowing, you know?
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Outlaw = blue bun
Her in-laws = ???

Also, the votes are tied. So yeah.
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Oh, I guess they are.

Can't help there, though, since I've already voted. Unless someone wants to give me a really good reason to change my vote.
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(X) Apple Therapy
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Game over for Hito
the rabbit caught him
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You could say that the rabbit has landed
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I actually read that as the outlaws being Kaguya & Eirin.
The in-law being maybe Reisen?
Or Tewi?
But those are just guesses.
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