~A Purity Oneshot~
Happy belated birthday, Melzilla! Don’t trip over your walker …
“Oh-h-h-h, ka-a-a-a-ami! It’s ho-o-o-o-ot . . .”
Bas Zelig shot me a darkened glance as we wandered along the old dirt road that meandered through the countryside. His meaning was clear enough, though. Bas was considering thumping our cousin, Morio a good one if he didn’t quit whining, which he had been doing for the better portion of the day. Sure, it was hot: sweltering really. We were all sweating in the stifling heat, but Morio had also thought it’d be funny to get into a water fight last night with Mikio, Bas and Morio’s uncle, and as a result, we hadn’t had anything to drink all day, either, since the idiot had used what little water we’d had left in the canteens we’d toted along.
“Shut up, Morio,” I said in a half-hearted effort to stave off the beating that the baka so richly deserved. “You’re whining like a girl.”
Morio heaved a sigh, his little white hanyou ears flattening against his skull for a moment as he slowly shook his head. “Who the hell came up with this half-baked idea, anyway?” he grumbled.
“You did,” the three of us growled.
The moron grinned. “Oh, yeah . . . I did, didn’t I?”
Bas let out a deep breath: the kind that traveled straight up, lifting the sweat-matted bangs that were plastered to his forehead. He’d clubbed his long hair back about an hour ago—something that he rarely did, probably because it made him look even more like his father than he already did. “It wouldn’t be so bad if we had some water,” he mused.
Mikio shrugged, head leaned forward as he fiddled with his rapidly twitching ear. “Morio, you kind of stink,” he pointed out.
Morio grinned. “I can’t help it,” he said, “and you don’t exactly smell like a bed of roses or anything.”
“Yeah,” Mikio agreed calmly, “but I don’t stink.”
I opened my mouth to tell the two of them to shut it since complaining wasn’t really going to help them out all that much, but sighed when my stomach growled almost painfully, reminding me that my attempt to cook last night had been abysmal, at best.
Well, that wasn’t entirely true. I was doing well enough, cooking the fish that Bas had caught. I mean, how hard was it, really? Jam a sharpened stick through them and roast them over the fire, right? And anyone could do that. No, it wasn’t until Morio had gotten the ‘great idea’ that we ought to shove some herbs into the hollows where their guts had been that the trouble had started. The pathetic greens he’d found were half dead, so dried and brown from the sultry days and they’d caught fire almost instantly, thus charring our dinner . . .
Bas shot me a quizzical glance and grinned, swinging his pack off his back and somehow managing to rummage through it as we walked. “I’ve got some beef jerky,” he said, holding out the plastic bag with the last few pieces of jerky he’d brought from home.
I started to reach for it then stopped. No, that’d just make me thirstier. “No, thanks,” I muttered, hating the fact that my ears started twitching as a sure sign of my irritation. I’d grown fairly good at controlling that sort of thing over the years, but sometimes . . .
Bas shrugged and stuffed the bag back into his pack before slinging it over his shoulder once more. “Eh, it’s not all bad,” he ventured at length. “At least I don’t have Evan and Jilli crawling all over me at night out here.”
“Thought Evan slept with your mom and dad,” Morio remarked.
Bas snorted. “That little snotbag got himself ousted from their room, and of course he came crawling into mine, instead.”
Mikio laughed. “It’s kind of nice that your brother and sister love you like that,” he added almost cautiously. “Anyway, I don’t mind it out here. It’s probably the last time we’ll all be together in the summer, right . . .?”
No one responded to that. Mikio had said it: the one thing that we’d all thought at different times since the summer had started. After all, Mikio was seventeen, almost eighteen, and next summer, he’d be studying for the university entrance exams and taking those exams, too. He hadn’t really said as much, at least, not to us, but we all knew that there was a good chance that he’d opt to attend a university a little further away from home than the one in Tokyo, unless his parents had a say in it, that was . . .
And maybe that was the real reason that we’d come out here. I mean, we were supposed to be training: that’s why Bas had come to Japan for the summer. We all knew that there was a very good chance that we’d catch seven kinds of hell once we went back home, but . . .
We wanted to spend the summer our way. At least, that was my reason. Everything would change, and that was something that I could accept. That didn’t mean that we couldn’t try to hold onto the way things were for just a little while longer, right? In a very real sense, it was our way of proving what we were, what we’d learned, both to ourselves as well as to the powers-that-be back home. Bas and I had started our training early on since both of us were in line to be tai-youkai one day, Bas in North America, and me, here in Japan. Morio had also taken up lessons early. Impossible not to when his father was easily the undisputed best hunter in all the world. Mikio, though . . .
Mikio had never been just like us, not in any sense of it. Mikio had a problem—I hesitated to call it a handicap, because not one of us thought of him in that way. His balance had always been an issue. For reasons that no one really understood, he sometimes stumbled or fell without warning, and sometimes without any reason at all. Uncle Kichiro had told us once that he thought that Mikio might have a problem with his inner ear, but since it tended to lead to arguments between Mikio’s parents, which in turn tended to upset Mikio, who had never been keen on that kind of familial turmoil, none of us really talked about it, either.
Bas stopped abruptly, his chin shooting up as he shifted his gaze around the area in a completely predatory sort of way.
“What’s the . . .?” Morio began, but trailed off as his eyes widened, too. I heard it then, as well: the unmistakable sound of flowing water somewhere off to the left.
With a whoop and a frenetic sort of scrambling, all four of us sprinted toward the trees that lined the dirt path, plunging ahead blindly, following the sound of the rambling water . . .
So the four of us crashed through the forest, intent upon locating the flowing water; each of us growing thirstier and thirstier by the moment. It was absolute torture. So close—so close that we could absolutely taste it, and yet, each step seemed to carry us further away. Morio tripped over a tree root. Bas barreled forward like a mecha from a demented anime. I just kept moving.
We broke out of the trees and stopped short, blinking in absolute disbelief. It was water, all right: fresh, clean, pure water. Cascading from a steep fall some twenty feet over our heads, it crashed into the pool at our feet, frothing and roiling in a crazy-mad bliss.
Morio let out a wild yawp and started to charge forward. Bas caught him by the back of his shirt and jerked hard. “Let us drink first before you jump in there with your clothes on, dumbass,” he growled.
Morio grinned unrepentantly as Mikio and I fell to our knees and started to drink. Bas let go of Morio and followed suit while Morio grinned like a nut and assumed the position. Sure, we all noticed the strong mineral taste and scent of the water, the slight bitterness that lingered on the tongue, but we were too thirsty to care.
“U-u-u-urgh . . .”
I lifted my head and blinked, peering over at Bas, who was leaning over a boulder, retching his guts up. Morio was doing pretty much the same, and Mikio wasn’t any better off, either. Me? Well, I’d already puked up everything, and to be completely honest, I didn’t really think I had anything left inside.
Bas groaned, leaning against the rock and sliding down to the ground. “Oh, God . . .”
“Whazzamatta, big guy? You’re looking a little peaked,” Morio commented. Bas made a halfhearted attempt at swatting at him but gave up when he missed the first time. Morio groaned. “Ma-a-a-an, I hate being sick . . .”
“You’ve never been sick otherwise, Morio,” Mikio pointed out, lying flat on his back with his arm draped over his eyes. “Must’ve been contamination in the water . . .”
I started to say something—I really don’t remember what—but stopped short when a pang shot through my guts. This one wasn’t like the vomiting ones, though; oh, no . . . it was much, much worse, and much, much lower . . . In fact, it felt as though someone were taking a hold of my entrails and squeezing the living, breathing piss out of them, and I couldn’t restrain the low, pained groan that slipped from me, either, as I doubled over and wrapped my arms around my stomach.
“Does anyone else feel . . . weird . . .?” Bas suddenly asked. Judging by the look on his face, he was starting to suffer the same sort of cramps as I was . . . In fact, it almost felt as though . . .
Springing off the ground, I crashed through the trees without watching where I was going with my arms outstretched and a driven by a blind panic. I could hear my cousins behind me. “Aww, man! Not the shits, too!” Morio complained.
I think it fair to edit the rest of this part of the story, though. I really don’t see how it could be of any real importance. Suffice it to say that we ran out of our meager supply of toilet paper very quickly and spent the rest of the afternoon chafing our asses with whatever leaves we could get our hands on . . .
And you’d think that all of this was the worst of it, right?
Yeah, it wasn’t. It really wasn’t . . .
“My ass itches.”
“Shut up, Morio.”
“But it really itches.”
“Shut up, Morio.”
“Like there’s something in my asshole crawling around or something.”
“Shut up, Morio.”
“Does yours itch, too?”
“Shut up, Morio!”
I closed my eyes and rolled onto my side. We were trying to sleep, but Morio just wouldn’t shut up; not at all. It wouldn’t have surprised me if Morio had used some weed to wipe with that he shouldn’t have, but there really wasn’t anything we could do about it, and after the day we’d had, we just didn’t want to do anything but sleep, anyway.
If Morio would shut up, that was . . .
“If we called home, d’ya think they’d come get us?” Morio asked quietly.
Bas heaved a sigh. “Probably,” he replied. “Too bad we can’t.”
Which was also, unfortunately, true enough. Sure, our fifteen year-old minds—Mikio notwithstanding since he was seventeen—had fully contemplated the idea that our respective parents would have the proverbial cow if we went off without our phones. Hell, we’d even brought our chargers along for good measure. Somehow, though, not one of us had bothered to think about the idea that we were going to be out in the wild without electricity, thereby having nowhere to plug the damn things in . . .
Youth is stupid, right?
But Morio kept whining, and eventually, we all just ignored him and ended up falling asleep, anyway, only to be roused in the middle of the night by an incredibly loud crack of thunder that signaled the start of a torrential rain. It wasn’t just a light sprinkle, either. Kami, no. It was a full on, in your face, coming from every conceivable direction, throwing debris around in the air storm. The four of us managed to stagger to our feet and crawl into a nearby alcove—not quite a cave, and, in turn, also not quite dry, but drier than out there. Bas and I ran back out to grab some wood—I did mention that youth is stupid, right? Well, it’s entirely true, and another thing? Write this down, guys, because it’s fairly important: wet wood does not burn.
And we figured that out, too, though in all honesty, it’d be hard to say whether or not the wood really would have burned since Mikio’s backpack had been open just enough to allow rain to get into it and soak the matches. The package had said ‘waterpoof’. They weren’t.
“Maybe we should sue them,” Mikio remarked as we all sort of cowered near the far wall in a vain effort to avoid the rain and wind. “False advertising or something . . .”
Bas sighed. “Damn . . . could you imagine if we’d brought Bitty with us?”
We all rather snorted at that since Isabelle had, in fact, wanted to come with us and had pouted when we told her she was absolutely not invited. It was simple though: she was a girl, and we didn’t want girls along on our adventure. Besides, even if we did want her to come along, we knew damn well that those powers-that-be would have come after us, just to make sure that she was all right.
“This kind of sucks,” Morio said, squinting as he lifted his head, as he blinked away the rain that dripped onto his face.
No one else said anything. Maybe we figured that ‘sucked’ didn’t quite cover it. Or maybe . . .
We awoke the next morning, cold, miserable, exhausted. We were almost defeated, wondering if it would be better, just to turn around and go back home. We considered sharing what was left of Bas’ beef jerky, but in the end, none of us were hungry, so we gathered our soggy things and headed out again.
Mikio still looked quite sick. I had to wonder whether or not he was able to keep his concealment in place. We all knew what he looked like in his true form, so it was difficult to tell if he was hiding it or not. Skin leeched of healthy color, he staggered slightly as he moved on. Bas trudged along with a somewhat grim expression on his face, and even he seemed a little stoic, overall.
Even Morio’s normally annoyingly chipper façade was dimmed, and me? Hell, all I could think about was a hot bath, a good meal, and a warm bed, and in that order, too. Of course, we were down, but we weren’t out; not by a long shot, and it’d be all right. At least, that was what I kept telling myself.
“You know,” Morio commented at length. We’d been trudging along the road for a good hour or so. “What are the odds we’ll find a village or something by this evening?”
Bas shrugged. “I’d be nice,” he remarked though he sounded dubious, at best.
I shook my head. “Yeah, but you’re the one who said we should go out this way since there aren’t as many villages out here,” I pointed out.
Morio opened his mouth then snapped it closed. “It was my idea, huh?”
Mikio plopped down on a boulder near the path and let his backpack fall onto the ground with a heavy thump. We all cast him quizzical sort of looks, but no one said anything. Mikio hated to have the reminders that he was a little different from us, and so we all sat down, figuring that it would be better to take a break than to point out the obvious.
It wasn’t that Mikio was weak or anything. I guess I should state that now. He wasn’t. He just had a tendency to have dizzy spells, and the extremes in our conditions were likely taking a toll on him. With a frown, he fiddled with his ear and shrugged. “Well, this does beat training all summer,” he allowed slowly.
“If we were back home right now, we’d probably be getting smacked around by the old man’s insanely large sword,” Bas added.
Morio grinned. “Yeah . . . laziness holds some advantages.”
I heaved a sigh and leaned back, letting the weak and watery sun shine down on me. The sky was a little overcast, and it looked like it was trying to rain again, but for the moment, it was holding off. I grimaced. My clothes were sticking to me unpleasantly, still damp and clingy from the night before, but I figured that it was all right. I mean, there really wasn’t any sense in complaining about it.
“Come on,” Mikio said, pushing himself to his feet once more as he reached for his backpack.
The rest of us got up, too, determined to tough it out . . .
By late afternoon, we were all feeling it, and while none of us actually came out and said it, all of us were starting to wonder if we ought to just pack it in, find a phone, and make the call to beg for mercy. The day that had started out comfortably cool enough had somehow managed to morph into a muggy, sweltering mess. It was nasty. Bas stank badly. Morio stank worse. Even Mikio reeked, and me? Well, I could smell myself a little, which, in translation, means that I smelled just as bad as the lot of them. After all, if your stench is bad enough that you can smell yourself, then you know it’s bad, right? Add to that the idea that our clothing really hadn’t properly dried out, and . . . Yeah, we were a pretty sad sight.
I don’t know about the rest of them. Along around noon, we’d stopped talking much, and were, in fact, walking fairly far apart, though whether it was to keep from being overwhelmed by everyone else’s stench or a vain effort to keep our own from being overly noticeable, I wasn’t sure and didn’t much care.
So when he drew to a stop at the top of a steep hill, all of us stood and blinked.
Bas swallowed hard. “Is that . . .?”
“. . . A mirage?” Morio breathed.
“It’s an . . .” Mikio murmured.
“Inn . . .” I said.
The four of us exchanged looks and ran—ran—down the hill toward that place, our flagging spirits soaring once more. ‘A bed . . . a bath . . . food . . .’ I thought. It ran through my head like a chant.
“G-guys . . .” Mikio called out as we sped past a posted sign. He’d stopped to read it.
I snorted impatiently but jogged back. “What?”
He gestured at the sign and slowly shook his head. “It’s . . . it’s a couples’ retreat,” he said. “Couples only.”
We all stopped dead in our tracks, the visions of a proper bed and bath and food paling quickly as the vastness of the implication set in. “N . . . no way . . .” Bas breathed, looking like he was ready to rip something to shreds, and even at fifteen years old, he was most definitely big enough to do a massive amount of damage if he were so inclined.
“We-e-ell . . .” Morio drawled, idly scratching at a patch of something dry and flaky on his cheek, “so-o-o that’s easy. We go find some women and pretend to be couples for the duration.”
Which wasn’t an entirely bad idea.
Except . . .
“Yeah? And how’s that gonna work when you smell like your father’s crusty nutsack?” Bas growled.
Morio blinked then grinned. “Nutsack? That’s awesome! I gotta spend more time Stateside . . .”
Bas swung at him. He ducked out of the way.
“You kind of smell like a crusty nutsack, too, Bas,” Mikio pointed out calmly, fiddling with the twitching ear again.
“Hell! He’s bigger than the rest of us! He smells like about five frigging crusty nutsacks!” Morio quipped just before he dashed around behind the sign to grin at Bas from a distance.
Bas snorted, his cheeks reddening under the inch of road dust we’d managed to pick up, too. “All right, you bakas! Enough talk about nutsacks!” I growled.
A few girls who looked to be about our ages but who hadn’t gotten close enough to figure out that we really did stink giggled loudly and abruptly hurried the other way.
Mikio did, too. “Well, maybe we can talk them into letting us clean up or something,” he suggested though he sounded dubious at best. “I mean, it can’t hurt to ask, right?”
“Come on,” Bas suddenly said, jerking his head in the direction of the brightly painted inn.
Morio said nothing as he and I watched Bas and Mikio walk away. In hindsight, that was probably the biggest mistake we’d made at that point. Too bad we really didn’t know what was coming next or the two of us just might have turned tail and run away. Fast.
“No frigging way.”
“It’s the only way,” Mikio explained calmly and for what had to be the fifteenth time in as many minutes.
“It smelled like they were cooking oden,” Bas mused.
Morio shot Bas a quelling glance as his expression shifted into a very pronounced show of stubbornness—proof positive that he actually was an Izayoi, I suppose. “I’m not hungry,” he lied belligerently.
“It smelled almost as good as Mama’s oden,” Mikio commented sagely.
I said nothing. As far as I was concerned, I was with Morio on this one—surprisingly.
“Nothing’s as good as Grandma’s oden,” Morio shot back sullenly.
“And they have two rooms with real beds, not futons,” Bas ventured. “Said that they’d let us have them cheap, too.”
Morio snorted and crossed his arms over his chest, glowering out over the haze of green that were the rice paddies surrounding the tiny village.
“And they have a hot spring, too,” Mikio commented at length. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve been to a real hot spring?”
“Really hot,” Bas added. “The guy said that lots of folks come here just for the spring. Supposed to be heavy in minerals and all that to help sore muscles and stuff. Said people come here all the way from . . . where, Mikio?”
“Hokkaido,” Mikio replied without missing a beat.
Bas nodded. “Right. Hokkaido.”
My ears twitched. Damn it, I couldn’t help it. ‘A . . . hot spring . . .’
Morio looked like he was trying not to listen to them and was failing miserably. “I . . . I don’t care,” he muttered, kicking at a stone lying in the dirt path.
Bas and Mikio exchanged looks that I supposed Morio and I weren’t supposed to have seen. Well, too bad. We did. The bastards . . .
“Anyway, he said that there’s another inn where we could probably stay, but . . .
“But?” Morio couldn’t help asking, and rather impatiently at that.
Bas shrugged. “It’s about three days’ walk from here. That way,” he replied, jerking his head in a vague sort of way to indicate the direction.
Morio very nearly whined out loud. Three days? That was an eternity, wasn’t it?
At least, it seemed like that to me . . . Oden? Real beds? A hot spring?
All I knew was that I was stinky, I was sore, I was tired, I was hungry, and all those things that those bastards were telling us were sounding like heaven on earth at the moment.
I kind of felt like crying . . . or killing someone . . .
“Your, uh, boobs are . . . crooked.”
I pinned Bas with as furious a glower as I could possibly muster while concentrating on not blushing furiously as I smashed my hands against my makeshift ‘breasts’ and shoved the right one up level with the left one. “I hate you,” I bit out from between clenched teeth.
If it were any consolation, Bas didn’t look any more comfortable with the situation than I was. It wasn’t much of one, though; not at all.
“I don’t know,” Mikio ventured as he stood back, one arm crossed over his chest supporting his elbow with his index finger curled thoughtfully over his lips. “I’m pretty sure that my girlfriend would have bigger breasts than that . . .”
“Shove it up your ass, Mikio. I ran out of stuffing,” Morio growled. “If you don’t love me for what I am, then why are we even together?”
Bas cleared his throat and leaned toward Mikio just a little. “I think your girlfriend has PMS.”
Mikio nodded slowly.
Morio snorted. “Keh! You men don’t understand how hard it is to be pretty, do you?”
I rolled my eyes. “Shut up, Morio!”
“Why do we have to be the girls?” Morio demanded in a petulant little pout.
Bas snorted and rolled his eyes since he’d already explained it a couple times. “I told you, Morio. The guy already saw Mikio and me, and he knows we’re guys. You two were the only ones he didn’t see, so you have to be the girls . . . damned ugly girls, but girls, nonetheless.”
Morio wrinkled his nose. “Speak for yourself, Bassie-boy. I’m pretty! Right, Gunnar?”
It was completely humiliating, damn it. Either way one looked at it, there was just no ‘good side’ to it, either. The future Japanese tai-youkai, dressed like a girl—and a really ugly girl, at that? And pretending to be Bas the Barbarian’s girlfriend, no less . . . all for two stupid rooms at the confounded inn that catered only to couples . . .
‘Real beds, real food, and a hot spring, Gunnar . . . Keep your eye on the prize, will you?’
Yeah, the pep talk, courtesy of my youkai voice wasn’t really helping.
What was the phrase Bas had used before? Ah, yes: ‘Taking one for the team’. I guess that this was one of those times, wasn’t it?
“They’re never going to believe that he’s a woman,” Mikio remarked, nodding at me as he made his assessment.
“Oh, I don’t know. He’s definitely from the prettier side of the family tree . . .” Bas mused.
I ground my teeth together.
“It might help if he didn’t look so irritated,” Mikio went on thoughtfully.
Bas nodded. “Why don’t you try smiling?”
I tried. I’m pretty sure that it looked more like I was ready to rip someone’s head off with my teeth. They grimaced.
“Well, I don’t care,” Morio suddenly blurted, though the livid blush that was quite discernable despite the layer of grime on his face, “I just want to get clean and get fed, so come on.”
I’ll never really understand exactly why I went along with their ridiculous plan, but I did. I guess it was simply because we were all completely miserable and desperate. That combination was a bad, bad thing, but there you have it. So there I was, dressed normally enough except for the fake boobs that we’d concocted with the sufficient use of nasty socks and Ace bandages from our collective first aid kits. I was arrogant enough to think that the innkeeper would never believe that I was a girl—Morio, maybe, but never me. After all, wasn’t it apparent, just from looking at me that I was most certainly not a girl?
Of course, I hadn’t taken into consideration that, at fifteen, I wasn’t nearly as broad in the shoulders as I would be later, and my arms weren’t really very defined, either. It wasn’t to say that I was underdeveloped by any means, but I certainly wasn’t as large or broad as Bas, who had apparently been born huge, to start with. No, I was lankier, and my Japanese heritage didn’t help much, either. I’d only actually started shaving a few months before, and I only had to do so about once a week, tops. Morio was much the same, and maybe a little worse off. He was definitely the shortest of us, and he was so hyperactive that he burned off anything he ever ate long before it could become fat or muscle. In those days, he was pretty well skin and bones.
To help the ruse, both Bas and Mikio clubbed back their hair to give themselves more ‘manly’ looks, I suppose. Whatever . . . and I’m not sure what perverted twist of fate actually fell into play there, but it was just assumed that I’d be Bas’ ‘girlfriend’ and that Morio would be Mikio’s main squeeze.
And to this day, I try desperately not to think about the rest of it. Suffice it to say that I’m not entirely sure that I’d do it again if I had to.
The innkeeper, as it turned out, was a squat little man in his late sixties or early seventies with thick glasses that he had to squint to see out of with a roly-poly little round wife that bowed and smiled and bowed some more without saying a word. Still, as we stood there in the entryway being greeted by the keeper’s wife, the man stood back with his arms crossed over his chest, looking entirely suspect as he gave us the critical eye.
“You aren’t a girl,” he said, poking a finger in Morio’s direction.
His wife gasped, her hands flying up to flutter over her lips and looking properly affronted, all things considered.
Mikio cleared his throat. “She, uh, has a glandular disorder,” he muttered, ear twitching wildly as he offered the man a polite bow.
“You have big hands like a boy,” the man went on, nodding at Morio, obviously still in doubt. I quickly stuck my hands behind my back.
Morio and Mikio exchanged quick glances. Morio looked like he was ready to bolt.
‘Hot springs and real beds,’ I told myself over and over again.
The man suddenly smiled and leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest in a smug sort of way. “Yes, yes . . . okay,” he agreed. “I’ll show you to your rooms, yes?”
I think I might have let out a sigh of relief then as we fell in step behind the old man. He led the way out of the back door and into the tranquil courtyard and along the open-air pathway. He stopped at the first room and pushed the door aside. “You want to clean up, yes?” he suggested.
“Kami, yes,” I blurted before I could stop myself.
The old man shot me a quick glance. I clamped my mouth closed and tried to smile.
“Bishounen!” he breathed, narrowing his eyes behind the thick glasses.
“Uh, n-no . . .” Bas hurried to say, giving me a quick jab with his elbow to shut me up, I supposed. Clamping my mouth closed, I tried to think of a way to beat the hell out of him without it seeming entirely misplaced, given the circumstances . . . “She’s just . . . uh . . . a little hoarse; that’s all. All that night, uh, air . . .”
The old man still looked rather perplexed and a lot dubious, but he nodded at Bas’ fumbled explanation. And then, he stood back and waited almost expectantly.
Bas shot me a warning glance then gestured toward the room. I suppose it was something like modern day chivalry. I was still not amused.
The innkeeper cleared his throat and bowed. “At this inn, it is customary to kiss your beloved to bestow good luck upon us,” he said and bowed again. “Kissy kissy,” he finished in English, obviously having taken note that Bas spoke with a very discernable American accent.
I started to say that there was no way in the world that I was going to do any such thing. After all, it was bad enough that I had demeaned myself by dressing up as a damned girl; there was no way come hell or high water that I was going to degenerate any further.
Unfortunately, Bas must’ve seen it on my face; my intention to tell them all to go straight to hell. Before I could stop or think, there it was: the one thing that I still have nightmares about to this day: the kiss.
And it wasn’t that it was really that gross or even that long. No, just a quick peck to show the innkeeper that we were, indeed, boyfriend and girlfriend—and the complete and utter humiliation that lingers in the back of my mind and soul and probably would till the end of time and beyond.
“Oh . . . my . . .” Morio said in a very high pitched falsetto. If he were close enough for me to beat on him, I so would have . . .
That my face had to be completely red really didn’t help my cause, either, though the actual emotion was more of complete outrage. Too bad that the innkeeper didn’t realize that little gem, damn it . . . My only saving grace was that a moment later, Bas pretty much pushed me into the room and closed the door with an audible sigh of relief, which saved me from further helpings of humble-pie dished up by the two bakas in the hallway.
The night was so silent that I could hear myself blink as I lay on the very edge of the huge bed. Clean, fed, and reasonably assured that the public humiliation was all but over, I had to admit, however grudgingly, that it was nice to feel warm and dry and comfortable for the first time in days. Bas was doing pretty much the same on the other side of the bed, neither of us willing to venture into what we silently considered ‘no man’s land’, and I could tell by the way he was breathing that he was still wide awake, too. Outside in the night, I could hear the call of some birds, and I heaved a sigh.
“Hey, Gunnar . . .”
I considered ignoring him for just a moment then sighed yet again. “What?”
His answer was long in coming. “I . . . I was thinking,” he began then trailed off.
“About what?” I finally asked since it was quite obvious that he wasn’t about to go on.
The bed shuddered under his weight as he rolled over to face away from me, which was just fine, as far as I was concerned. “I don’t think that we should tell anyone else about this,” he finally said.
I couldn’t help it. Rolling over, I leaned up on my elbow and glowered at his back. “Oh, you think?” I shot back sarcastically. I was quite good with that back then . . .
Bas sighed, too. “Well, there’s not really any real reason to tell anyone else about it, right?”
I snorted and flopped onto my back. “Bas-tard,” I muttered under my breath.
“Oh, come on,” he grouched, smashing his head into his pillow in a rather grumpily. “It’s not like I wanted to do that,” he went on. “But you have to admit that it’s better than sleeping on the ground out there somewhere, right?”
Okay, so he had a point: a very small one. “The hot spring was nice,” I admitted grudgingly.
Bas yawned. “Besides, it could have been worse.”
“Oh? How’s that?”
He shrugged, and judging from his tone of voice, he was starting to doze off. “You could have had to kiss Morio.”
I sighed. Again.
It was quiet for awhile. I could feel the stress that had wrapped around my guts like a vise letting loose slowly. A few minutes of comfortable silence . . . It was welcome.
“Oh, and Gunnar . . .?” Bas murmured.
He stretched out a little more—not too much, though, since his legs were in danger of sticking off the end of the bed. “If we stop at a convenience store tomorrow . . .”
He yawned again. “You might want to pick up some Chap-Stick.”
A moment later, the bed started shaking, and I was sorely pressed not to knock the baka right off onto the floor. Chap-Stick? I needed Chap-Stick?
“Really. Why don’t you pick up some breath mints?” I growled back.
Bas laughed harder, apparently finding amusement at my expense, which just figured. His sense of humor was as warped as his father’s, after all. I didn’t see anything funny about it, damn it. I didn’t ask to be the girl, now did I? It wasn’t my fault that Bas was unnaturally huge, was it?
Bas wound down at last and heaved a loud sigh. “Maybe we’ll look back on this one day and laugh,” he remarked though he didn’t sound very positive about it.
I didn’t bother to respond to that. There wasn’t a point, was there? Our summer of freedom had somehow become my lifelong nightmare. Think back about it and laugh?
Yeah, I didn’t think so, either.
Oden: Japanese hotpot meal usually consisting of steamed vegetables, eggs, and meat.
Baka: fool; idiot.
Bishounen: pretty boy.
== == == == == == == == == ==
Final Thought from Gunnar:
Sworn to secrecy …
Blanket disclaimer for Golden: I do not claim any rights to InuYasha or the characters associated with the anime/manga. Those rights belong to Rumiko Takahashi, et al. I do offer my thanks to her for creating such vivid characters for me to terrorize.