Title: The Unthinkable
Theme: “Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command.” – Alan Watts
Version: Anime (Classic)
Nephrite couldn't remember when it had started. He couldn't remember when she'd stopped being a victim of his plan and started being a victim of his feelings. Perhaps it was her warmth. Perhaps it was her belief. Perhaps it was the way she looked at him: like he was human. Like he was real and believable and honorable. Admiration and delight, all contained in those human eyes.
At first it had been so simple. All the trappings of success, the shiny car, the sunglasses and the tastefully expensive watch... easy to impress. Then somehow, the look in her eyes had become more and more important. Now she was important.
Important to him.
How could love come from such pretense? How could he feel like this? How could he feel at all?
Nephrite felt scared of it, when he allowed himself to think; so he didn't let himself think too often. He just let the feeling take him; this love which had shed its false trappings and turned real. Real and fatal.
Title: Under Your Skin
Theme: Politics (Minor Characters)
Version: Manga (post Stars)
All warfare is based on deception... Thus one who is skillful at keeping the enemy
on the move maintains deceitful appearances, according to
which the enemy will act. He sacrifices something,
that the enemy may snatch at it. - Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Isamu thought of it as reconnaissance. He'd been told from the time he hit twelve years old that he'd make a good politician and now he was fulfilling his family's ambitions... just not in the way they'd hoped. He looked at himself in the side mirror again: the silver tie with stripes of blue and the small gold pin, no diamonds, far too vulgar; the grey silk suit that had been tailor made for just such an occasion, when he needed to impress people who judged you on your clothes; the polished brown leather shoes; the crisp white shirt, cufflinks matching the tie pin. Hair slicked back with copious amounts of gel, not even a hint of a wave, never mind a curl, exposing his forehead; face clean-shaven, no designer stubble in sight; no earrings, pendant safely hidden beneath the shirt, watch ready to catch the light when necessary. Yes, the costume was in place and it looked good. Even Rei hadn't quite known what to say when she first saw him. Isamu allowed himself to think about the look in her eyes: surprise... liking? Yes, she'd definitely been impressed. He glanced at his reflection again; let them think he was vain, full of himself. The less they thought of him, the bigger his advantage.
He turned. It was the secretary with the achingly fashionable haircut and the liquid eyes. Her voice was a little breathless, belying her professional poise. Isamu gave her his most charming smile and noted with inward satisfaction that she bent forward, like a flower towards the sun. "Yes?"
"Hino-sama will see you now," she told him, holding out her hand.
"Thanks for keeping me entertained," he replied softly. Should he take her hand and kiss it? No, that would be too fake. He wasn't European, he had no excuse. Xavier might be able to get away with it, but not him. The words were enough, because she blushed. He bowed and then went through the doors, into the inner sanctum.
It was obvious from the start that this was a place of power. He could feel it in the atmosphere, in the prickling of his skin. The carpet was a deep maroon that looked untouched and the walls were lined with tasteful watercolours, interspersed with pictures of Hino Ryoji and various politicians or public figures. The furniture was beautifully crafted in mahogany, including the massive desk set against the windows overlooking Tokyo Bay. Looking around, Isamu could suddenly see a resemblance between Rei and her father. The office decoration was tasteful, simple, nothing overdone. While this was a welcome clue to Hino's personality, Isamu knew that Rei would not be pleased if he mentioned the similarity. The man himself was sitting behind his desk, reading through some papers. He was fair with broad shoulders and expensive rimless glasses perched on his nose. The only physical resemblance to his daughter was the familiar frown of concentration. Isamu noted all this as he walked forward, the carpet muffling his footsteps with a soft swish that whispered money... money... money....
Hino looked up and Isamu stopped moving immediately, waiting for the older man to make the first move. He was aware from one glance that this would not be easy: Hino's eyes were just as piercing as his daughter's, though in an entirely different way. But then, Isamu never liked things to be easy. The bigger they come, the harder they fall.
Hino stood up and moved around the desk. "Minami-san. It's an honour to meet you," he said, and bowed.
Isamu bowed back, thinking of how many wonderful replies he could have made to that opening, and here he was, stuck with the traditional one. "It's an honour for me to meet you, Hino-san. I've heard so much about your work," he replied honestly. After all, Rei had told him plenty about her father; he was just letting the man think what he'd heard had been positive.
"I have a very dedicated team," Hino replied with a small smile. "Politics is all about teamwork, Minami-san."
Isamu was tempted to gag. Teamwork... does teamwork involve leaving your ailing wife home alone and dumping your daughter on your father-in-law? "Absolutely," he agreed out loud. "We're all in this together, trying to make Japan a better country."
Hino nodded. "Your uncle said you were a bright young man; I can see what he meant."
"Oh well..." Isamu ducked his head, pretending to be shy. He wondered how long he could keep this up before he needed to scrub himself down. "It doesn't take much intelligence to recognise what this country needs."
"On the contrary," Hino argued, as they walked towards the window. "It's good to see someone from the younger generation who isn't totally focused on himself. We need people like you, people who hold a vision for our country."
"That's exactly why I asked to meet you," Isamu replied without missing a beat. "I've been researching the LDP party for some months now; my father is very interested in becoming a sponsor and as for myself..." He shrugged. "Let's just say that I've always been told I'd make a good politician."
"Your uncle mentioned that, too. He said you were extremely good at getting people to see your point of view, and of course, in a democracy, persuasion is the name of the game." Hino nodded, pleased with this little homily.
"I've had a lot of experience in persuading people," Isamu agreed pleasantly. And right now, I'm persuading myself that I don't need to mess up my hair or this great suit just to get out of here. "Really, I came here to ask your advice, Hino-san. You became an overnight success story and I was wondering if you had any tips."
Hino chuckled. "So eager, but I have to warn you, Minami-san, politics is hard work. It may look like we schmooze our time away with businessmen and society queens, but really, all that is networking in order to gain support. You'll have to be prepared to sacrifice your evenings and weekends charming people for our cause."
Oh, you have no idea how many people I've charmed for 'causes', Hino-san. "I'm a hard worker," Isamu answered, gazing out at the bay. "Growing up in society... you learn early how to be agreeable and how to help people pass the time in a way they find pleasing. My parents made sure I learned manners early."
Hino's eyes glittered. "Ah yes, your parents, of course. One hears so many stories of their generosity..."
It never failed, Isamu thought. One mention of his parents and most adults became fawning dogs, whining for a scrap of attention, an invitation or a promise to attend their party/wedding/charity event. To be fair, Hino was not acting like a dog, but Isamu knew all about greed. That look in Hino's eyes was the same look he'd seen countless times while growing up. And he gave the same reply as always.
"They like to help people; it's just easier for them because they have money."
"Money, yes," Hino sighed. "A double-edged sword: it can do so much good, yet it's often the cause of so much trouble."
"Like bribes," Isamu suggested innocently. "I hear that's a large problem in political parties nowadays." He did not miss the sharp glance Hino gave him from behind the glasses.
"It is a problem, though I hope you haven't heard anything about LDP members taking bribes; our party is strictly against corruption."
Isamu smiled slightly. Rattled, are we? "You misunderstand me," he said. "I was just thinking how we should use money to re-energise the political process, not sully it." He paused, letting Hino digest this. "For instance... I could ask my mother to organise an event centred around international political corruption. You would certainly attract a lot of attention by attending such an evening... especially since it emphasises your own admirable position of never accepting bribes, standing against any kind of attempt to affect the political process."
Hino frowned, considering this. For a moment, Isamu thought he'd pushed things too far, but then the older man turned to him, smiling. "If you could organise something like that, you would certainly have a very bright future in this party, Minami-san. And if you need to find someone for the evening, I know a young lady who'd be happy to accompany you."
Isamu had thought he was sickened before, but that was nothing compared to how he felt after those words. He stared at Hino, wondering how to respond. Happy? Happy to accompany me? You arrogant, ignorant, inconsiderate, heartless, unscrupulous hypocrite. You have no idea. You have no idea about your own daughter. Happy? I'm almost tempted to say 'yes', just so she turns you down and shocks that smug shell of yours, just for a second.
"No, thank you," he said, bowing just to make sure his eyes couldn't be read. "I'm sure I can find someone to accompany me... someone who knows exactly how to behave."
"Good. Then I'll hear from you when everything's been organised?" Hino held out his hand this time, and Isamu took it with a firm grip. "My secretary has my diary, I'm sure you'll be able to work something out."
Isamu thought of that breathless voice and those liquid eyes full of admiration and invitation. "I'm sure," he said softly.
Title: Butcher's Boys
Theme: Image (Minor Characters)
The fog made the cobblestones slippery, and by the time Andrew Fuller had reached Scotland Yard, he was already ten minutes late. He nodded his head at the bobby on guard by the gate and passed through, coughing to clear his throat of the noxious air as he took the steps two at a time. The office was full of people as he came through the doorway, people gathered around the desks, gazing at various sketches and photographs. However, his late arrival had not gone unnoticed. One of the detective inspectors was already making his way over. For a heart sinking minute, Andrew thought it was Abberline, who had a deserved reputation as a stickler for punctuality; then he realised it was Moore and relaxed slightly. Moore could be irascible, but at least he listened to you.
"We sent the telegraph thirty minutes ago, Fuller, where have you been?"
"Terribly sorry, sir, it's this particular, I couldn't make the cabby go any faster... well, not without endangering the other people on the road," Andrew added, making his tone as respectful as possible. The fact they still hadn't caught anybody for these murders had everyone on edge, and the increasing number of victims only contributed to the general depression.
Moore nodded, his expression showing that he was aware of the weather and of the difficulty in making a London cabby do anything if he was in the wrong mood. "Don't let it happen again, or Abberline will hear of it," he added. This was no threat, more a statement of fact. Abberline was leader of the investigation, he needed to know if any officer was not pulling his weight.
"Won't happen again, sir," Andrew replied, standing very straight. Moore nodded.
"Chalmer is waiting for you; he should have the report on the body by now."
The body. Andrew had learned to dread those words. The body in a murder case was rarely a picture, but the Whitechapel victims were nightmares, gutted like fish, abused in death as they'd been in life. He swallowed as he went down the steps, into the dark, along the corridor that was lit by the latest gas lamps and into the mortuary room. Chalmer was standing there, his arms red with blood up to the elbow. He looked more like a butcher than a respectable medical examiner, and when he raised his head, Andrew saw that there were shadows under his eyes.
"Taking your work home with you, Matthew?" he said.
"It's not as if you can just forget something this despicable when you close the door behind you, Andrew," Matthew replied, turning and plunging his hands into a big steel bowl, which Andrew knew from previous experience to be full of lukewarm water.
He walked forward, steeling himself for the inevitable horror. The purple-black mess of the throat was nothing now, almost beautiful in its neatness compared with the ruined abdomen, a bloody cauldron housing an inevitably damaged reproductive system. His stomach recoiled, rising and clenching. He turned his head away, looking at her face, but that only made it worse. This was no middle-aged woman.
"Her name is Mary Jane Kelly," Matthew supplied, sponging his arms so that the water turned pink. "Born in Limerick, Ireland, twenty-five years of age... we've actually got a birth date for her, which is something. She was found in Miller's Court, Spitalfields, as you see her now."
"Twenty-five..." Andrew shuddered. This girl was exactly the same age as Matthew's wife, Serena. She should have been married with children instead of lying on this table, not only murdered but mutilated. "Any organs taken?" he asked, risking a glimpse at the desecration before turning away again.
"Not this time, thank God. Makes it easier for my conscience," Matthew muttered, flicking his hands to get rid of the spare water. "At least she can go into the grave with everything God gave her." He grabbed a folder of papers and held it out. "There's the report; I'm sure Andrews and Abberline will have fun. And good luck with the area inspection."
Their eyes met. Not for the first time, Andrew wondered which of them had the better part of the deal. Matthew had to examine these poor women and then sew them back up, a nauseating task; but he didn't have to inspect the place where the body had been found over and over again, questioning the same people, many of whom would lie to a policeman on principle. Finally, Andrew nodded.
"Thank you; remember me to Serena."
"I will; remember me to Regina." Matthew began to roll his sleeves down and Andrew took that as his cue to leave.
After giving the folder to Andrews and Abberline, he and the others followed Moore back to Spitalfields in what was becoming a routine: scour the area, question the residents, note down their replies (which became more and more lurid as time went on), deflect any questions about whether it was the Ripper (as if they didn't know already), then back to Scotland Yard for more fruitless analysis. Andrew was aware that this was a cynical way of looking at the science of deduction, but he couldn't help it. If only Sherlock Holmes really did exist... surely this case would tax even his famed deductive skills. He said nothing about his lack of hope, of course. Esprit de corps was very important.
The lodgings were old and cramped. As Andrew climbed the stairs, knocking on each door, asking each occupant his list of questions, he felt as if he were some sort of Jack, ascending from one hostile world to another. Except, there were no rewards at the top of this beanstalk. When he reached the top, he turned and looked down, through the stairwell. The light was gloomy and tinged green from the old glass in the windows. There was nothing at the top of this beanstalk. He would have to go all the way back down to the hell which awaited him. A hell where he was just another butcher's boy, picking up the bloody remains of a devil's plaything. He looked out of the tiny window and realised that he could see across the street.
The particular was over, the fog was gone. Andrew let out a long held breath. At least when he went back down, he would be able to see clearly.
* Andrew Fuller = Furuhata Motoki
Regina = Reika
Matthew Chalmer = Chiba Mamoru
Serena = Usagi
* Particular, a noxious fog also known as a "pea-souper"; London particulars were common in Victorian London, owing to the amount of coal being burnt. The modern term for them would be "smog".
* Esprit de corps, literally translates as "team spirit", which is how people express it nowadays.
* Frederick George Abberline, Henry Moore and Walter Andrews were three Detective Inspectors assigned to the Whitechapel murders.
* The Whitechapel murders were carried out by Jack the Ripper.
Theme: True Drabble (Minor Characters)
Ever since that time, Kakeru had loved to stand by the window and gaze up at the night sky, the stars and the moon, the ever changing and ever constant moon.
“I love you, my spaceman... Promise me that you'll come again.”
But how could he come and see her? He was earthbound. Bound to this planet by more than his health now. Still, it wasn’t all bad.
Kakeru turned his head to look at the woman sleeping in the bed behind him. The blankets gently hugged her figure and the swelling curve of her belly. And Kakeru smiled softly.
Text in Italics taken from Alex Glover's translation of the manga.
Title: Stolen Moment
Theme: Erotic (Minor Characters)
I'd like to see you ironing your skirt
And cancelling other dates.
I'd like to button up your shirt.
I like the way your chest inflates...
You are the end of self-abuse.
You are the eternal feminine.
I'd like to find a good excuse
To call on you and find you in...
- John Fuller, Valentine
It was the sight of her back that did it. Motoki knew that there were supposedly three categories of men: breasts, legs and bottom. It wasn't that he didn't appreciate those things; he just thought that a woman's back could be extremely erotic, too. Especially when all you saw was a sliver between two piece of amber silk that shimmered as they moved. A sliver of white flesh, smooth as milk with the merest hint of a spine beneath the skin, trailing down to the curve of the waist, where the silk hid it once more.
She was ironing her skirt for tomorrow (Reika liked to be prepared) and he watched as her arm swept out to the side and her body bent slightly. The dress had to be buttoned up; she had done the lower buttons, which were not too difficult, but the others were still dangling, waiting to be mated with their hooks. Motoki felt his fingers twitch. He stepped forward, reached out and trailed one finger down her spine.
Her voice was low, trying to be firm.
"I can do the rest up for you, if you want," he whispered, his finger moving back up. He bent forward and kissed the nape of her neck, highly aware of the skin beneath his lips and how much he wanted to continue kissing her. As he pulled away, he smelled the jasmine in her hair, sensual and intoxicating, glowing white in the burnished auburn.
Reika set the iron down and turned around, putting temptation behind her. Everything about her was calm and collected, except her eyes, which were warm and full of sparks. The dress fit her perfectly, the silk sliding over her skin like a lover's caress. "Do you really mean that? Or are you just looking for an excuse to touch me?"
"Do I need an excuse to touch you?" Motoki asked, running his hand down her bare arm now, noticing how her eyelids slid down in response.
"I would hope not." Her voice was still low, but it had lost its reproving tone.
"Good." He touched her other arm, bringing both hands up to her shoulders and then cupping her face. "I like touching you. And I like watching your reactions when I touch you." He stroked her neck and her eyes closed completely, her throat moving as she gasped silently.
"Hmm?" he asked, leaning in and brushing his lips against her jaw.
"Could you do me up?" She opened her eyes and looked at him, smiling shyly. "You can undo me later."
He grinned a little. "I thought I'd just done that right now."
Reika turned around, letting him admire her back once more. "Button your lip," she said smartly.
Title: The Good Old Days
Theme: Tragedy (Minor Characters)
It was perfect: there she was, standing on the stage, the spotlight on her as she sang of heartbreak and empty nights, lost and lonely. Everyone was listening to her, everyone was looking at her. Her voice soared into the sky. She was a star.
Then her mother banged on the door.
"Minako! Turn that racket down!"
Rather than obey this simple instruction, Minako flounced over and pulled the door open. "It's not 'racket'!" she objected. "It's the Bee Gees! I'm practising my harmonies for the audition! They're an old band, don't you know them?"
But her mother's face had softened. Her head had tipped slightly and she was listening to the song, lost in her own world. The expression was familiar to Minako, though she couldn't think where from. She'd never seen her mother look like this... or at least, not for a long time. Her mother was not a soft person. Her mother was hard, sharp, all angles and no curves. Sometimes Minako wondered if her parents had adopted her, she was so unlike either of them. "Mama?" she prompted.
"This song came out when you were still a newborn," her mother said softly. "It really cheered me up; just to know that other people felt as crap as I did, every day... I would dance around the kitchen, singing it to myself. You thought it was hilarious... you always used to squeal when you saw me dancing."
Minako stared at her, the falsetto hovering in the background.
Going home, I just can't face it all alone,
I really should be holding you, holding you,
Loving you, loving you...
"You danced?" she said.
Her mother pulled back. "It was a long time ago," she snapped, turned and quickly walked down the stairs. Minako watched her for a moment and then shut the door. It was only later that she remembered where she'd seen that look on her mother's face before: it was the look she got on her face every time she thought about her future.
When you lose control and you've got no soul,
Title: An Old Passion
Theme: Growing Old (Minor Characters)
Version: Anime (Crystal Tokyo)
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep...
- W.B. Yeats, When You Are Old
Time had been good to her, Naru reflected. Of course, she hadn't known back then that her friend Usagi, class clown and glutton, would become a queen. There had been no inkling. People said it was obvious now, but that was the whole point, it wasn't obvious. Nobody would have dreamed of Usagi ruling anything, let alone the world; just as nobody would have dreamed of saying that Usagi was Sailor Moon.
Sailor Moon... Naru smiled a little. Perhaps life hadn't been so perfect back then, but it had been exciting. There wasn't much excitement nowadays. Maybe that was because she was older. Well, to be frank, just old. She'd seen so much, she'd done so much, she'd felt so much. Everything was so intense when you were young: friendships were forever, loves were eternal, a tragedy could happen any minute.
Her smile quivered and died. Yes, she'd felt a lot. She'd felt joy... and pain. She'd lost loved ones. For a moment, she saw his face again, so vivid; it seemed as if the details had only grown clearer through the years. That thick mahogany hair, those soft blue eyes (they were always soft when looking at her), the suave manner, the stylish clothes... the green blood. Naru closed her eyes for a moment. Always the blood, but it didn't hurt as much. Time did not heal the wound, but it cleaned it and gave her a scar instead. Perhaps that was another consequence of getting old, a nicer one: things didn't hurt as much any more. She could see things clearer.
She could see that it wouldn't have worked; she would have tried hard, so would he, but in the end... How could they have been together? She accepted that it would have been impossible, and the acceptance was peaceful, easy. She was happy to have had his love, if only for a little while. And she hadn't spent her life mourning him. She'd done other things.
She looked up, squinting into the darkness of the room. "Gurio? Is that you?"
He walked forward, into the sunlight that flowed in from the balcony. Although he was a little stooped, his sweet smile and large magnified eyes were exactly the same as they'd always been. "I've just got the new delivery from Sony!" he said gleefully.
Naru couldn't help laughing. "You and your computer games... you'll never stop."
"You wouldn't want me to," he answered, taking her hand and kissing it. "They keep me young at heart."
"True." She turned her head and looked out across the city, shining like a diamond in the sun. "But there is something to be said for growing old."
Title: The Way To Heaven
Theme: Rainbow (Minor Characters)
Of course he got on with it. Life didn't end because a girl told you 'no'. He had his work, he had his studies. And of course, he had Kamikichi. All of which should been plenty to occupy him; but Motoki still spent a large part of his time thinking about Makoto. Why? Because she was Makoto; because he was rapidly coming to realise that you really could be 'hopelessly' in love.
That was why his heart leapt when he saw the familiar silhouette, even though it was pouring with rain, even though the usually straight figure was stooped and shivering. He hurried forward and lifted his umbrella over her head. "Mako-chan?"
She glanced up, surprised. "Motoki-san... I forgot my umbrella." She attempted to laugh. "I think Usagi-chan is rubbing off on me."
"That's okay, were you heading towards the arcade?" Motoki asked hopefully. He took in her dripping hair, the way her clothing clung to her figure (which made him quickly avert his eyes), the way her mouth was set and firm (which made him stare a little longer). "No... you wouldn't be this wet. Stupid question, sorry."
She smiled a bit and shook her head. "He didn't show up."
Motoki felt unreasonably jealous. "Well, I'm here," he said, feeling as if that was the story of his life. "Let's go to the arcade and get you dried off, ne?"
Makoto sniffed and hugged herself. Her air of sadness and resignation cut him to the heart. "Okay."
They walked along in silence. Motoki wanted to cheer her up, but he knew that Makoto didn't want to be cheered up. He wanted to hug her, but he knew she didn't want to be touched by anyone. He contented himself with fantasising about hurting the boy who'd done this to her and wondering where they would have gone if she'd been on a date with him. Perhaps to the park, then to the zoo to look at the turtles, then maybe to a nice tea house where they could get some nice hot drinks and maybe some good cakes. "Ah," he said finally, for something to say. "The rain is clearing up, that's good." He put down his umbrella (green, with a lily pad pattern) and gazed up. "Look, Mako-chan!" He pointed east, where a faint arc of colour was just appearing through the clouds.
Makoto looked up. The misery on her face lessened somewhat. "Pretty," she said softly.
"The rainbow is a symbol of hope," Motoki said, remembering his World Mythology course. "It was also seen as the way to heaven."
"You think heaven's at the end of the rainbow?" Makoto asked, now looking at him. Her eyes were soft, almost teasing. Even though her hair was still dripping wet and her clothes were still damp, she no longer looked forlorn. Motoki smiled at her, unable to stop himself.
"The important thing is the journey, not the destination. At least, that's what we were always told." He shrugged, looking at the rainbow again. "It looks like it would be a beautiful journey. All the colours of the world are up there."
"What's your favourite colour?" Makoto asked curiously.
"Mm, I think it would have to be green; what's yours?"
They smiled at each other for a moment, united in simple pleasure. Then Makoto looked down, blushing slightly. "Thank you for coming on this journey with me," she said.
Motoki didn't know what to say. His heart beat fast and he felt his own cheeks turn red. He wished that he could be cool like Mamoru - although perhaps he wouldn't want Mamoru's way with words at the moment. It was funny, but despite Mamoru's cool style and his calm way of handling dangerous situations, he was no good with words. In the end, he decided the shortest answer was the best. "You're welcome," he said. "Let's go on it again sometime, ne?"
Makoto nodded, smiling up at him, and they walked on towards the arcade, while up above them, the rainbow shone with its silent promise.
Title: Different Strokes
Theme: Swimming (Minor Characters)
Version: Anime (post StarS)
It was a fact, she was better than him. Shingo had always known that Ami was a fantastic swimmer, but that was when he'd still been watching her from the poolside, shy and dry, his sunglasses a welcome screen for the interest in his eyes.
Now he was actually in the pool and she was demonstrating the perfect butterfly while he was managaing an average front crawl. Usually, front crawl was his best stroke, but having Ami swimming with him sapped his confidence. He knew it was silly, but he couldn't help it. She seemed to notice his lack of energy and waited for him at the end.
"What's wrong, Shingo-kun?"
He shrugged, keeping his eyes down. "Nothing."
"I don't care what you think, you're just as bad a liar as Usagi-chan," Ami said, smiling.
"Yeah, well, maybe I just don't want to tell you, ever think about that?" he asked, turning his head up to look at the clouds.
"Then that's all you have to say," she said quietly and took off again, this time on her back. Shingo turned around and watched her, his eyes stinging from the chlorine. There she was, out in front. Out of reach. He would never be able to catch up.
"Get used to it, Tsukino," he muttered, and pushed himself off after her.
Title: The Ones Who Know
Theme: "A lifetime of happiness! No man alive could bear it: it would be hell on earth." - George Bernard Shaw (Minor Characters)
Somehow they were talking about the idea of hell on earth. Motoki had no idea how this had happened. One moment they were discussing favourite ice cream flavours (a perfectly respectable subject), now they were discussing this.
"L'enfer, c'est les autres," Xavier stated. "Hell is other people."
"Jean-Paul Sartre," Rei said thoughtfully. "He might have had something there."
"Then he shouldn't have slept with so many of them," said Isamu smartly, making nearly everybody else laugh. "Not only a hypocrite, but a miserable git as well. Besides, the way he treated other people, no wonder they made his life hell."
Motoki had to agree. "People are fine as long as you treat them nicely," he said.
"And Motoki-kun deals with the public every day, so if anyone's qualified to state whether other people are hell, it's him," Ken pointed out to more laughter.
"But doesn't everyone have their own hell?" Makoto asked. "I mean, everyone is different. Not to mention that not everyone believes the same thing. Some people don't even believe in an afterlife."
"Then discovering there is one would be their hell," Ken declared, which made Makoto laugh and feed him another cherry.
Ami propped her chin in her hand, musing. "I suppose there are all kinds of hell," she agreed. "But it was the Catholic Church who invented the notion, ne, Rei-chan? What's the Christian definition?"
Motoki looked at Rei with interest. He had never quite worked out how Rei could be a miko in training to become a Shinto priestess, yet go to a strict Catholic school. Rei seemed reluctant to answer the question, but eventually she made a face and spoke. "Hell is the absence of God, whatever you believe him to be," she added.
"God is love," sang Minako. "And hope and light and happiness..."
"No," Takehiko said quietly, stopping her short. "Don't confuse happiness with contentment or fulfillment. Happiness is fleeting. You couldn't endure it very long without going mad. George Bernard Shaw said that a lifetime of happiness would be hell on earth, and I have to agree with him."
Minako narrowed her eyes. "So you'd rather have a life of total misery?" she demanded.
"Um, I don't think that's what he was saying, Minako-chan," Motoki began, but then Minako looked at him, the expression on her face so different from the chirpy smile he associated with her that his words died away.
Takehiko, however, seemed unaffected by the glare. "Sorrow is fleeting, just as happiness is fleeting; I think they're tied together and you can't have one without the other. Happy people can be selfish; people who have suffered are more tolerant, they're a lot more understanding. Haven't you noticed that?"
Minako turned her face away and didn't answer. There was an awkward silence. Then Makoto stepped in, saving the conversation. "I think you're right," she said quietly. "People who have suffered... they understand more."
She smiled at Takehiko. Motoki saw the other three nod in agreement with her words. Something fell into place. They understood because they had suffered together. They had been through some sort of hell and survived. He didn't know how or why or where, he just knew that was what had happened. And perhaps Makoto knew, too.
Motoki wondered what their definitions of hell on earth would be. He also knew he would never ask that question. They'd come through it, that was what mattered, and here they were. Enjoying their fleeting happiness and not asking for more. He remembered some lines from a poem he'd once studied, about people who'd gone through hell and come back again; the poem described them as having a bond 'much stronger than blood', people who laughed with all their might because they'd seen the worst and survived it. But it was the last stanza that had stuck with him:
And now listen to me well
hear what I say:
they are the only people
who know the path to Paradise.
He realised that Takehiko was looking at him and tried to smile.
"Are you all right?" Takehiko said. "I'm sorry about Minako-san... I tend to have that effect on her."
"No, that's okay," Motoki replied. "I'm not offended. I just wanted to say... I agree."
Takehiko smiled, and only then did Motoki feel himself able to smile back. Takehiko wasn't going to tell him what had happened, and deep down, Motoki wanted it that way.