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Akari really wished that she was more surprised by her sister’s behavior… but the only response she could muster anymore was a casual sigh of disgust.
She wasn’t even supposed to be here, not really. Zenko had important things to do, and nearly all of them were on the spirit side of the veil, and there were never enough hands to do them… especially since Hana had gone missing. Spending this much time in the human world was practically dereliction of duty. Still, Akari felt drawn to do it anyway… had felt drawn ever since her sister had called her a year ago.
It had been easier to lose herself in duty when she didn’t think she had a family anymore, save for her goddess and the other Zenko… she had been in mourning for hundreds of years, perfectly convinced that both of her sisters were dead. It had made sense… no one in Inari’s service had seen head nor tail of Yuki for hundreds of years, and the fact that Akari hadn’t seen her on the other side of the veil was less than surprising, given that the last time they had spoken Yuki had not been shy about how little she wanted to see Akari ever again. Faced with that reality, Akari had already mourned her death and forced herself to move on nearly three hundred years ago, not thinking about her or her departed family anymore…
And then her sister was back, out of nowhere. Like nothing had happened… practically the same Yuki. She had spent all that time as a… slave… and Akari had never known anything about it, never done anything about it… never helped when her sister had needed help. Maybe it was her guilt trying to make up for that, but now that her sister was back from the dead, Akari felt… drawn… to her. She wasn’t supposed to be here, she had things she should be doing and Yuki wasn’t supposed to be welcome among her kind anymore but… when Yuki had needed help getting the vampire’s blood, Akari’s need to help her sister had beaten all that out… it was why she watched her still. She wanted to be a guiding light for Yuki… regardless of how little her wayward younger sister wanted to be guided.
In her more honest moments, Akari had to admit that her task wasn’t entirely selfless… she missed having her family, and Yuki was… gifted. There hadn’t been a new Zenko for more than four hundred years. Yuki… her sister was strong. Brave. Deep down, there was still a part of her that had inspired countless people, men and women, foxes and humans, to believe in her and follow her. They needed her now. Akari wasn’t a fool, she knew that Yuki wasn’t likely to come back to her… in fact, with each passing day that she watched her sister interact with mankind, her hopes dipped further and further… but it was enough to justify it to herself.
Akari brushed her hair out of her eyes, her invisible tails stretching out behind her. White fur, white tails, as perfect and pure now as Yuki’s used to be… transformed on the same day Yuki had been exiled and lost her own, almost like she had traded them away to her. The Zenko pinned her hair back and out of her face and sighed. So far, she could stay… Inari hadn’t summoned her back to her duties yet, so technically she wasn’t out of line being here. She could watch, keep her hope alive that one day her sister would return and come to her senses. Yuki was meant to do good on the planet, to help humanity grow and prosper… but her hope for her little sister felt like a candle flickering in the breeze.
Time was ticking.
Akari knew all too well the kind of person her sister was… and she wasn’t the only person who had learned she was still alive. The nogitsune knew by now, too… she could feel their stain in Japan again, trying to find her. Syllana would have sent someone to collect her by now… Probably her pet assassins. Sent them to try and bring her sister back into the fold. Those two murderers represented everything Akari was opposed to… they were practically angels of despair and darkness, without a soul left to share between the two of them. They had been there that fateful day when Yuki had turned her back on their goddess… but Yuki hadn’t joined them and Syllana then, and and she could only hope that Yuki wouldn’t join them now. She couldn’t make up her sister’s mind for her… no matter what might happen, Yuki’s decision had to be her own.
That didn’t mean that Akari was going to abandon her, though. She needed to let Yuki learn on her own, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t find little ways to help. She could at least try to nudge her along… to open her eyes to reality and awaken from her dark slumber. Secretly, she hoped that Merielle might bring her out of it, be a force for good in Yuki’s life… but if nothing else, Akari would be here to try to save the selkie when Yuki ruined everything again. Beyond that… Akari really couldn’t intervene directly. Yuki’s choices had to be her own… What good would it be to do everything for Yuki, to fix her mistakes for her? Her sister might need help, but it could only be given when it was asked for, when her lost sister realized that she needed it. The mere willingness to ask for help meant that the supplicant understood their own weaknesses and strengths, the mistakes they had made. The one who sought help would understand the meaning of boundaries.
Yuki had never believed in boundaries… Not as a child, not as an adult, and not now. She had rejected all of Inari’s teachings for the last seven hundred years and held herself blameless, and sometimes Akari didn’t know why she thought that could ever change.
The white haired fox shook her head. She had tried to rekindle her sister’s original spirit, leaving things behind meant to inspire her… like showing up in Kayoichou Park with a cart of Inari Zushi for Yuki. She had rejected that offering, just like she had rejected all the rest of them… the way she rejected her duty and place on this world. Akari saw how Yuki was more enthralled with a black rose than the self reflection that her sister had meant to inspire in her. The Zenko sighed. Her heart ached for Merielle sometimes… all the more because Akari had to admit that she was using her like a pawn almost as much as her sister was. It was honestly surprising just how earnest the selkie was with her background, how dedicated she was to her corrupt sister. Hopefully she wouldn’t abandon Yuki… although if she did, Akari couldn’t blame the woman. Merielle certainly carried all the water in that relationship to Akari’s eyes.
Not that she knew much about relationships.
Akari sighed again, raising one hand and nearly effortlessly weaving the complex pattern of foxfire that allowed her soul to pass through the barrier between worlds with no more resistance than it would take a normal woman to walk through an open door. Her body fell away, but it didn’t overly trouble her… she didn’t need it, and maybe someone who needed it more than she would pick up the money Merielle had paid her. Akari couldn’t give up. It was Inari’s way to always try to give others a second chance. Akari had to believe in that… she would try to give Yuki all the second chances that she needed, no matter how unlikely they were to work.
From this side, making tiny changes to events was far easier… from here, she could see the world almost like one of the great Kami could. A red light here, a cross walk there, a broken light where one was needed, and Akari was able to trigger a string of events that led Yuki and Merielle to drive down the street she wanted them to, directing them to where Yuki might be able to do some good.
Yuki was driving them home in their stolen van and loudly complaining about the Tokyo traffic when Merielle, peering out the window at anywhere but her mistress, saw it first. “Oh, Gods! Yuki, stop!”
“What now?” the fox complained. Following her slave’s gaze, however, she noticed the gathering of dozens of people pointing up at one of the buildings. Then she started laughing. “What an attention whore,” she chuckled, looking at the man marched out on the ledge on the side of the building, the crowd all staring up at him. Yuki pulled the van over, sliding out of it before she turned and smiled at the selkie as she climbed out herself and stood alongside the dark fox, masked from sight by her illusions. “Look at that dumb ass! These humans can’t ever solve their issues themselves, can they? They always resort to destroying themselves instead of fixing whatever’s wrong,” lectured Yuki as she kept her eyes on the suicidal man and tried to hold back another chuckle or two. “Go ahead and jump motherfucker!” She shook her head. “He won’t. Why doesn’t he just walk into the woods and never come out if he wants to end his life so bad? He’s a fucking coward… he’s not gonna jump.”
“I don’t know…” Merielle whispered.
Yuki noticed that there were actually tears in her eyes and she laughed again. “What are you so upset about? Guys like that just want attention. These humans refuse to appreciate their puny little lives for what it is. They don’t seem to get it, do they? Why can’t they just appreciate what they already have?”
Merielle turned halfway towards Yuki, contemplating those words. “Maybe… you could go up there and help him?” she asked, concerned.
Yuki sneered. “Why the fuck should I? For all I know, he’s just another rapist. Probably feeling guilty about it. Fuck him.”
“So… you’re not going to help him?” asked the innocent selkie.
Yuki snorted. “Good joke,” she muttered, looking up at the man and crossing her arms, idly picturing thousands of eyes watching him on television screens, sure that the idiot was seconds from jumping. “Morons…” she muttered.
Merielle never really understood Yuki’s taste for the anguish of others. She knew that the nogitsune relished suffering… and she had seen it enough times during even her brief times among the other unseelie fae as well. Merielle had never been like that. The longer she looked at the man on the ledge, the worse she felt about what was happening to him. That was one of the differences between her and her lover, she guessed. Somewhere deep inside Merielle, it was ingrained to try to do good, and she expected that from others.
Yuki, however, was another story. “You should know better, Mistress,” Merielle replied with a serious look on her face.
“That guy should know better. He shouldn’t be broadcasting his issues for the whole world to see. Fuck him!” Yuki responded. “Why should I care about his life? No one in this world gives a shit about mine. Let’s get the fuck out of here. He’s not going to jump… and I’m bored already.”
She slipped back towards the side of the van, but Merielle refused to move, standing her ground. She couldn’t help but think about that suicidal man. He needed help… and she couldn’t simply ignore the possible death of someone in need.
Yuki had the door open before she turned around, and it gave Merielle time to quickly walk away through the growing crowd, straight for the building. “Where the fuck are you going!” Yuki demanded.
Merielle ignored her mistress’ words and pushed through the crowd before Yuki could punish her for her disobedience… if she was in there, the nogitsune wouldn’t stop her where she would have an audience that could see. She hoped. Pushing through the doors, the selkie broke into a run, racing up a few flights of stairs and marveling at how easy it was… she could idly remember her first days on land, scrambling across a rocky beach and tripping and falling on flat land, and now she felt tireless. Quickly… hopefully quickly enough… she finally reached the floor the man was on. Merielle opened the nearest window and slipped out of it, popping her head out onto the ledge just a few feet away from him. The selkie swallowed… it was a long way down.
The redhead gently crawled out of the window and slowly placed herself on the ledge to face the man, trying really hard not to be bothered by the tremendous height she found herself at. A fall from this far up probably wouldn’t kill a selkie… she hoped… but it was just hard to think that way when her vision was swimming. Still, she feigned confidence as she faced down the man who seemed to have none. “Hi,” Merielle said.
The man gave no response whatsoever. His mind was somewhere else… His eyes were dead set on the street below that was now filled with a mass of spectators waiting to see if he was actually going to jump. “I’m Merielle,” she continued. “What’s your name?” she asked the distraught man. Again he refused to answer. A long, hard pause lingered for a while as Merielle figured out what to say next. “Umm… can you understand me? My Japanese isn’t very good…”
“…It’s fine…” he muttered.
“Oh, good,” she said, relieved. She had been worrying about that… Merielle tried to smile at him with confidence she didn’t truly feel. “I… know why you want to jump,” she said to the man. “You feel like… like you have nothing else to live for. But you’re wrong.”
The man finally turned around and faced her. “I don’t know about that,” he said.
“You don’t know right now because you’re hurt… because you’re upset. You don’t want to know,” Merielle pleaded with him. “But that’s not really you, mister. There is always something to live for. There is always someone there for you.”
“Not for me,” he said, trembling, and his shiny eyes became red and wet. “She left me. I thought she loved me… But all she did was hurt me. Hurt my kids. And now she took everything.”
“Not everything! She didn’t take you,” Merielle begged. “You still have your heart. That’s yours… Nobody can ever take that away from you. No matter how much she’s hurt you. Pain’s only temporary… but your heart keeps beating. It’s meant to feel the pain, and the joy, and… and…” Merielle clenched her chest tightly. “And everything else! So please, just… come down.”
The man quietly took in what the beautiful and caring redhead had to say. He was still staring down at his pending death below, but was unable to resist her warm words. Tears flowed down his pale white cheeks.
“I loved her!” he cried out in pain. “Why did she have to leave!”
“It’s not your fault,” the selkie said softly. “You’re only responsible for loving others,” Merielle tried to explain calmly as she began to find a common cause with the gentleman. “That the only part you can control… not whether they love you back. The first part is what matters… Nothing else.”
“I’ll never be able to love again,” he insisted.
“Are you sure?” Merielle asked. “For all you know, someone down in that crowd right there could be able to love you. Someone you can love. Can you be so absolutely sure? You’ll never know unless you come down.” She took a deep breath. “Everyone can love. Even the loneliest person on the planet can.” Pausing to swallow, she forced herself to keep speaking. “I’m… in love with someone who doesn’t really love me back. I know what it feels like…” Once Merielle started talking, she didn’t seem able to stop. “But all I know is that someday, even with all the hurt she’s causing me, I know she will love me back one day. I hope so. That’s what keeps me going,” Merielle admitted. “You just need to find something for you!”
“That doesn’t sound very healthy,” the man said, his voice still dull… but more lively had it had been earlier at least.
“And jumping from the rooftop is?” the selkie said, trying to keep her voice lighthearted. Merielle could see it in his eyes… the pain and grief retreating far enough to let him think, far enough to let him be afraid. The man was slowly realizing that he was not the only one in pain… that he didn’t have to die. He turned again to stare into Merielle’s gaze, and saw her pain there. They both needed to be rescued. They both needed to come back down.
Merielle took offered her hand to him. The man slowly got up from the ledge and carefully slid across toward Merielle.
And that, of course, was when he lost his footing.
Merielle saw it in slow motion… the horrified, sudden panic on his face, the way he moved his arms to try to regain his balance and only managed to hit the ledge behind him, pushing off it unintentionally and drive himself further out. The way he started to fall. “NO!” she screamed, lunging forward just as he began to slip over the side, grabbing onto his hand with one of hers, just barely anchoring herself on the windowsill with the other. The jolt as his weight hung from hers almost pulled them both free, but Merielle pushed herself harder than she ever had, forcing her body to obey her, forcing herself not to let go. The man clung onto her for dear life, hanging nearly twenty stories up. He locked his eyes on Merielle’s, wide and panicked as he realized his life was now in her hands. Merielle could tell that he wanted to live. He wanted to love again.
“I love you, so don’t let go of me,” Merielle said as she held his hand with all her strength. “I’ve got you…”
The crowd below roiled, gasping as they reacted to the developments high up on the ledge. They might have been ready to watch the man jump to his death, but to fall to his death was something else. Some were terrified… others were paralyzed and aghast. A few others began to run for the building, hoping to help. Too slow… none of them would make it in time. Merielle had to do it herself.
The selkie summoned all of her strength that she could, hoping with every breath that she would feel Yuki’s strong hands on her, helping pull her inside… but the nogitsune never appeared. Slowly, but surely, Merielle managed to fight him back up onto the edge, helping him slowly into the window while the crowd below cheered in relief. Exhausted, panting, both Merielle and the man crawled back through the window and were finally safe inside.
Merielle lay on the ground, gasping for breath, sore, and barely able to move. “I… really hope… you aren’t a rapist…” she muttered.
“Huh?” the man asked.
The selkie was saved from having to answer a few moments later when a dozen men burst into the room, finding the two of them. A few Tokyo police were among them, taking the man quickly away as many of the others cheered Merielle, applauding her and speaking Japanese far, far too quickly for her to follow while she gave an exhausted smile.
Merielle made her way down the stairs one step at a time, stepping outside, and the crowd cheered as she appeared at the glass front door of the building. Their applause was deafening as she made her way outside before she was corralled by one of the camera crews in the group. Their questions were rapid, and confusing… They asked her about the man and how she was able to rescue him all by herself, and if she knew him, and what her name was. A plethora of questions were hurled at her by the press that gathered around, enough that she only managed to hear half of them, let alone know how to answer them. Merielle didn’t know what to say to any of them, really.
She muttered what answers she could. “The man is fine. I’m fine. We’re all going to be fine,” she said.
A nearby camera-man abruptly cursed, shoving his camera away from his body as static electricity coursed through it, shocking him. A moment later, Merielle felt Yuki’s invisible hand on her, yanking her backward into the crowd. It was strange the way they parted for her and closed back on the other side… Merielle had seen the subconscious effects built into the skilled fox’s illusions that kept them from being questioned, but it never ceased to impress. “Moron!” Yuki snarled as she all but shoved Merielle into the van before speeding off.
“You. Fucking. Idiot.” Yuki spat. She was driving recklessly through the streets of Tokyo now, almost running over a group of pedestrians that were crossing the street in her hurry. She ignored red lights and cut off dozens of cars as she weaved between them… she even drove over an embankment and sped through a walkway, heading back towards their apartment. The nogitsune was clearly furious… All Merielle could do was hold on tightly as Yuki raged through the streets.
They finally screeched to a stop before the building that their apartment was in. Yuki turned off the engine and sat there for a silent moment. “Fuck,” she whispered softly. Then she growled, drew back one fist and started beating the steering wheel with it, over and over again. “Fuck!” she spat.
“Why didn’t you help him?” Merielle asked quietly.
“You’re such a fucking idiot, you know that?” Yuki snarled. “That fucking guy didn’t deserve to live. You shouldn’t have done that.”
Merielle sat quietly as she raged. Her mistress wasn’t just venting, she could tell… the fox was genuinely upset and pissed off. Slowly, she moved her left hand towards Yuki, searching out the fox’s own hand where it gripped the wheel. Merielle’s fingers were able to finally reach and lightly touch her mistress’ fingers. She attempted to caress them, as lightly as she could, trying to tame the raging nogitsune and bring her back down. Her fingers lingered for a bit as Yuki focused her attention away. They both sat still as Merielle went to work on Yuki’s fingers, working her digits into her, and for a brief, calm moment, they sat in intimate silence.
It couldn’t last, but for just a minute they sat like that, neither saying a thing before Yuki pulled her hand away from Merielle, turning to glare at her. “These dumb fucking humans are not worth it, Red. Don’t you get that?” She sighed. “He wasn’t going to fucking jump. People don’t do that here. They go and hang themselves, or go for a walk in the woods and never come out. They don’t put on a fucking show. That asshole just wanted attention… he was just feeling goddamn sorry for himself.”
“I think he really was, Mis-” Merielle began before Yuki cut her off.
“Dammit, Red! You just don’t listen!” she snarled. “You don’t listen to what I have to say! You’re so fucking selfish!”
That startled her. “S-selfish?”
“Yes!” Yuki snapped. “Selfish! ‘Ooh! Look at me! I’m Merielle! Look what I can do! I can save this dumb ass from jumping off the building and hitting the ground like a melon! Look at me I’m Merielle! The pretty, stupid sex slave selkie from Ireland!’” Yuki mocked, her tone growing more glacial and more furious as she went. “Red… how many fucking redheads as gorgeous as you do you think live in this whole damn country, you stupid bitch?! And you go parading yourself in front of a camera on live TV!?”
Merielle looked down as she moved her hand away from Yuki, shrinking back as she was berated by her mistress. Then, abruptly, Yuki shoved the door open and slipped out, walking swiftly towards their home. “Come on. Come on, Mer.”
The moment they entered the apartment, Yuki turned on the oven and the stove, followed immediately by the TV. Then she started tossing things into a duffel bag. Merielle’s skin went first, along with the money she had stolen over the months she had lived here, the sake, a few assorted odds and ends… clothing, a long, wrapped bundle… Merielle tried to help but Yuki didn’t explain anything… she never stopped moving until she was distracted by words on the television. Merielle looked over and gasped… that was her on the screen. The footage was of her brave attempt in rescuing the suicidal man from the ledge.
“Is it international?” Yuki muttered to herself. “Doesn’t fucking matter. He’ll be watching Japan… he’s not a moron.”
Merielle stared in shock at her own heroism, being covered by an obviously enchanted media. “Who was that woman?” the newscaster asked. “This brave woman who saved that man from plunging to his death? The world wants to know. Whatever her identity, she is a true hero who risked her life to save this man, and an inspiration for all of us.”
Yuki turned to look at Merielle… then she slapped her across the face. “You’re an idiot,” she snarled. Yuki turned back to the duffel, zipped it up, and pushed it at Merielle. “Carry that, if you think you can without plastering your face all over the television again,” the nogitsune said coldly, racing through the apartment, taking another look around to see if she had forgotten anything important. Then her hands erupted in blue flame. She touched it to their bed, to the chair, to the couch… within seconds the apartment was going up in a blaze.
“Yuki!” Merielle protested. “That… this is our home!”
“It was our home,” Yuki snapped. She walked back outside, heading back for the van as she opened up a cellphone. “There’s a fire,” she said, giving her address. “Send help!” Yuki tossed the phone back into the apartment as it began to blaze, looking around. It was in the middle of the day… everyone was at work, there wasn’t a soul around. “You see what you’ve done, Red? For fuck’s sake! Do you want to wear that collar around your neck again? Do you really think for a second Mas… Mordred ever stopped looking for us? For you?” Yuki cursed as she slipping into the van. “That fucking bloodsucking parasite! Do you want to go back to that place? Do you?!”
Yuki’s shouting had Merielle in tears. She quietly shook her head. She didn’t want to go back to that hideous brothel. She, like Yuki, wanted to stay far away from vampire.
“For fuck’s sake, Red!” Yuki started the van and pulled away. “Was it worth it? Did it make you feel good? Your fucking selfishness is going to get us killed, or worse! We can’t afford the fucking attention! You hear me!?” Yuki reminded her. “I fucking hate that bastard… I hate him, I hate him, I hate him! And you just told him where we were? Come on! Think! Use your fucking brain!”
Marielle just sat there quietly. A very loud silence beset them both.
“The guy just wanted to be loved,” Merielle said softly.
“Well fuck him! Should’ve let him die!” Yuki yelled, “Haven’t you learned anything? He probably made all that shit up. He just wanted attention… Don’t trust anyone, Merielle. They are all just out for themselves.”
Merielle thought back to the looped footage. She saw herself saving that man. Yuki was right, she had brought too much attention to them… but she couldn’t bring herself to regret it too much.
“I can’t believe this…” said the nogitsune groaned. “Why is this happening to me.” Yuki placed her head hard on the steering wheel, accidentally activating the van’s horn. “Shit,” Yuki exclaimed as she quickly removed her head. “See what you made me do?” Merielle didn’t answer as Yuki put the car into gear and began to race away. Inwardly, it seemed to her that Yuki’s demons were a bigger threat to the nogitsune than Mordred was.