Okay folks, I have to say something here about AoS before I continue. Namely, I don't plan to do the Komachi scene as you had voted for. Why? Because the 'pursue Komachi' bit felt forced no matter how hard I tried to do it, and believe me when I said that I've tried quite hard. Nothing came, so sadly it's something I feel that I'm just going to have to drop for now. The scene with Marine will most likely be the last, at which point I'll end the story there and begin work on the ending proper, which has gotten quite extensive by this point.
"Anyway, I'm fooling around too much as it is. Let's just cut the rest of the potentially amusing stuff out of the way and walk to Marine's place like a couple of normal people instead of a cheating jerk and his loving shikigami." I promptly wave the scenario off with a slightly annoyed tone and walk the rest of the distance to Marine's shop before anything else happens.
"You've pretty much described why we're permanently disqualified for the role of 'normal' people." Nari responds in a deadpan tone as she matches my stride. "Besides, the concept of normal is relative and highly overrated. Isn't that overrated version of normal pretty much the entire reason we're even here to begin with?" She asks the rhetorical question of the year.
I'm tempted to roll my eyes at that comment, but hold back on it since she's right. If it weren't for the fact that I was so dissatisfied with my life I probably wouldn't even be here right now, Nari wouldn't be able to express her opinion in a way I can clearly understand, I wouldn't have gotten all these nifty hax powers, ect. Not to mention all the stuff I didn't talk about. Those points are hardly irrelevant under normal circumstances, but for now I'm probably going to toss them aside in favor of concentrating on the task at hand, which is pretty much talking to Marine. I push the door aside once I get up to it and enter without ever breaking stride.
"Wade?" Marine notices me pretty much the second I get into the shop. My presence is pretty difficult to miss considering that I have what is probably one of the only Maine Coon bakenekos in existence with me. "Wade! What are you doing here so early?" Now that I think about it, I've never come here this early in the morning, so of course she wouldn't expect me to show up. That doesn't stop her from smirking at me. "Come to give up everything to join my crew?" Despite what must be running through her head, she starts her usual routine.
"Sadly, I must decline." And like usual, I decline her offer. It looks like she's going into the next part of her routine when I promptly kiss her full on the lips, catching her off-guard completely. She stands shock still until I move away, and I see that the shock extends to her eyes. Out of all the possible responses, this was the one she was least prepared for. "Instead, I feel that I should sweep you off... your..."
Okay, crying was not what I expected. Tears roll down her cheeks as the shock begins to wear off, but what are those tears for? Did I do something wrong? Is she happy, or sad? "You.." Her mouth is regaining functionality, and I get the feeling I did just do something wrong. Somewhere along the line I forgot how she reacts to this sort of thing. ...Or did I ever know to begin with? Naomi looked like she was torn between crying and running or beating me up when Yukari made mention that she had sex with me...
"YOU ASSHOLE!" She looks like she's about to slap me, and quite frankly I think I deserve it in this case. Between not reciprocating her feelings for years, getting closer to Naomi, and even going so far as to sleep with a few people... She doesn't see things the same way I do, and there just hasn't been enough time for her to adjust. It's been... What, maybe a month or so? "You..." She's trembling. Trembling with rage, sadness, and fear. She's not sure what to do other than make it plain that she's not happy with me about this. I also note that Nariko's decided to stand off to one side for this. I can hardly blame her since this is my battle and mine alone. "Why NOW?!"
I can't answer that. I don't have an answer.
"You've already-" She's choking on her own words now. "Don't you already have someone?! Someone you've slept with?! Why did you decide it was a good idea to turn around and do that to me?" The mix of emotions playing across her face and eyes makes her virtually unreadable, which is starting to unnerve me. I'm used to being able to read the expressions of my friends to know what it is they're feeling, so for me to not be able to do so is a scary concept to me.
"I have." I know she's winding up for another round, but this time I place a finger on her lips to hopefully let her know that I want to say my piece before being judged. "The problem is that I love more than one person. I love Yukari, I love Nari, Naomi... Not the least of which, I love you. I know I was stupid about it, and deserve this sort of reaction. I didn't let you know what I felt, I all but shut you out because I wasn't sure about you. That wasn't fair of me in the slightest. If you want to deck me for it, by all means, do so." I spread my arms out wide as a sign that she's free to take a free shot at me if she wants.
She winds up, and wiffs the attack on purpose. "You have my attention at least." Her fist is well past my head, and I am quite sure that it'd hurt like hell if it had connected. She's still having trouble talking coherently, but at least she's not about to rip my head off and kick it clean into the atmosphere for being so stupid.
So where in my mind did I decide that hugging her was an appropriate action? I wind up holding her close to me, at which point she wraps her arm around me in response. It's actually kind of funny when you look at it because she's still taller than I am, so even with her leaning into me her head's still level with mine. "I know it sounds like some kind of cheesy romance flick, but I really do love you. It's just that when you kissed me a couple years back, I got scared and didn't know what to do. The best solution I could come up with was to just put some distance between the two of us and before I knew it I had never taken the time to get back to our previous stance."
"What does that have to do with this? Yes, I am happy to hear that from you, but what I really want to know is where the hell you get the idea that you can just-" So now she's struggling to find the words to express her feelings. Namely her outrage since that's probably the most dominate thing she's feeling right now. "That you can just pick me back up after leaving me out like that for so long? Especially now that you've got a girlfriend?"
I know what part of this anger is for. It's for Naomi, and perhaps herself as well. After all, she had thought that I'd go with Naomi since the two of us have known each other for years and have supported each other for pretty much the entirety of that time. Marine had also essentially moved on to a degree, coming to terms with the fact that she played her hand too soon, causing me to shy away from her with little chance of recovery. My choosing Yukari over Naomi had to have been a kick in the proverbial nuts alone, but for me to spontaneously decide to reciprocate her feelings after the fact when she's been raised on the concept that relationships should only exist between one man and one woman, not multiple, must be the equilivant of tearing open the old wound with a rusty chainsaw that has salt-encrusted and lemon juice covered blades.
At the same time, if I want to do as Naomi asks, as well as fulfill my own desire to fix the mess I've made, that means I'm going to have to deal with this in the only way I know how: Being persistant enough that she'll eventually see things my way and know that I'm being honest with my feelings. It'll take a while, sure, but I'm certain I can make things work.
I've managed to correct most all of my mistakes, haven't I? It may sound arrogant of me, but I refuse to leave this one be. No matter how long it takes, I will see this through to the end.
"I don't expect it to be that easy." I continue to hold her against me gently as I speak, continuing with a level of confidence that I wouldn't have had before. "Because I made a mistake in refusing you before, and again when I failed to take your feelings into consideration, I expect it to be tough, harsh, even heartbreaking. Yet I'll keep going no matter what happens, and do you know why?" I tilt her head to where our gazes can meet, allowing me to see her eyes. "Because I love you."
And for now, that's that.
For better or worse, this effectively 'ends' AoS's main run. All that's left are the events after this, which will continue to tie up loose ends until things hopefully come together into a tidy conclusion.