AN: From Ritsu's point of view...who's Ritsu, you say? Funny you should ask, it's been a long time since I've written from her POV. But it's here - that rarest of rare things - an update!
I was startled awake by the sudden sting of antiseptic on my arm. I sat up suddenly, experiencing a slight bout of vertigo.
"Oh! Are you alright, dear?" I looked up into the eyes of the school nurse, who had a bottle of disinfectant in one hand and a cotton pad in the other.
I nodded mutely. Why was I here? Then I remembered the rocks, the girls, Hiro…
Hiro! I noticed all too late that my arm and the Tsunami tattoo were both uncovered. I pulled what was left of my shirt sleeve down over it, despite the protests of the nurse.
"Was there… was there a boy here? Was there someone else here?" I asked her, but she shook her head.
"There was no one else when I got here," she replied, staring at me concernedly.
After assuring her that I was fine, I managed to leave the ward, only to run into Kei, who was waiting outside.
"Good news," he said, smiling as I walked towards him. "Hiro's decided to join us."
I swallowed uncertainly. "Oh, r-really?" I tried to smile encouragingly, but Kei frowned.
"What happened? You don't seem well."
I attempted a shrug and winced instead as pain shot through my right arm. Kei's eyes narrowed.
"It's nothing, I just cut my arm, that's all." I smiled as firmly as I could manage. "So tell me about Hiro?"
Kei's gaze lingered on my arm for a while longer, but he started speaking again. "Yes. Well, Hiro's decided that Tsunami won't mean much to him without you – that is, the real you – and he's agreed to come over to our side and help me clean up the school a bit. I just thought you should know, really. Are you sure you're alright?"
I gave him a small nod. "I am, really. But, um, Kei?"
"When-when can I tell him? That I'm Ritsu, I mean."
Kei's mouth twisted into a dark smirk. "Oh, I don't know about that. After all, I need a few cards up my sleeve if I want to keep Hiro on my side. I guess I could drop a hint – I did promise to tell him where you were, after all."
I took a deep breath before I plunged into my next request. "Could you – could you let me do it? Please – let me tell him the hint."
Kei cocked his head to side and closed his eyes for a moment, apparently lost in thought. Finally, he looked me in the face again.
"On one condition – you must tell him only what is necessary, and no more – that you are indeed still in Japan, and that I alone have your exact whereabouts. That is, except for you – but you're not really you right now, are you?" Kei laughed a bit to himself before he caressed my cheek with a finger and turned to leave.
No, I wasn't myself right now. I had never been myself with Hiro. But here was my chance to change that.
It's one of life's odd phenomena – the more desperately you search for a person or thing, the more difficult it will seem to find them. So it went with my quest to tell Hiro about Ritsu – or rather, myself. I didn't catch him at lunch the next day, and a quick tour of his classes confirmed his absence.
Where could he have gone? I mused to myself as I walked back to class. The mob of girls that had attacked me the day before couldn't have injured him that severely, but perhaps he had caught a cold.
Or maybe he had submitted his resignation from Tsunami to Ebisu-san and Mirai-san, and was being interrogated at their house.
Or maybe he had just caught some sudden strain of flu and gotten really sick.
A tiny thought that had been bugging me for a while suddenly popped up as well – maybe Hiro was avoiding me, now that he knew Ritsu's (my) disappearance had something to do with Kei. He might have assumed that I had helped Kei – which I had, of course, by agreeing to become Karin. But it wasn't fair! I hadn't gotten a chance to explain myself, to even show who I really was to Hiro! And blackmail didn't usually leave people with a lot of options, either.
I was still going through all the possible reasons Hiro could have been absent as I headed to MiZu to work. Kei had assured me that I would no longer need to sing for his father, as I was under the son's jurisdiction for the moment. It was one of the few benefits that came from dealing with Kei.
I changed quickly and headed out to the front, where I would be greeting customers with the rest of the waitresses. Koro-chan was there again today, and I engaged in a silent but hilarious conversation about nothing in particular with him, with both of us making exaggerated faces and choking expressions when no one was watching.
The door opened when I had my back to it, and I sang the familiar "Welcome to MiZu" line with the other girls as I turned around – only to find myself staring straight into Hiro's eyes.
Ignoring the other girls' adoring eyes on him, Hiro walked straight up to me and grabbed my arm. "I need to talk with you. Now."
Too stunned to protest, I complied and followed as he dragged me to the corridor where the bathrooms were.
"Hir- I mean, Namura-kun! I was looking for you-" I began, but he cut me off brusquely.
"Are you a Tsunami spy? Are you working for Tsunami? Why do you have a Tsunami tattoo? When were you initiated?" Hiro's questions came bursting out of him like a minor explosion.
But before I could gather my thoughts to answer him without giving myself away, he eyed my right arm and pulled the sleeve up. I hissed involuntarily as the fabric brushed my unhealed cut, and Hiro's gaze focused on the tattoo.
"It's there…" he whispered softly. "It's too much of a coincidence – Ritsu's sudden transfer and your appearance, Mirai-nee's advice, Kei's bargaining tactics, and now this…maybe it's just so simple that I didn't see it before." Hiro closed his eyes and smiled lopsidedly to himself. "Is it really that simple?"
He focused his bright eyes on mine. "Is it that simple, Karin? Or should I say – Ritsu?"
My breath caught in my throat.
"I – " I tried to defend myself, tried to pretend that he was wrong – which was absurd, as I had wanted to tell him the truth for so long. But I hadn't meant for it to be discovered, not like this. "Hiro, please-"
Hiro only looked at me, an unreadable expression on his face.
"Are you Ritsu? Answer me."
I couldn't disobey him. And part of me didn't want to anyway.
I willed myself to calm down and I felt all my desire to pretend slip away.
Another expression I didn't understand crossed his face like a shadow.
"And…you're a girl?"
I blinked. It wasn't the question I had expected.
"Well…yes, but you see-"
But before I had finished my sentence, Hiro had wrapped me in a tight hug, his lips next to my ear.
"I don't care anymore, I don't – you're here, you're here," he repeated over and over in a frenzied whisper, and I suddenly felt weak at the knees. As my eyes started stinging with tears, my arms reached up to clasp his shoulders as well. His knees seemed to give way simultaneously, and I felt my back hit the wall and slide down to the floor, Hiro embracing me for the entire fall.
"I don't believe it. I don't believe it. You were here all the time – how did I not see it?" Hiro half-mumbled the words to himself, not really expecting an answer. But I couldn't answer him anyway as my throat constricted with emotion. I raised a trembling hand to touch the side of his face.
Hiro closed his eyes against my fingers, almost painfully, but he opened them again and moved closer, his breath ghosting over my skin, his lips touching my forehead, my eyes, and finally my mouth.
And this time, I had a funny feeling that the silence in my head was a sign that both of my inner voices had finally agreed on something – that being with Hiro was undeniably, gloriously right.
I mumbled something indistinct and tried to shrink into the warmth surrounding me.
Nat-chan poked me in the ribs, a little too forcefully, and I jolted awake for the second time in two days. "Ugh…" I rubbed my eyes sleepily, trying not to yawn out right.
As my eyes adjusted to the overly bright morning, I took in my surroundings: I was back in Hiro's room, on his bed, and Nat-chan was on my lap like an energetic puppy eager to being the day. And next to me…
Hiro, his hair tousled and his expression peaceful, was snoring lightly. The comforter on his bed was covering both of us up to the waist, and his right arm was draped comfortably across my stomach.
Last night's events slowly trickled back into chronological order. I remembered telling Koro-chan that I was felt sick, hastily changing back into my school uniform and running back with Hiro tohis house as night fell completely around us. After greeting Nat-chan, whom I was more than happy to see again, the adrenaline that I had been running on suddenly crashed and I felt more fatigued than I had in ages. Hiro, worried that I was tiring myself out, quickly gave me a change of clothes – a baggy t-shirt and a pair of basketball shorts – and tucked me into bed.
I flushed as I realized what a compromising position we were in. Two unrelated teenagers sharing a bed – if we had continued kissing, what else would have happened?
Before I had had sufficient time to be embarrassed, however, Nat-chan got my attention by poking me in the ribs again. "Na, nee-chan, why did you cut your hair? It was pretty!"
I smiled tiredly at her, raising one hand to pat her cheek gently. "It was something I had to do," I replied, "but it'll grow back soon. Let's grow our hair out together, hmm?"
Nat-chan giggled and flopped over onto Hiro, who let out a surprised grunt as he, too, was unceremoniously awakened.
"Na, na, I told you I told nee-chan to come back! Didn't I, Hi-nii-chan?" Hiro smiled mischievously – I had counted every smile that had lit up his face since we'd been back and was well into the hundreds – and ruffled Nat-chan's hair.
"Yes, and you did a good job of it!" He winked at me as he wrestled Nat-chan into a bear hug before putting her back on the floor and allowing her to run into the kitchen.
I had been staring intently at him the entire time, wanting to take every little motion and expression in. I was finally back with Hiro, and he was right – I didn't care anymore, because he was here.
We were here. Together.
Hiro reached over to pull me closer, and I moved to accommodate him as he lay his head on my stomach. "I feel like an old married man," he mused as he played with my hair distractedly.
"You're acting like one," I teased back, my fingers exploring the details of his face. His chest rose and fell slowly, each breath in sync with mine.
I could have stayed like that forever. I could have lived the rest of my life in the span of those few minutes, in that little pocket of bliss.
Of course, I knew that Kei would undoubtedly hear of my betrayal. It seemed daunting to take on HanaBi and perhaps even Tsunami's ire. And how would Chiyo and Ryo react? Would my mistake cost them a happy relationship?
I had staked everything on the fact that I loved Hiro, but how stable was this foundation? How much could I take for the sake of love?
I sighed deeply, trying not to imagine the ordeals that lay ahead of me. But Hiro, as if sensing my thoughts, leaned in for a gentle kiss.
"You've got me," he said as he pulled back, grinning, and somehow that was enough.
AN: dies of the sappiness
Oh, I should be shot. But it's not the end, nope, despite the fact that Ritsu's secret is FINALLY FINALLY OUT, and Hiro's FINALLY FINALLY caught on. After all, we've still got to deal with Ryo's reaction and Kei, of course!
Thank you for reading thus far! :) Your support has been awesome throughout this story.