An I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs story
by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: I, My, Me, Strawberry Eggs was created by Yasuko Kobayashi, and is the property of Pioneer LDC, TNK, IMM! Committee.
Note: Surreal, angsty, and generally just weird. This is a slightly happier story than Path to Greatness.
Warning: The pretentiousness count of this fic is really high. Steer clear of rampaging ego. In the words of Durant: Pretentioncount++
This is based off of Path to Greatness, but isn't in continuity. Think of it as a WAFFy alt. Really, it's just short and pointless. Enjoy.
Kurage had been abandoned, left in the care of Gochi, where he would likely fare best.
That left him without real attachments. Once gone from the region of Gochi-sou, his life assumed a somewhat tamer mean.
Which left him doing odd jobs as he traveled the country.
And far too much time to think.
[-So it is said-]
Eastern philosophy said that there was yin and yang. The passive force, and the active force.
Male and female.
There were other attributes assigned to them, as well. Yin, the female force was destructive, and yang, the active force, was constructive.
And so Yin was life, and Yang was death.
Which does because it CAN.
Which does because it MUST.
[Yin: Balance: Yang]
Which does because it SHOULD.
[Slip of the Mind]
Who was she?
She wasn't sure anymore.
Disruptions in the society were rare enough, and always worthy of note. After the Incident, she found herself spending much of her time alone, not because she was rejected, but because she felt the need to think over what had happened.
How long ago, how horribly long ago had it been that the Incident had happened?
It had changed her thinking markedly, when it had happened. She no longer smiled as much as she had, but she always meant it when she smiled, now.
And Sensei had promised that one way or another, in some form, Sensei would return.
But Sensei hadn't been sure how, then.
The waiting wore at her, but she persevered. She had something to wait for, and that, at least, was something to smile about.
But was that right?
Yang was 'life'. After all, it was the man that placed the seed in a woman.
But then, too, a woman could be yang as well. Wasn't it the woman that finished the process that a man could only start?
Yin was 'destruction'. Which could be, as the woman's cycle destroyed monthly the preparations to bring new live into the world.
But then, too, a man destroyed the barrier within a woman to place the seed in the first place.
"Clothes make the man." Or woman.
"Beauty is only skin deep." Less with makeup.
"Tell a lie often enough, and you'll believe it." Which was a lie. Beautiful, how that worked.
But it still left him with an array of options and a number of questions he had to ask himself.
Firstly, he had admitted long ago that he enjoyed some of it. Pretending to be another person was interesting, but pretending to be the same person in a different way….
Was that the answer, then? To wander and try to grow until he conquered that desire?
Or was it to go the other way, and give in totally?
It had been something begun purely as something that he must do, but he had come to accept it as something he could do.
But should he? Was that it?
Obviously saying man was solely yang was wrong, and likewise was saying that woman was solely yin.
So there was a natural balance in that both man and woman were yang AND yin.
But everyone knew that.
So that wasn't it.
But then, perhaps it was more apt to say that both yang and yin were man and woman?
Not everyone might know that.
So that might be it.
Winter would be coming soon, and that meant he would be wise to head south. Snow was not his friend, not when he played the role of a vagrant day-worker who camped out in the woods.
Lying back near the crackling flames, he soaked in the warmth, and mused.
What defined attraction?
Was attraction was a set of cues that defined desire? So attraction was simply finding something that matched what was wanted? That could explain it, but it felt like it was only a part of the story.
More specifically, what had attracted him to HER, and why hadn't it stopped?
It wasn't physical. It couldn't be that, because she didn't have a physical form beyond some feminine clothing and padding.
Was she something he wanted?
THAT bore consideration. He knew he was scared of her, and that she could destroy him. Was it worth the risk?
The answer was not to prance about in women's clothing.
It wasn't wrong, either; it simply wasn't the answer.
He could, but it wasn't something he should.
But wouldn't he be denying a part of himself that desperately wanted to be free?
It seemed like every answer led to more questions.
[-Line of Duty-]
"… Amawa. Good to meet you, sir."
"You look fit enough. Okay, then, this is what I want you to do; it's pretty simple, but I doubt this will take more than a day. Just load these crates up here, and Toshiro here will haul the cart away when you finish. Don't let me catch you slacking, and if you do a good job, I might see about giving you a bonus."
"I'll do my best, sir."
The man turned away, leaving him to the task at hand.
The crates were heavy, and stacked high, unevenly wobbling. Toshiro would need to be careful to avoid spilling the lot of them all over him, leaving Amawa too injured to work, and he couldn't afford a hospital stay.
But answers were not coming. Every step towards an answer was a step to three more questions, and confusion only built to a slowly intolerable burden.
Perhaps it was in distraction that he built the pile of crates to such a precarious height.
And there was both him and her.
Where he was as he normally envisioned himself, perhaps a little more muscular, she was as he always envisioned herself, sitting across a small table from him.
The room was bare of furnishings beyond that low table, and empty of anything else but them.
"I'd ask you if you come here often, but it would be trite," she said by way of greeting.
Indeed it would. "Come here often?"
"I love your sense of humor," she said, grinning.
He stared at her, surprised. "Really?"
"Oh, yes." She frowned, then, narrowing her eyes. "What do you think about me?"
"Scared," he said quietly. "I don't want to die."
"I don't, either, and I certainly don't want to kill you. That would not be the 'One Great Love' that I'm supposed to carry."
"It seems to me that a lot of what you learned wasn't exactly right, if you know what I mean."
"But is that your bias that tells me this, or is this what I really think?" she asked.
"I don't know," he admitted.
There was a profound silence, then.
"How is he doing?"
The doctor clicked his pen against his clipboard hesitantly, and offered, "From what we have been told, the accident was his fault, but I don't know that I trust the word of the man that brought him in."
"That's not answering my question."
"Ah, he's doing as well as can be expected. He's healing, slowly, but he's waking up. Did you want to do something for him?"
She could quite easily fix the problem, in truth. It was within her powers to revive him. But…
"He… He needs to find his own way through this. I'll stay here until he wakes up."
"He might not."
"Then I'll stay here until he doesn't."
He was sprawled on his back, staring at the ceiling tiredly. She lay on the other side of the table, staring likewise upwards.
"You know what I hate?" she asked, broaching the silence.
"I hate how you ran away."
"You ran away, too," he countered.
Gochi could have helped fix the issue.
She was able to do almost everything else.
"I suppose I hate myself for running, then," she said quietly.
"Wouldn't you have to?"
"What do you mean?"
"Aren't you just that? Myself?"
"And you're myself. But how does that help?"
"You don't want to kill me, and I don't want to die."
"Of course. And likewise, yes?"
"Of course. So it seems to me that we have to reach some sort of mutual ground here."
"Mutual ground? How can we? It's your body."
"But it's our mind."
The pieces were there, if he could assemble them. The answer was so close it hurt.
Firstly: Clothes define a person. So perception defined self.
Secondly: Beauty was skin deep. So perception was only the outer-most aspect of self.
Thirdly: Lies told to oneself often enough would be believed. So the self was mutable.
Ergo: Perception defines a mutable self, but what is visible is not always the truth….
But there was more than that.
Firstly: Yin contains yang, and yang contains yin.
Secondly: Man and women are both yin and yang, and both yin and yang are both man and woman.
Thirdly: Balance requires both yin and yang; men and women are necessary for balance.
Ergo: All factors needed to balance against one another by containing some element of the opposing force.
Another piece. How did they fit together?
In balancing the false exterior to a true core, there must be truth in the lie.
But if there is truth in the lie, is it a lie?
Therefore: The truth is not always visible, but it is still the truth.
"Yes. How are you feeling, Hibiki?"
"I… Tired. Sore. What happened? Why are you here?"
"You couldn't pay your bill. I covered for you."
"You want to tell me why you tried to kill yourself?"
He said nothing, looking away.
"Need I remind you that you're in my debt?"
"I… don't know. I was confused. I'm still trying to sort things out."
"You haven't already? Why else did you come back?"
"I think I'm closer. I think I'm really close."
"You're not close enough if you put yourself in here."
"What do you suggest I do, then?"
It was her turn to be silent.
"I'm really close, Ba-chan. I know it."
"Then come back home soon, Hibiki. There are people who are waiting for you, you know."
"I… I promise to do my best."
Done with her homework, having no chores remaining, she sat in the front room of the dorm, watching the sunset through the rain-spattered windows. The clouds were thick overhead, but the horizon was clear, allowing for sparkling motes of rainbow to appear for glimmering and brief instants.
She repressed a morose sigh, smiling instead.
How long had she been waiting? How many times had the seasons changed?
Still, she had faith in Sensei's promise.
The road beneath his feet could have been anything, really. But the kind of road also meant something.
Dirt roads were small towns, farmers, and slow, relaxed days. Loose gravel meant hardier demeanors than dirt. Cobbled stone were careful, deliberate affairs, and while kind, the people who lived on them were almost always serious.
Dust sprang up from where he stepped as he walked along, eyes fixed firmly on the ground.
"How many roads must a man walk down," he mused. "So running away never really solved anything anyway, did it?"
And, as she had since he woke up in the hospital, she spoke to him. "No, it didn't," she said.
"What now? I think I'm close. We're close. But this isn't it."
"You're right about that. What else? Do we take turns?"
"I don't want you gone, but I don't think that's the answer, either."
"Neither do I," she admitted. "I could give myself up. I don't want to, it scares me, but… But I could."
"And I could too, but that's not it, either," he muttered, wishing he could see her well enough to level a stern gaze at her. "There's a balance here, but I just can't figure it out."
"Look at the clues again."
"I have to be a man and a woman?" he suggested. "That doesn't make a lot of sense."
"Not much does. Maybe you have to be one inside, and another outside?"
"I tried that. That's where you came from."
He could feel her shame radiating through his mind.
"And the other way wouldn't make you happy, would it?"
"Not… Not really."
"I told Ba-chan I was close, but I'm wondering if that was really true."
He sighed, stopping his walk and staring upward, towards the clouded sky.
"Maybe I should just give up," he muttered.
"No!" she protested. "I… I don't know why, and this is silly, but I can't imagine what I would do without you. I… I've learned too much from you to go back to that place without you. We both need to go back."
"But only one of us can," he warned.
"What other answer is there?"
"It's right in front of us. Neither of us can see it. I hate this."
"Maybe if we work together?"
"We've been doing that. It doesn't help."
"Well… I like being together with you anyway."
He was silent, his face darkening with embarrassment.
"And I can tell you like being with me."
"Yeah. But I want to go back. I want you to go back. But only one of us can go."
"If… If only one of us can go, maybe neither of us should go."
They were both silent at that.
A stray wind whistled through the area, and he raised his head, his eyes picking out the details of the farmland surrounding him. He paid attention to the mountains in the distance, wondering where he was. She noted the colors of the leaves and the angle of the sun, wondering what time it was.
"That's the answer," he said slowly, knowing the truth of it as he spoke.
"Neither of us can go?"
"And if neither of us can go… We can both go."
"What is this, Taoism? 'Through loss we gain'?"
"Or Zen, through destruction of the ego— that's not important. What is important is that neither of us can go. We both have to let go."
"Are you sure?"
"Do you trust me?"
"Of course I do. I love you too much not to."
"And I trust you not to hang on when I let go. And I love you too."
"Okay, Hibiki-boy, let's do it."
And where he had been, he was no longer.
"Ba-san, I need… Um, I need a pencil."
She nodded, glancing at something over the girl's shoulder, and smiling. "Here you go. On the house. Now run along."
The girl squealed happily, and bobbed her head in a nod of thanks before dashing through towards the school.
But what was behind the girl… Now that was what caught her attention.
"So," she said quietly. "You've come back?"
He nodded slowly, worn and travel-stained.
"And now you come back, dirty, unemployed, and with not money, and expect that just because you have some stunning revelation that getting here will solve all of your problems?"
He flinched, bowing his head. "Sorry," he said quietly. "I… I don't know how long I was gone. How long I was thinking about it. I… I'll leave, Ba-chan."
"Well," she said blandly, "if you think I'm giving you a handout, you're wrong. A loan, maybe. Get your rear in the bath before anyone sees you." She smirked, shaking her head in admiration. "I was afraid I'd never see you again."
Slumping in relief, he nodded, shouldering his pack and marching towards the baths.
And no sooner had he left than someone else drew into the shop, glancing around as though she was expecting to see something that wasn't there. "Good morning, Oba-san," she offered, bowing slightly to the woman.
The woman raised an eyebrow. "Need anything today?"
"N… No, I thought I… I thought there was something familiar, and, I—"
"Need to get to school?" the woman suggested.
"Ah! I'll be late! Sorry, sorry!"
With that the girl rushed off, leaving the old woman alone for the moment. She allowed the faintest hints of a smile to flicker across her face before turning her attention elsewhere.
Clad in his business suit, ever-present mirror at his side, the businessman expertly shoveled his breakfast into his mouth. "Morning," he mouthed around his chopsticks, as Tofukuji took a seat opposite him, and Gochi sat to his left. Kurage sat at the fourth side of the square table, wagging his tail happily.
The sign about his neck was clearly lettered, "This seat reserved."
He grunted, shifting his mirror and helping himself to more rice, as a man sat down at Kurage's side, mumbling a quick thanks to the old woman. "So," Gochi said conversationally, "how do you expect to pay the rent?"
"Ba-chan! I'm going to get a job at the school up the road!"
Tofukuji blinked, as Hakumori sputtered indignantly, spraying his breakfast across the table. "Hibiki?" he asked, shocked beyond belief.
"Oh?" the woman asked knowingly, ignoring both Tofukiji and Hakumori's incredulity. "Is that so…"
"So… How long was I gone?"
The old woman sighed, walking slowly down the road at his side. "Three and a half years, Hibiki. Were you completely unaware of how long it took?"
"I was… distracted," he mumbled. "Three and a half years? I… That's madness."
"You're not getting that time back," she noted. "Tell me, was it worth it?"
She walked home alone, enjoying the crisp air, thinking of the strange sensation that had seized her that morning. Almost as though some hint or remnant of Sensei had returned.
Would Sensei return? She had left, saying many things, and he had promised to return… But as little as she tried to think about it, how would Sensei return?
She had never truly known Sensei as a he, only a she. Was there a difference? What would it be like? What if the part of Sensei that she loved was gone?
Her thoughts vanished as she saw the old owner of Gochi-Sou striding up the street, deep in conversation with a man.
His shirt was recognizable to her, clean, but worn, the edges slightly ragged, his hair a little longer, and his stance unmistakable. And some resonance in his voice echoed within her across the distance where she had frozen mid-step, as he said, "I think so. I'm not sure, but I think so."
Blinking, she tried to speak, only to lose her balance, and stumble. She yelped in alarm, frantically working her legs to recover her footing, and she heard him call out to her, "Kuzuha! Jump!"
And then something clicked into place, and she was no longer struggling for balance, but instead charging gleefully towards him. "Sensei!" she shouted, flinging herself into him.
The impact knocked him to the street, reminding her so much of the first time she had leapt to Sensei's arms, so very long ago. "Sensei," she sobbed, unable to believe it. But it was Sensei, and he or she… Sensei was Sensei.
"Kuzuha," he said quietly, arms cradling her protectively.
"In public no less," the old woman mused. "Shameless man," she teased him.
As the two untangled themselves and stood, he addressed the old woman again, "I really think so."
"Told you so."
"You cheated. You took him out of my arena."
"You kicked him out. Too bad you forgot to disqualify him."
"Humph. Very well then, you win this round."
"I'm afraid I don't feel much like playing anymore. It was fun, but I've got other things to take care of now."
"As you will it."
Author's notes: And here's where I get all full of myself and tell you what it all means. Or at least, what it meant to ME.
This all started with 'I am Become…', where whatever aspect of my muse makes me write painted to me a clear picture that I was going about things the wrong way.
But for all that Durandall was another personality of mine (Multiple Personality Disorder — Disassociative Identity Disorder), I created him when I was younger because I thought something as flawed as me was never meant to exist. So Durandall was the ideal self I wanted to be, happy innocent, loved— all of the things I was not. And somewhere, when I should have faded and let him be the 'I', he died. That's IaB….
Path to Greatness was something that finally realized that succeeding would be a success, but would cost me so much more than it was really worth. I was an idiot not to realize it sooner.
Path to Temperance is the conclusion of this thus far, which explains that Durandall, as much as I profess to be a creature of failure and disaster, is a part of me. So that perfect self I want to be is potential within myself. And for that, I have a lot of work to do before I can be complete and whole again. I see the path, but must now walk it.
Thank you for your time and patience.
Who's tired of thinking. Ooh! Mindless FPS action! Sweet, sweet, half-lifey oblivion…
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