A/N: This is it, ladies and gentlemen. The end of Deeper Water. This has been one of my favorite works that I've ever written out of... oh man, almost nine years' worth of writing. From crap at 14 to journalistic pieces at 16 to professionally-done poems at 20 and finally fiction at 22, I think that I've really been able to make this story exactly what I wanted it to be. It took a lot of time to write, but every moment writing this story made me feel so very alive, like I was really enjoying myself. ComiPa is not just a story about dojinshi... it is a story that speaks to all creative people.
I owe some thanks.
First off, thank you to King of Blades, Di-Gi Nyo, Cendrillo, Kei-kun, Romei, Hiromichi Mori, Purplae Dragoon, Tuan Andril/Tuanoftheworld, Ayhac, Daniel Shinigami, Sumiyoshi, and Zefrn. You all took the time to read my story and leave a review, and you have no clue how each and every review you left was so wonderful to me. An author thrives off of feedback, and your feedback and help has been invaluable. Moreover, it's good to know that people like what I have to offer.
Most importantly, a big thank you to Cendrillo and Marivel, my beta readers for the story. Every writer makes mistakes, typos, and errors, and I am no exception. Their criticism and attention to detail has been the sharpening to the story that I needed. Immense thanks go out to you both.
Finally, I want to thank you, the reader, for coming this far. It means you care about the characters and want to see more ComiPa. If you liked the ending, I'm glad. If not, I hope that my story serves as a challenge. I hope that you can prove me wrong in my pairing by writing a story that places Kazuki with anyone... Eimi, Chisa, anything. I hope you can something that makes me think "This person did it better, and I'm glad I got the chance to read it."
All along, I wrote ComiPa fanfic because nobody else did. I hoped nothing more than to be able to read someone else's interpretation. Now, the category is slowly growing. I hope that if you love ComiPa enough to write for it, you will put it here. I will forever offer my services as a beta reader, coach, tutor, anything to get your story off the ground and on ff dot net. I hope I get to see the breadth and width of all the talents out there in the world.
So for the last time in Deeper Water... on with the show!
11: Thank You
The singer wiped the sweat off of his brow, then set the mic back in its stand. "We're gonna take a break," he announced. "Chill out for a few minutes. We'll be back."
The crowd cheered as if he'd promised everyone five thousand yen each. Yuu applauded along with them, actually having enjoyed the music, even if some of the translations had been off. The bad English might work in their favor, though, she thought, taking another sip of her drink. Seems to work on the fangirls.
Eimi sighed as the band walked off the cramped stage, making their way through a small cluster of the audience to the backstage. "Wow..." she sighed, giddy as a schoolgirl could ever get. "Hey, panda, how come you never showed me this place?"
Yuu shrugged. "I didn't come here too often before I left for Tokyo. The scene wasn't really big for me, but they're open late, and you know as well as I do that dojinshi requires late hours."
"So true, so true," Eimi finished off her club soda as she stepped off the bar stool.
"Looking for the little boys' room?" Yuu grinned evilly, tossing her head over her left shoulder. "It's over there."
"Stupid panda," Eimi growled, balling her hands into fists and mumbling angry words as she tromped off to the restrooms.
"Some things really never change," Yuu said to herself, shaking her head.
A torrent of appreciative words and sighs swelled in volume as Yuu turned back to her G&T. She kept hearing "That was so great, Imadori-kun!" and other fangirl-squealed lines coming up behind her.
Ah, and here comes the blonde all-star himself.
The bar stool next to Yuu squeaked as the skinny bleached-blonde lead singer sat down next to her, much to the adoring sighs of several girls that stood behind him. "The usual, Tetsu-chan," he joked with the bartender, his voice a little bit strained to a high pitch from singing.
"I'll Tetsu–chan you," the bartender shot back with a chuckle, sliding the singer a highball of Scotch on the rocks.
He accepted the glass with a nod, sipping at the Johnnie Walker Black thoughtfully.
"Expensive tastes, huh," Yuu remarked into her drink.
The singer turned to her. "It's part of our fee," he replied. "One shot of this stuff is worth about one-third of what Tetsu's paying us for tonight's gig," he grinned.
"I guess it's worth it." Yuu sipped at her G&T, the mellow bitterness of the Bombay Sapphirerounded out by the tartness of thelemon. "It's not my thing, but you guys seem pretty good."
"Not your thing?" The singer spun around in his bar stool, leaning back against the bar itself. He twirled his glass, the thick, dark brown liquor coating the sides before rolling back down. "Then what're you doing here?"
"Trying to ditch my friend," Yuu looked at him through the corner of her eyes. He was regarding her, not trying to avoid her glance, with a curiously neutral expression. "She's really annoying and doesn't leave me alone."
Stop playing the disinterested card, you poser. I'm not falling for that "I'm so cute and you want me" act.
He failed to take the hint. "Sounds pretty rough. I haven't seen you around here before..."
"I used to live around here, but I moved to Tokyo." Yuu cupped her hands around her highball glass, cooling them off from the heat of the club.
I should just ignore him, make up an excuse, and leave that stupid Eimi behind. She thought he was cute. I'll let him-
"Oh, I'm Imadori, by the way. Ryosuke Imadori." He finally let a grin slip, albeit a sideways one, in Yuu's direction.
"So what're you doing in here from Tokyo?" Ryosuke asked before taking another sip of his Walker.
"I'm just home for New Year's. My parents had some guests at our ryokan. I kinda got drafted into helping take care of them."
"Don't abuse the phrase. She's a friend to me like the Soviets were friends to the rest of the world."
"You must really not like her."
"We've got our differences."
"Sorry if I'm intruding."
"Y'know, I'm-" Yuu turned around, ready to tell him to mind his own business and leave her alone. Just as she prepared to unleash a Kansai fury upon him, he was scribbling something on the inside of his left arm.
"Give me a sec," he said before she could ask him anything. "I just got an idea."
"Idea for what?" Just in case she was being drawn into a clever trap, she got ready to summon her harisen. Just in case.
"Fingerings," he mumbled, drawing six lines down his forearm and drawing dots on each of them. "Chord fingerings for closed D tuning. We haven't been able to get the riffs right in 'Careless Memories' and Shinichi's just taken over on guitar. I used to be great at this."
"So you're writing it on your arm," Yuu replied flatly. "Real permanent."
"Hey, lighten up." Ryosuke didn't even look up, drawing out finger placement. "Getting fingerings isn't easy. Price we pay, y'know?"
"Yeah. Local bands with screaming fans have it so hard. I'm sure that-"
Yuu's dismissal was cut short as she was literally pulled off of the bar stool in the midst of setting down her drink.
"I'll never forgive you for this, panda!" Eimi hissed, fire in her bright green eyes.
"Hey, you can have him as far as I'm concerned," Yuu shrugged. "I'm sure if you're attracted to it, it's bad for Yuu Inagawa."
Eimi narrowed her eyes, growling angrily, before sliding next to Ryosuke, batting her eyes bashfully, and shifting from a growl to a quiet, adoring sigh.
Despite Yuu turning her attention firmly away from Ryosuke and Eimi turning her best assets firmly towards him, he held his arm across the bar, twisting it a little bit experimentally. "Does this look melodic enough for 3/4ths time for you?" he asked, grinning.
"Like I know and like I care," the flat response came back.
"Oh, don't even try to work with the panda," Eimi interjected with a laugh. "She trails behind in everything from art to life itself; it's so hard for her to draw with those claws!"
"Draw?" Ryosuke raised an eyebrow.
"Eimi Obaka over there envisions herself as the Queen of ComiPa, the big dojinshi convention up in Tokyo," Yuu tossed back the rest of her drink, not really wanting to talk but unwilling to pass off a shot across Eimi's bows. "'course, she still doesn't know her multiplication tables."
"So you do get it." The singer smiled, setting aside the felt-tip arm marker. He flexed his forearm experimentally, rippling a quarter-note under the vestiges of a lower bicep. "That makes me glad, in a sort of self-inflicting pain kind of way."
"Self-inflicted gladness?" Yuu sighed. "You're full of interesting lyrics, aren't you?"
"Oh, and you don't try to do new and original things in your dojinshi?"
"You want to know what I try to do?" Yuu's grip tightened around her highball glass, slamming the gin & tonic down with a hollow thunk. "I try to relax when I'm home for the first time in months and stuck with the biggest egomaniac this side of the Tokugawa shogunate. I try to deal with some things that I've had billowing up within me forever. I try to figure out my own feelings for someone I really, really like, and I don't need someone like you hitting on me when I'm trying to get a little drunk!"
Ryosuke wasn't as fazed as Eimi was; he didn't even seem to notice the green-haired girl hiding behind his arm. She had taken the opportunity to take hold of it at the elbow, too, but he didn't even seem to notice.
"So you try to create something from the base of your emotions," he replied calmly, the smile on his face tilted up at the corner. Sarcasm, Yuu thought. This prick is mocking me.
"So what if I do?"
"Then is there any real difference between you sorting out your feelings to express yourself and me doing the same thing?"
She was off the bar stool and five stomps towards the door when the background noise in the bar was pierced.
"Then why not really express yourself?"
Yuu was deceptively strong. Years of wrestling a little brother and carrying trays of tea and meals to ryokan guests had given her some tone. Even though she hadn't really done much since being deskbound in Tokyo for so long, she was still wiry enough to grab Ryosuke by the collar of his torn-sleeve flannel shirt and heft him off the stool and onto the floor.
"You probably don't have a clue, do you?" Yuu almost growled, seeing her bespectacled reflection in his light brown eyes, sparkling with something she couldn't recognize. "You cocky little bastard."
"Just because I see what I want and I pursue it in my expressions makes me cocky?" He shrugged, a difficult task with the pulling on his collar. "When we express ourselves, it's not for something that has no reason, that's for sure. Art, music, writing... I do what I do for a love of the music. You must draw dojinshi for a similar love."
She held him fast by the collar, trying desperately not to show any emotion in her face.
"He's lucky, whoever he is," Ryosuke continued. "I'd say I'm jealous, but I guess I can express it some other way."
"So you're greedy and cocky?" Yuu let him down, and he straightened his collar out with a flourish. She shook her head, her two ponytails tickling her neck.
As she looked up at Ryosuke, she caught his eyes moving upwards. Scoping me out, huh?
"It's a shame that you're from Tokyo," he said with a noncommittal shrug. "Just a shame."
"I'll tell you the shame here," she grinned wryly, a familiar spark in her eye.
"I can't believe you got us thrown out of the club, you stupid panda!" Eimi snarled, stomping behind Yuu as they reluctantly went up the steps to street level.
"What can I say? They didn't post any sort of concealed weapons policy at all," Yuu rebuted, her trusty harisen slung over her shoulder like a triumphant batter. "You're just jealous that I was the one who got to hit him, aren't you?"
"I am NOT jealous!" Eimi steamed.
Yuu stuck her hands in the pockets of her coat, keeping them warm from the falling snow.
"The shame is that I DO express myself in a visible way," she had said as she drew the paper fan seemingly out of nowhere. "I express myself through my art AND through who I am. Not only do I hide behind it, like camouflage, I fly it proudly like a banner. It's there, and so am I, so when I finally get to tell Kazuki how I feel... not only will he know it..."
She wound up with a two-handed grip, taking a step back for a little more power, just as Ryosuke's eyes went wide from the sudden appearance of a deadly-looking paper fan.
"He'll FEEL it, too!"
"Stupid, stupid panda."
"Hey, sorry you couldn't get your cute singer guy."
"You SHOULD be sorry! The great Eimi Oba deserves nothing less than the very best for producing nothing but the-"
Eimi was cut short as a steaming hot roast sweet potato was jammed into her face.
"There, I'm making it up to you," Yuu laughed, tossing the hot potato from one ungloved hand to another, letting the searing head quickly heat her hands in the cold winter night. Despite the skirt, she barely felt cold, and a bite of the sweet, brownish-yellow flesh of the potato quickly warmed her stomach, already rumbling a little from the alcohol.
"A one hundred-yen potato doesn't nearly make up for it, panda," Eimi grumbled before taking a bite of the potato.
"It's good, isn't it?"
Eimi was silent, gazing intently at the potato as she took another bite.
"I knew it."
"Shut up, panda."
The snow that had hung like a question mark in the air floated down, soaking up sound in the way that only snow could. A few people were on the streets, walking around, laughing, talking, even stopping at some of the Shinto shrines that were wedged between buildings to pray on their way to wherever.
"Oh, it's almost midnight," Yuu took note of the time on a bank clock. "C'mon, Eimi Obaka, let's go to the shrine and pray. It's a new year, after all."
"To think that I'd have to spend the new year with the panda girl..." Eimi moaned.
Yuu rolled her eyes. "You're a child and always have been, you know that?" When she looked back at Eimi, her green eyes weren't as angry as they were a moment ago.
"Fine," Eimi haughtily replied, dauntily slapping a hand to her chest. "If you're so desperate for companionship, I suppose it wouldn't be beneath me to take the panda out for walkies."
The harisen slap echoed down Sakigawa-chome, followed by a protest from its victim. Snow fell on Kobe just before the Buddhist temples tolled 108 times for the new year, and just as the tail end of the snow shower passed over Kobe, it began to fall just as gently on the streets of Tokyo.