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January 2012

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ichihime

Karin (Anime) Fic: A Discriminating Palate Fourth Meal - Tea

And - finally - we get some of Maki's POV...

Title: A Discriminating Palate (or Five Times Ren DIDN'T bite Maki and One Time He DID)
Chapter: 4 - Tea
Fandom: Karin (anime)
Characters: Ren + Maki
Genre: Humor/Romance
Summary: . . . even she can admit that her "love" for Winner is probably not the most pure of emotions - otherwise, why has it twisted into this horrible venomous snake of jealousy?



A Discriminating Palate
Or Five Times Ren DIDN'T Bite Maki and One Time He DID

Fourth Meal: Tea
by Kysra


And so it goes that time moves, days pass, and before Maki knows it, Christmas is around the corner and she's knitting her fingers to the bone every day and night that she doesn't have to work. It's not the first time she's knitted something; but it is the first time she's knitted something for a boy that she likes; and as she sits with the yarn threading between her fingers and the needles clikkity-clicking in the quiet, she wonders . . .

She wonders why there's this cold piece of heavy coal in her stomach; why she can't seem to get over herself long enough to delight in Karin's growing - reciprocated - relationship with Usui; why she keeps thinking of her time spent with Ren-san; why she likes Winner Sinclair at all. The confusion is a choking thing that weighs her down and restricts her air; and she's often overcome by the thought that one of the reasons she began to admire Winner in the first place was his desire to keep everyone safe, yet here she is, drowning in front of his very eyes and failing to garner any sort of reaction.

Then she wonders if liking someone is worth the heartache, worth a friendship, worth her self-respect; and it follows that she must wonder if she actually likes him at all.

Certainly, he's good-looking and tall with Western features, that shock of blonde hair, the shine of pale skin, and those sparkling blue eyes . . . a white, ever-present smile completing the countenance that has stolen a thousand hearts. He's loud and brash and completely insane with his continued obsession/insistence that vampires exist and must be extinguished; but . . . she admires his conviction and drive and . . .

She wants those qualities to apply to her.

It's so stupid. So completely embarrassing, she thinks, that in her deepest heart of hearts, all she wants is to be the focus of someone's ardor, to be pursued and . . . and . . . desired. And it's even more embarrassing that in the pursuit of such affections, she has become the Winner to Winner's Karin (albeit a much more subtle version).

The thing is, she doesn't know how to stop because she's inexperienced and young and so, so stupid but even she can admit that her "love" for Winner is probably not the most pure of emotions - otherwise, why has it twisted into this horrible venomous snake of jealousy? So, he likes Karin to the point of blotting out all other women from his awareness, so what? That's not Karin's fault and a good friend would be able to support Karin in her own love journey despite the bitterness of personal failure; and it doesn't mean that she should dwell constantly on what she can do, what she can change about herself to be the woman Winner wants. It doesn't mean she's lacking. It doesn't mean she will live forever unnoticed.

Right?

But she's honest with herself enough to understand that maybe, just maybe, she's jumped into this infatuation with Winner because she was afraid. Karin and Usui have found each other, befriended each other (despite Karin's inexplicable withdrawn behavior in the first few weeks of their acquaintance), they were growing closer (just as she had predicted and hoped for), and Maki had become afraid she would be left behind and alone (There was nothing quite like the specter of knowing you're about to be a third wheel). Then Winner had magically appeared, the answer to all (ok, most . . . alright, some) of her prayers . . until he had laid eyes on Karin . . . and opened his mouth . . .

Sighing, Maki begins picking up her knitting - nearly finished and still unsure of whether she will even present the scarf to Winner. Distantly, she wonders if she should make another for Ren-san as a thank you for being so generous with his time and worldly wisdom (he had even given her his cell number which she was still hesitating to save into her own phone for reasons she still had yet to identify). It was nice to talk to someone separated from the tangled web - someone who could clearly see the knots and brambles with clear, unbiased eyes, who could tell her honestly what she should do.

And he was right, she believes, boys are inherently stupid just like girls are inherently stupid; and she needs to fix this mess before Karin figures out just who Ms. K is and begins to feel hurt and embarrassed and sorry for something that is entirely of Maki's own making.

And she'll start by being a good friend and meeting Karin at the mall. After all, Christmas is around the corner and she's pretty certain Karin hasn't thought to prepare a gift for Usui.


***


"You're seriously not going to buy those mittens? But they're perfect!" Maki is rifling around in her purse looking for her cell phone, but she still has the presence of mind to berate her best friend for being so . . . so . . . Urrrrggghhhh.

Karin just giggles and blushes in that self-deprecating way of hers. "I think I'll try to make them myself, like you did for Mr. W."

She flashes an answering smile at the other girl before resuming her fevered search. "I'll lend you the how-to book I used. There are some really great ideas on how to give it that personal touch while keeping it simple for the beginner."

A sudden hug, a flash of warmth. Karin's expression is bright and cheerful and energetic as usual. "Thanks, Maki-chan."

She lets out her own giggle even as she finally finds her cell and checks for any missed calls (the store is ridiculous kinds of busy this time of year and her mom needs her on alert, just in case extra hands are needed). "Speaking of thanks, could you pass on a 'thank you' to your brother for me? I also wanted your input on possible gift ideas."

There is no answer, no murmur, nothing. Just the white noise of other patrons, of shop owners, and the hiss and flame bustle of the food court. It takes several seconds for Maki to realize Karin halted a few steps behind, and when she glances over her shoulder, doubles back, she has to swallow down a chuckle at Karin's bug eyes and lapsed jaw.

"Hey? Karin? You in there?" Maki passes a hand before wide, unseeing eyes as a small, high-pitched disbelieving mumble finally sounds in the vicinity of Karin's mouth. "M-my B-b-bro. . . th . er, R-ren?"

Maki just shakes her head, grinning. She still doesn't understand why Karin would fear her brother. He seemed a nice enough guy (with cat yellow eyes that burned and devoured and soothed all at the same time - focused, intense, sharp eyes), and in the handful of times she had experienced his company, he had been the very definition of a gentleman. He had even paid for her ice cream that last time, walked her home, and didn't leave her until she had entered the house and closed the door. "Yep, Ren-san. Is there a problem?"

Karin eeped comically before grabbing her arm and pulling her - running - across the food court to the nearest public restroom. She shouts and struggles but Karin is obviously distressed and won't let go. They are soon ensconced in the little bathroom, the door locked behind and Karin is quiet despite her rapid fire questions (What's going on? Karin! Why did you do that?! Are you crazy?) as the two stalls are checked for occupants.

They're empty. And Karin is crying softly, lowering herself to haunches. "Karin?" Her voice is pitched low, almost a whisper, as she takes a step then another, bends and clasps her friend about the shoulders. "Hey Karin, I'm sorry I lost it with you. Is everything all right? Is it Usui?"

"Y . . . you have to stay . . . stay away from Ren, Maki. He's dangerous."

Maybe. Maki definitely gets that vibe from him - like you just can't be the same once you meet him, know him. And that's okay. She can live with that kind of danger if it comes in small, distilled doses. It's not as if he's been seeking her out, not as if there's something going on beyond a distant acquaintance due to their shared interest and affection for Karin. "It's ok . . . He didn't do anything inappropriate. He was actually really nice and helpful. He even walked me home and --"

"PLEASE, Maki. Stay away from him! Promise me." This last was spoken in various tones, falling into a barely audible decibel when their eyes met and she could see the desperation reflected in Karen's. Maki licks her lips, feeling parched all of a sudden, remembering those yellow-gold eyes staring at her tearing at her skin until she feels vulnerable, hot, . . . naked. There was something . . . forbidden about those eyes.

"Your brother, he's not a bad person." Of this, Maki is certain-sure and ready to fight Karin on the point; but Karin merely nods and murmurs that he is not; but she would feel better if Maki stays away because Ren-san is a selfish, selfish man and might hurt her - unintentionally - if given the chance.

Seeing her friend like this, crying and begging her to ignore another person, Maki is thunderstruck but she promises not to seek him out (silently apologizes if he seeks her and finds because she can't be outright rude . . . ) because this isn't like Karin at all and she must have a good reason to ask for this favor.

Yet, she doesn't understand. Karin has agreed that Ren-san is not a bad person, yet she wants Maki to stay away . . . It doesn't make sense, like the early days of their friendship, like recently when Karin would do everything in her power to keep Maki (and everyone else) from her house, from discussion of her family. Maki hadn't even learned of Karin's siblings until this past year.

And it certainly occurs to her . . . Karin has always kept her home life a secret. This doesn't alarm Maki, doesn't hurt her or make her suspect inappropriate happenings. She knows Karin loves her family, that Karin's family loves Karin. She knows that Karin is a happy, well-adjusted girl who is clumsy and easily embarrassed and normal, so the confusion only deepens, grows branches that form twigs that sprout flowers of thoughts and possibilities and theories that are better left here in this bathroom with the sound of Karin's relieved sobs bouncing off the walls and the hollowed out entrails of Maki's Christmas mood splattered across the floor.

***

And in the end, on Christmas Eve, after she's spent an evening gathering her courage, checking the scarf for imagined flaws, and wrapping it four times then bagging it a fifth, her heart follows the aforementioned entrails on a deserted street as the snow begins to fall in the midst - a most holy, silent night.

The better to hear my sniveling cries. She walks along for a long while, until the street lamps come on, and the soft strains of Christmas music from the surrounding houses and apartments (barely) reach her ears. By then, she's numb from the rejection (Could such a dismissal even be termed a rejection? He hadn't even let her present the gift, probably didn't even see it, see her . . . trivial . . . ) and the cold and she just wants to sit and rest for a while, so she does - on the street against the sound partition, huddled down and nearly tearing the gift bag clutched to her chest.

Dumbly, she thinks that she should perhaps make her way home. Mama and Papa will worry and send out the search party and wouldn't that just be the icing on the Christmas cake to be found on this street, crying into a stupid gift meant for a stupid vampire-hunting boy that couldn't condescend to admit she even exists.

She sighs and rubs her running nose then her cheeks with tri-pink gloved hands, looking up for the first time to discover it is the dead of night and most houses have darkened with the onset of sleepy time. There is a stream of laughter coming from far away, the distant scrape of shoes and murmured words, a masculine chuckle, the groan of leather, the swish of silk.

They round the corner like the king and queen of some drunken ball; and her heart stops when she recognizes the man and he recognizes her.

Ren-san's face was leering at his partner one second then staring, shell-shocked at her the next. "Maki?"

She stands on stiff, unsteady, trembling Oh Kami-sama why why why now of all times? legs and bows, mortified and apologetic for intruding or blocking or . . . she just knows she's in their way (she seems to be in everyone's way nowadays). "Ren-san, I'm sor . . . I mean, please excu . . . Give your family my best regards." Trying a smile, she moves to run, but her joints are too cold and her heart is too heavy.

He catches her easily, holding her in a grip that looks violent but feels gentle enough. His lady-friend is slurring that her house is just this way and the little girl will be fine, this part of town is safe. But he shakes his head and tells her he'll call later. She's upset, spitting upon the ground and cursing him when coddling and whining doesn't seem to sway him. And just like that, the woman is gone, leaving Maki alone with the man she has promised to steer clear of.

"What happened?" His voice is soft, rough, and just this side of calm (but not quite) and she wonders why he would be upset, because it's nothing really. He shouldn't be bothered with her trivial problems.

Maki swallows the wad of saliva and tears in her throat and tries for that smile again, flinching slightly when she looks into his eyes and feels as if she is being dissected. "It's nothing, Ren-san. I'm just fine and I need to get home."

His eyes seem to glow, narrowed slits of pale gold flames. "I'll walk you there. It's almost midnight." His coat is suddenly around her shoulders, and his arm presses her into his side so warm and safe and comfy . . . I'm so tired and sleepy mmmhhhh. The world goes to sleep for a moment and the night is complete and restful and when she comes to again, five seconds later, he has swept her off her feet, bundled into his arms, cradled against his chest and suddenly it's spring and butterflies are taking flight in her stomach.

"'m sorry to cause you so much trouble, Ren-san." And though she knows, even in her exhausted, emotionally drained state she should be negotiating her freedom to walk, she burrows her head under his chin and closes her eyes, arms locked across her chest, still holding on to that gift bag housing a scarf as rejected as she was.

"It's no trouble." She likes the rumble of his voice when it's soft like this, when it's close to her ear and vibrates out into her body. The smile this time is real. "Wanna tell me what happened now?"

Sighing, Maki realizes he's the only person on earth who knows the whole story as it is, and she needs to talk to someone. "I tried to give a hand-made Christmas gift to Winner . . . along with a confession; but he told me to 'save such trivial matters for later.'" She shudders at the look on his face, the gleam of his teeth between his frowning lips. His eyes seem to glow a little brighter and his hands, supporting her, seem to grip a little tighter.

"Is that so?"

She shifts a bit against him, allowing her hands to loosen just a bit. "Yeah . . . I probably should have guessed something like this would happen though." And she had . . . nearly all the scenarios that rushed to her head from the moment she had turned onto his street had all ended in rejection. "He still refuses to call me by my name."


"If you ask me, you should forget about him. There are better men out there who already appreciate you." There's something in the words that makes her think of puzzles and clues and something more, over her head.

Suddenly, she has this urge, allows her arms to part, balancing the bag on her lap, to pull herself by his shoulders and hug him. His breath is hot against her neck, his body hard against hers, and she wants . . . she wants . . .

"I want to go home." The motion of his measured steps is a lulling thing, the cold a natural sedative.

He kisses her hair and she thinks nothing of it. "We're almost there."

"What men?"

"Me."

"Oh."

She is nearly asleep, can barely comprehend, should be just a little concerned but isn't. It makes her feel a tiny bit more grown up even if he's probably joking.

"I'm not going to remember this am I?"

"Probably." There is laughter in his voice and it's dark and thick and she suddenly hopes to dream about chocolate fudge or melted caramel. "Just not very clearly."

She smiles against his neck as he kisses her hair again. "Thank you, Ren-san."

And just before she falls into a blank slumber, he whispers in her ear. "Merry Christmas, Maki."



Is that . . . is that ROMANCE I smell? Is it fluffy like cotton candy?

Why, yes. I think so. XD

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