Warning - sadness and angst lie ahead. If you want comedy, read KBT4W!
This story is dedicated to Meiling Kuo, my fiancee, who has enough strength to need no masks and gives me the strength to break free. Aieshteru, Mei-chan!
She did not make the wails that would be heard when Shinobu cried; nor was it the loud gasping sobs that were (rarely) made by Narusegawa. Rather, her sobs were the silent, slow, but unremitting outpouring of someone in pain who not only did not want to be found out, but also did not expect it. Shinobu and Naru would make so much fuss, probably, because it shouted out the message, "Here I am! Comfort me!" to all within earshot - and it brought comfort to their side.
Kitsune could never see the point of her doing that.
Instead, she could take her comfort in sake. The trouble was, though, that drinking was like a tightrope walk of control.
Just enough to give her the courage to face the world, the strength to put on the mask, and the forgetfulness to ignore the pain and disappointment. Just enough to keep her smiling and being the life and soul of the party.
The trouble was, if she took too much, then her rigid control would slip, and the tears would threaten to come out. Then, the only thing she could do would be to drink as much, and as fast as possible, so that blessed oblivion would blot out everything before she was overwhelmed by it all. So many times, she remembered having to fake her drinking and secretly pour the drinks away in an effort to keep within the limit - only to eventually find herself beyond it, cracks appearing in the mask, and groping blindly for a bottle to erase the pain before it could leak out of her eyes.
Sometimes, though, insufficient funds or plain carelessness would leave her in this predicament. It was hard to make herself care about much these days, anyway. Then, she would hide herself away until the depression lifted, and try not to think about the Box.
The Box was not so big - about the size of a shoebox - and normally lived on the top shelf of Kitsune's closet. Normally, she tried to forget about it, to ignore its presence as it squatted on that dark shelf like a toad in a stone, almost emanating an aura of malice like the Hina blade. But, the Box was not evil, and affected noone else - it saved its edge for Kitsune only. When the depression hit her, and there was no alcohol to dull her senses, it called to her.
As Kitsune lay crumpled on the floor of her room, the contents of the Box lay scattered on the floor around her. Some were torn, and some crumpled - but in the morning, all would be smoothed, re-folded, and put back into the Box. The Box itself would go back on the shelf. Why didn't she just throw it into the trash, you might ask? Indeed, she would ask herself the same question every time that she came to this crossroads. Always, her answer to herself was - "That would be admitting defeat". So, she would bravely re-pack the Box, tell herself in a false, brittle brightness that it did not matter, it was the Past - and would replace it on the shelf.
You cannot overcome your fears by running from them, she told herself.
You have to face them. Again. And again. And again.
She had to learn to accept it, because she could see no way out. In the past, she had thought there could be escape - but she found that although it is hard to put the mask on and to keep it there, it is impossible to take it off completely. She would lose coming and going.
The contents were scattered around her - all except That One. That One was still in the Box, and alone amongst the contents was undamaged. Just a bit tear stained.
Her fingers tightened around one of them, convulsively, as she brought it into her field of vision. Ah - Jiro. He has sent this one. She read a few lines of the letter, before crumpling it and throwing it back to the floor in a mixture of anger, disgust, and despair. She remembered Jiro - he had been one of the good ones, she had thought.
So many of the men in Kitsune's past had decided to date her because they thought she was easy. An overly-friendly, loose-moralled, drunken tart - that was the impression they received, and (to be honest) it was the impression she sometimes tried to give. Life and soul of the party, always there with a bottle in one hand , a smile on the face and a revealing outfit. Small wonder, really, that they chased her because they thought she was an easy lay - and when they discovered she wasn't, they didn't want to look any deeper. Some of the letters were from men like this, angrily railing at her because she would not give them what they thought everyone else had had. Most men like that, though, did not even have the courtesy to write anything.
Kitsune gave a wry smile through her still-flowing tears. Everyone else had had it? They had never believed that in actual fact, no-one had.
But Jiro... he had not been like that. No, he had been cruel in the other way, like the majority of the men in her past. Taken in by the mask, he had still refused to look deeper and see the real woman beneath the mask, beneath the emotional armour, beneath the scars.
"How could you deceive me?" he had shouted at her. "I thought you were a good woman! I was going to introduce you to my family! And now I discover this..."
On that summer away in the south, she had tried to lay the mask aside. Away went Kitsune the party-goer, Kitsune the player, Kitsune the fearful. Instead she went out as Kitsune. A bit shy, no friends about to defer to, no hiding her feelings.
She had been a different woman that summer. Her friends would not have recognised her from the brash sake-drinker they formerly knew - indeed, she didn't wholly recognise herself. And it was during that summer that she met Jiro.
Jiro had been a gentleman from the first, a pleasing change in itself. He had no pre-conceptions about her, and had treated her as a lady. Old Kitsune would have been fearful and covered this with excessive flirting and drink. New Kitsune was able to be shy, but restrained - and they enjoyed each others company. She supposed she had not been in love - but maybe Jiro had been? Or maybe it was only the potentiality that had been there, before it had been killed off like a late frost could kill the sakura blossoms.
After the summer, she had returned home. Back amongst her friends, in the old familiar surroundings, she could not be 'real' Kitsune. The mask had gone back on, and the old habits re-established. And it had been like that she had been found by Jiro, when he turned up unexpectedly for a surprise visit.
Seeing her draped around the shoulders of a couple of men (Friends! Nothing more!), half-drunk and singing, he had been shocked. Although she subsequently tried to explain, he had been doubtful - and then he had talked to her 'friends', and found out her reputation.
It was useless to explain that part of it was an act, and the rest was just falsehoods, speculation and malicious gossip. In Jiro's eyes, there was just too much evidence that the 'old' Kitsune was the real one. How could his parents accept that sort of disreputable woman? There is no smoke without fire, he had said in his letter, as he explained his pitiful reasons for breaking off their relationship. How could he walk around with her, not knowing how many of the men watching them had slept with her? How could she have deceived him like this?
"Baka..." Kitsune sadly murmured to herself - although it was not clear if she meant Jiro for failing to believe in her, or herself for hoping that he would. Why had she allowed herself to believe, when scattered around her was ample evidence that she would be disappointed? Jiro's error was all too common amongst all too many of the men in her past.
Through the window, the sun had set and the light was fading fast. Shadows stretched across the room, making it hard to read the characters. She had re-read them all, though - except for the One left in the box. And she had that memorised, in any case.
Inside herself, Kitsune was crying out to Naru that hiding your feelings doesn't work! A veteran of wearing a mask, she could easily see it in Naru - hide behind the mask of 'violent bitch', because otherwise she might have to show emotions, and risk rejection... but in wearing the mask, Naru risked making it more permanent than her real face. Kitsune was amazed that Keitaro was still around. How could Naru still fear rejection with such proof in front of her? Yet, you can test a thing to destruction - if she could not lay the mask aside soon, Keitaro would be pushed away permanently.
Kitsune sighed. If it was so easy to deal with other people's problems, why could she not deal with her own?
When Kitsune had been a young girl, she had hated to eat cabbage. There was no particular reason for it, but she just detested the feel of it in her mouth. Her parents had still insisted she eat everything she was given, though - to leave anything would be to show disrespect for her mother, who had spent time preparing it. So, she knew she would have to eat all the cabbage. Faced with this predicament, different children will react in different ways. Some will eat it slowly with the other foods, some will eat it first, some will try to throw it away altogether. Kitsune would save it up till last, and take it in huge mouthfuls, maximising the unpleasantness but minimising the duration. Even as an adult, she still subscribed to the same philosophy, and that is why that one last letter remained in the Box.
She always kept that one until last, until she was at her lowest ebb, before she looked at it and pushed herself over the edge. Take it all in one last, painful hit, and then you know it can't get any worse. Prove to yourself that you're strong enough to go through it. It was almost masochistic, in a way.
Her hand stretched out inexorably to grasp the last letter from the box.
Unlike the others, this one was undamaged. It was not crumpled or torn in frustration or anger, merely tearstained in despair and regret. Most of the letters in the Box were from men who had rejected Kitsune either because they had thought her a tart and looked no deeper, or because they had wanted her to be a tart - and were disappointed. This was the only letter that was a member of the third group.
Kitsune held the letter close to herself, and let her tears fall onto it, as they had done so many times in the past.
This was the letter that noone else knew of, not even her closest friend, Naru. The one time in her life she had found a man who could see her for her real self, who could ignore her mask. He had seemed so oblivious to most things, and yet he had somehow instantly recognised the real Kitsune underneath. He had been someone who naturally saw people for who they really were... and she had fallen in love with him.
She had been so surprised, somehow, when she realised her feelings. She had wanted to confess her feelings to him, and to take the unthinkable risk of rejection, because she could not imagine doing anything else. She had been ready to leave the old Kitsune behind.
And then another friend had beaten her to it! How could she confess to him, and still remain loyal to her friend? Was the chance of this love worth the damage to the friendship? Would a confession result in having nothing? Kitsune's confusion grew, and the moment passed in hesitation.
Still later, she regretted her decision, and tried to change it. Her friend had not entered a relationship with him, so maybe she could try again? Kitsune wrote a letter to him, pouring her heart into an expression of love for this one man who seemed to understand her. Asking him to accept her, as she was, and be her partner. Trusting in love to make things right.
She sent the letter away, without telling her friend what she was doing - feeling that somehow she was betraying their friendship by stealing him away from her.
And he rejected her.
Oh, it was a kindly worded rejection, of course. He regretted being unable to return her love, and he thought she was a wonderful person and so on. But in the end, it was a rejection. Even someone who could see her real self, someone who was forgiving of her foibles and seemed to understand her - even someone like this did not want her. She felt she had given her all, and it was not enough. Too encumbered by past habits, reputation and emotional scars, she felt she had missed her last chance.
As she fell back to the ground and cried herself to sleep, the letter dropped to the ground. The last rays of sunlight through the window fell on the open page, revealing the name - 'Seta'.
Baka - 'Stupid'. I think everyone knows that by now, Naru says it often enough.
This is a sad little ficlet, trying to explain how Kitsune feels behind her facade of happy, drunken fox. Her character is possibly the least explored in the Love Hina series - even Seta and Haruka get more character development. Kitsune is given only as much attention as Haitani and Shirai, sometimes.
Like many other authors I feel that her character is much more complex, and has greater depth. She seems to be trying too hard to wear a mask, maybe, and (as we discover in the 'Kissing' episode) she is not the player people assume her to be. I think that, underneath it all, she is an unhappy person who is actually looking for love.
Would she be a good match for Keitaro? Probably not, but it seems clear that by the Christmas episode, she has feelings for him and he cares for her - although more as a sister than as a lover.
I wrote almost the entire story in my head as I lay in bed last night, and it is here almost in its entirety as I imagined it. Probably I am writing angst now because I am missing my fiancee!
For those of you who are interested, Meiling is as cute and innocent as Shinobu, as strong as Motoko, as intelligent and fearful as Naru, and as beautiful as Mutsumi. She is also marrying me in 10 days time. How lucky can a guy get?