It was a strangely subdued Urufu who returned to a hero's welcome and Kyoko mostly felt relieved that he didn't take much part in the circus around him. Part of it because she didn't think it suited him, but mostly because it saved Yukio from being dragged into any new madness.
What surprised her most was how calmly Kuri-chan acted when Urufu came back to school, but Kyoko knew her friend had visited him almost every day during his stay at the hospital.
“You look pale, man,” Yukio observed.
Kyoko could only agree. It was as if Urufu had shrunk a little.
“Wanna reapply for geek squad?” Yukio said and slapped Urufu on his back.
What's with boys and backslapping? She loved her Yukio, but sometimes he behaved like an elementary schoolkid.
“Very funny,” Urufu said. “Look, I'm a bit winded and won't recover fully until December they say.”
Kyoko pulled Yukio closer to her. She didn't like to see his anger.
Urufu pulled open his shoe locker and changed.
Kyoko had to walk to another row of lockers and leave Yukio with his friend. After she had changed from indoor shoes to light boots she ran to the entrance to make sure the two boys didn't leave without her.
She got there in time to see Yukio waiting for them both. Back at his locker she saw Urufu wave away an offer to carry his bag.
Is he an invalid, or what? “How bad is he?” she asked Yukio.
“Don't know, but I think he just needs to be active again.”
After some strenuous effort Urufu finally got into his loafers, shouldered his bag and joined them.
“Man, shouldn't you get that awful backpack of yours instead?” Yukio suggested. “Looks like crap, but the way you look right now it would be easier on you.”
Urufu grimaced but made no retort.
They went outside, and Kyoko had to hug her coat closer to her when the wind tugged at it and ran an ice-cold tendril down her blouse. With a shudder she opened her bag and grabbed a threadbare scarf which she wrapped around her shoulders. It barely helped keep the wind out.
From the corner of her eye she saw Urufu wink at Yukio who smiled weakly and nodded back at his friend.
“If you're thinking a scarf for Christmas present then just don't. They're expensive and I have more than I need at home,” Kyoko said to Yukio.
He just stared at the rag she had wound around her neck.
“Look, it's a gift from my mom when I was a small kid. I like it, OK?”
Urufu shrugged open armed in that western way of his. Some of his bodily expressions required you to get to know him before you understood, but this was one she had seen often enough to know by now.
“Girls!” he exclaimed.
Yukio coughed and laughed silently, but otherwise he wisely kept his mouth shut.
Listening to gravel crunching under her feet Kyoko wondered if there was any point in pretending to be aggravated by the two boys, but in the end she decided to just enjoy the presence of them both. It had been too long since Yukio looked whole like this. Somehow he had seemed like half a man during the weeks Urufu spent at hospital.
Gravel made way for tarmac and they left their school behind them. Their destination was the Stockholm Haven café and a cup or two before Urufu continued on his way to the station. It would be weeks before he got off at the wrong station and rode his bike to the mall.
Lucky, you got lucky. It scares me how close it was. But that wasn't a topic Kyoko wanted to open just yet. She didn't know how much it had scared the others, and especially not if those thoughts still lingered among her friends. Even Kuri-chan kept her silence these days, and she was the only who had allowed herself to break down with fear that awful day. In a way she had been the only honest one.
We betrayed you. I wanted to be strong for you, but in the end we betrayed you. With a sigh Kyoko admitted to herself that she wasn't even certain who 'you' was. Kuri-chan or Urufu, because in a way each of them had been betrayed individually. It was strange how your efforts to help someone could become a betrayal.
A discreet rumble in her pocket suggested that Kuri-chan's rumourmongering had reached another few targets, and when Kyoko looked at her phone she could confirm it. She typed in a reply that could easily be misunderstood and helped throw a little bit more dirt on Red Rose.
By her side Yukio's fingers played over his display, and Kyoko knew he was doing the same. Urufu threw a questioning glance at them both, but Kyoko decided to smirk and not say anything.
Sooner or later he'd learn what had happened, unless he already did, but it wasn't anything she felt in a hurry to make explicit. Especially as Kuri-chan had stopped being active online and instead used her poor Japanese as an excuse to make suggestive statements during the plethora of interviews she gave as part of her modelling job.
At first Kyoko had been shocked by the sheer degree of linguistic understanding Kuri-chan displayed for each and every clumsy statement, but after a while she just wrote it down to just another aspect of the Billion Dollar Empress. It was as if that persona knew anything and everything whenever needed.
“You're silent,” Urufu said.
“Just thinking of something Kuri-chan said,” Kyoko replied. It wasn't fair stating truths like this when they really were lies, but Kyoko's loyalties lay with Kuri-chan first. As long as she wanted Urufu out of the loop Kyoko would feed him half-truths and even outright lies.
She wondered how Yukio managed that part. It was his best friend after all.