Thursday, 30 June 2016

Chapter four (segment two), 2017, dark and bitter

Noriko saw Kyoko arrive at school in a car her father drove. It was only temporary, but still, watching one of her friends driven to school gave her a bad taste in her mouth. It reminded her too much of the prison that was Kuri's life these days.

Kyoko, will your family do the same to you?

Kyoko left the car, and to Noriko's surprise, so did Yukio.

Oh, maybe not. Did you gain their approval in the end?

Kyoko, lean on me if you get tired.” Yukio waved to the car. “Thank you Mister Takeida.”

Now that's a western greeting if any. You really spent too much time with Urufu.

Then the next car pulled up by the gates, and this time Noriko only felt bile in her mouth.

Kuri left her guards and waved at Kyoko, then Noriko received her own set of waves as Kuri noticed her.

Hi gang,” Noriko said in what was probably a weak attempt at raising the mood.

Kyoko!” Kuri shouted and ran to her friend.

Noriko smiled and continued waving. She wasn't about to interfere when the two best friends met at school for the first time in weeks.

Around then Urufu came biking, threw Noriko a quick wave and continued to the bike stands.

Ryu was already in their classroom, and the juniors were somewhere around Kyoto. The only way to get a full week was to include the weekend in the trip.

You're happy now, but I didn't see any of you visit Urufu at the hospital. It was a bit unfair, because Urufu had no friends among the second years, and Nao had joined her during one of her visits. However, being fair wasn't in Noriko's mind right now. She was too scared for that.

She turned and started walking over the gravel to the school entrance. Halfway there Kyoko and Kuri made her company, and she saw Yukio waving to them from where he had joined Urufu.

While it was still winter, she felt the first promises of something else in the air. If it was a difference in smell or something else, she couldn't tell, but there was a difference. Noriko tried tasting it, but intangible as it was she gave up and went inside. A few steps later she changed into her indoor shoes and headed for the right wing stairwell amidst the usual chatter from her fellow students on their way to their respective classes.

Himekaizen was eerily silent during their breaks, with the second years away on their trip to Nara, Osaka and Kyoto, and more and more of the seniors voiding classes in favour of studying for their university entrance exams.

Lunch break was just as strange, with little or no problems for the freshmen getting a table in the cafeteria. Noriko joined her brother, and no one complained about them holding chairs so that even Kyoko and Yukio could be seated when they arrived after everyone else.

While she understood it was only part of a yearly rhythm, this was still a first for Noriko.

A first for Kuri and Urufu as well; their memories of the Swedish high school system from decades ago told a very different story. No entrance exams, and most definitely no acceptance of large amounts of absence during the end of their third high school year. For once Urufu was adamant on not knowing what it was like now; he had experienced differences large from conversations with his children to understand that his school years were different from theirs.

Noriko ate her food while talking about everything and nothing, but all six of them avoided the topic that was foremost on her mind. It was as if not talking about the attack on Kyoko and Yukio would make it go away. There was something about this kind of lying by omission that didn't play well with Noriko. Especially as Urufu and Kuri both had opened her eyes to it, but now when they faced things that go bump in the dark, none of them wanted to talk about it.

Noriko watched Urufu while she ate.

He wore his bruises as a badge of honour, and when she threw a glance at Yukio it was clear both of them had gotten over Yukio punching him. Ryu was still morose though. Maybe because he didn't share classes with them, Noriko guessed. He never had the chance to talk things over like Urufu and Yukio did.

Well, you are best friends after all.

Noriko turned her attention to Kyoko and Kuri. They had planned to head into the city after club hours, and now they needed to find a way to avoid Kuri being picked up by that car.

What if we run for it?” Noriko suggested.

Kuri shook her head. “Kyoko, up for some running?”

With a grimace on her face Kyoko shook her head. “Let's not.”

Sorry, Kyoko, I forgot. “Sneaking?”

This is not a B movie thriller, you know,” Kuri said. “I have a little leeway, so we should just walk to the station.”

Sounds like a good idea,” Urufu said from his side of the table. “I'll call Amaya if they try something funny.”

Kuri laughed, a sound Noriko had longed for these last weeks, and it was infectious enough that Kyoko and Yukio soon joined in. But it wasn't that funny, really!

It's enough if they see you,” Kuri said. “No need to call.” And she continued laughing.

Ryu shrugged and looked at Yukio. “Spit it out. You know we hate being left out,” he said and met Noriko's eyes.

Sorry, man. Urufu told me about Christmas. The guys in that car tried to stop Kuri from going home with him.”

Oh dear! Noriko remembered how she had first met Urufu. Yes I can see why they wouldn't want to get involved with him after that.

You didn't!” Ryu said.

I did,” came Urufu's response. “Convinced a gorilla in a suit that he should take a nap on the street.” Then he lit up in that wolfish grin of his. “Amaya called the police on them. You should have seen it.”

Sato-sensei is kind of scary when she gets angry. You're lucky to have her as your guardian. “So, Kuri and Kyoko, what about we just don't return from the walking talking session?” It was a compromise between stealing away and Urufu's confrontational way of handling things.

Kyoko nodded, and with that it was decided.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Chapter four (segment one), 2017, dark and bitter

January went by in a rush, and when the juniors vanished for their week long trip to Kansai, Noriko decided she'd had enough. Kuri spent all her free time modelling, which meant she had no free time at all, and if she had no free time, neither did Nao. If she couldn't get time with her boyfriend then she'd be damned if she couldn't get some with her friends. And that meant outside club hours.

A day earlier she tried to have her father pull some strings, and to her surprise he did so with a malicious grin on his lips. While he placed a few phone-calls, Noriko's mother rang a few friends of her own, with a gleeful expression just as creepy as her father's.

Sometimes Noriko wondered about her parents. She had a feeling they would have made better friends with her brother than her if they met when they were all high schoolers. There was a lot of Ryu in her mother, and sometimes she saw an echo of Urufu in her father. I should ask, one day. Or maybe not.

The most important right now was that Kyoko would be discharged within the week, but before that Noriko planned to spend an evening with Kuri. Two in fact. The first to plan a later sleepover with all four of them. The boys could spend that night at one of Yukio's two homes for all Noriko cared.

To that end Kuri had been called to a business meeting with her father. It was to set up her new company, CAMODE, or something like that. Apparently some kind of pun in Swedish. And to avoid any complaints Noriko made certain that her father and Kuri would actually have a meeting.

Amounting to well over quarter of an hour.

A little cockroach inside her head poked at her soul and reminded her that a bad consciousness isn't so easily stomped out, but she slammed a pair of mental feet down on it, just as she had all since she started planning. The thing was, if she could wrestle some time out of Kuri's schedule for herself, then she could have done so for Urufu; probably for Kuri as well if Noriko was to be perfectly honest with herself.

She didn't intend to be. Honest that was. Honest was for those who didn't get things done, like her idiot bro.

The sound of an engine on the street brought her back to reality, and when she went to a dark room and moved aside the curtains she recognised the car that brought Kuri to school every morning.

Kuri had already left it and stood by the gate.

Noriko heard the bell as she saw Kuri press her hand to the gate. With a thin smile Noriko left the room, slipped into her shoes by the front door and walked outside to greet her friend.

Kuri, been a while!” Which wasn't entirely true as they went to the same class, and today had been a school day.

Yo!” Kuri answered and grinned.

What was that? “Yo?”

Sorry about that, it's a thing Kyoko and I used to do,” Kuri said, and by now she had come close enough for the inevitable hug. It was one of those strange western habits of hers, of Urufu as well, which was worse.

Get in, it's freezing!”

Kuri did as told, and well inside she took off her shoes just as any civilised person would, but she placed them to the side, which looked a little strange. It didn't look untidy, just strange.

Just in case Noriko grabbed Kuri's shoes and moved them just under the step, toes out, and grinned at her friend. Kuri was quick on the uptake whenever she cared.

Oh, sorry. Didn't know. We never put our shoes where they're in the way.”

That 'we' didn't need an explanation. It belonged to a past that Kuri would never regain, a world lost and possibly one she didn't long for any more.

Dad's upstairs with the contracts.” As was her mom, but Noriko didn't think Kuri would care. “How's Kyoko,” Noriko asked just before Kuri vanished up the stairs.

She's fine, on the outside. Should be back Monday,” Kuri said and continued up to the second floor.

On the outside. Noriko shivered at the cold assessment. It's your best friend. How much do you have to hate to sound that calm?

There wasn't much she could do about that. She got into the kitchen area and checked the cook books once more. With some luck she'd be able to lure Kuri away for some shopping. Anything to make her think of something that wasn't work, school or revenge.

Besides, Valentine was close enough to merit at least some pre-planning. This year Noriko planned to be one of the starstruck girls who made something sweet and dark by hand, because this year she had a reason to.

Nao, dammit, make some time for me will you?

But for him to make some time, Kuri had to make some time. Noriko intended to find out how far she could push her friend. Some free time had to be possible. At least if Kuri was as much in love with Urufu as she said she was.

Noriko brought the cookbooks to the living-room and took her place in a sofa. Behind her the sound of the kettle told her tea should be about ready when Kuri returned, and with that knowledge Noriko opened up the English book. 'C'. She had found some recipes that were a little different from the ones she knew from before. Or rather knew about from before. She had never tried her hands at chocolate before. Her mother had, every year, but Noriko found the practise ludicrous.

Nao, you idiot, you broke a good habit of mine!

But it hadn't really been Nao doing that. This year Noriko would have made chocolate anyway. Honmei as well as giri, just as she planned right now. But for Nao there would have been a difference in recipients, and but for Nao she would have felt forced to have Kuri present for that difference.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Midsummer's day, 2040, swimming

Yukio joined his wife when she prepared to try the waters.

And you promise this is safe?” he asked Urufu who stood on a cliff a bit further away.

Yeah, counts as a beach here in Sweden. Water's not too warm though, just telling you.”

Suddenly Yukio saw Kyoko break the surface, diving into the water in a way that told him she had more than a little experience.

But you told me you used to go swimming with Kuri. I should have known.

Gah! It's freezing!” she shouted when she came back up for air. “But it's good!”

She wants me to get into that?” Yukio said to Urufu and pointed at Kyoko in the water.

Ulf smiled back. “You want your wife telling you that you didn't dare?”

Yukio growled. “That's easy for you to say who just stand...”

The next splash announced Urufu entering the water. He dove as gracefully as always, which was like watching a brick falling into water.

Crap! Well, this counts as summer here, and it's not like I'll be back any time soon. Yukio jumped into the water and landed with a shriek. It was freezing. A little like February back home.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Chapter three (segment ten), 2017, old and new

They must have joined the opening ceremony together, because they were still together standing in the staircase just inside the door to the roof. Ulf knew they had, but he wasn't sure, because he was still in a daze from the news just days earlier.

He didn't want to put the lid on, but Kyoko's father had rather understandably been in a fury, and he had the contacts needed to dig deep enough to unearth Kareyoshi.

Because the moron is not merely a first class arse, he's an imbecile arse to boot.

How anyone with such an epic lack of braincells had been entrusted with the knowledge of the arrivals was beyond Ulf, but he was, and as such untouchable.

Yukio leaned on the crutch he had received more for comfort than any real need. It was the kind of antiquity still popular in Japan and the US with the support in the armpits rather than around the lower arms. “And why are we here?” he growled.

Time to lose a friend, Ulf thought. “You can't. Until we have the proof needed we can't start a manhunt.”

Who cares about proof?” Ryu wondered. He was as furious as Yukio.

You should, you know. Then Ulf regretted his actions last summer. Even with good proof manhunts were best left to the police. Society seldom benefited from vigilantes. “Because it's not the right thing to do,” he said and prepared for the worst. “Besides we're told not to.”

Yukio let go of his crutch and hammered him to the floor in response.

Ulf stood up just to be docked once more. The pain was nothing compared to watching the faces of his best friends.

Where's your loyalty?” Ryu asked.

We don't go after him because there are better ways.” Ulf touched his bruised chin with his hand. It hurt. He deserved it, but that didn't make ambushing Kareyoshi any more right. He'd have wanted to, but Amaya's explicit orders combined with his memories from last summer told him to stay his course.

You had no such qualms last summer.” Ryu gave him a disgusted look and stormed away. A few moments later Yukio followed.

You shouldn't have said anything,” Christina whispered. “You could just have told them to wait. That you had a plan or something.”

And lied to my best friend? Would that have made things better? To betray him later?”

Whatever. I'll talk to them.” And with that Christina ran after their friends.

Only Noriko remained.

Aren't you going as well? Family and friends first, and all that.” Ulf knew that was uncalled for as soon as he said the words, but he sullenly refused to apologise.

You're hurting. That's why you're mean. Family and friends, and all that. That's why I'm staying by your side.” She gave him a look filled with sadness. “I don't agree with your thinking, and you not with mine, but I'll stand by you in this. Because it's important for you.”

But I would have preferred Christina by my side. The moment the thought ran though his mind he regretted it. He gave Noriko a grateful look before looking down. “I should probably go to the infirmary and tell them I fell.”

So the school staff is OK lying to?”

Ulf glared at Noriko. “You know as well as I do that school staff is directly involved with the lies.”

She flinched at his words.

Sorry, that was mean of me. Yes, I'm afraid I'll have to tell a lot of lies. That we all have to.” The worst lie being that Amaya stood behind all those lies when he knew she was spreading rumours among her old colleagues.

She hadn't told him a lot, but apparently Japanese gun-laws more or less guaranteed that the police eventually would hunt the gun-toting killer beyond the grave, if needed. First your sister and now your friend. I'm so sorry, Amaya.


He looked at Noriko's concerned expression. “Yeah. I'm off for the infirmary, and you'd better find Nao lest he starts thinking we're doing funny crap behind his back.”

He wouldn't,” came Noriko's curt reply.

He probably wouldn't, Ulf silently agreed, but he wanted to be alone for a bit.

I wonder how long Christina and I have left, he wondered as he walked down the stairs. Noriko followed him for two floors, and then he heard the sound of her footsteps vanishing into the left wing second floor.

Infirmary,” Ulf told a teacher who wondered what he was doing in the corridor after class began.

A month, two? Doubt two. They'll schedule her to death if we don't break up, and that'll have her fail her exams for sure. Fuckers! It was unfair, but life was unfair. Guess we have to make every moment count. He grinned despite his dark thoughts. Make a lot of memories as they are so fond of here?

But in the end he accepted that he had very little reason to despair. Whatever he felt paled in comparison with the hell that was Kyoko's life at the moment. Gods I wish there was something we could do? I wish this shit never happened, but that's a bit late now.

With that line of thought he had passed vending machines, locker rooms and cafeteria, and he stood outside the infirmary. It was time to lie his heart out. Like how he had seen Christina do a few times he plastered a stupid smile to his lips and slid open the door.

Anyone here?” he called. “I seem to have had a little accident.”

He got no answer, and when he looked inside it was empty. Smirking he rummaged through a cupboard in search for something to apply to his chin. After that he'd have to wait. There would be a lot of waiting from now on.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Chapter three (segment nine), 2017, old and new

Kyoko barren as a result of her stab-wound shocked Ulf. He just couldn’t wrap his mind around a life where you weren't even given the choice of having a child or not.

'One day,' the doctor had said. Well, it had been one day. All of them returned home, which was a welcome respite for Ulf, or rather his underwear, which he quickly hid in the laundry basket before he took a shower.

Christina followed him home. She had refused to return to an empty flat, luxury condo or not, and with Amaya in control anything but bringing her home was out of the question.

While Ulf and Christina showered separately, they slept together, and sleeping was the only thing the did apart from hugging, and when the hug turned into fretful sleep he couldn't remember.

When morning came Christina received some underwear from Amaya that were serviceable, if nothing else. The rest of her change came out of his wardrobe, and even though she muttered and swore she ended up dressed for a late autumn camping hike. Everything was a bit large for her, but their difference in size wasn't huge. Once again the word serviceable came to mind.

Ulf, well he only had business suits that were clean, so it was a rather mismatched pair that made their way to the clinic.

Long before they arrived Ulf had his misgivings about the day, and the lump in his stomach just grew heavier the closer they got. While he could understand Yukio's relief, Ulf suspected his best friend simply lacked the experience to understand why what was coming probably was a life-changing disaster to Kyoko.

One look at Christina told him she silently shared his thoughts. It didn't matter that she hadn't left any children behind in the other world. What mattered was that she knew that she herself had chosen not to have any.

Ina, who's going to stay with her?” Ulf asked when they left the car, and there were all too few steps until they were inside.

He felt her fingers claw into his right arm. “I can't help her. I don't even know how Ko-chan will react.”

Ulf threw a glance at Amaya who had driven them there, but she resolutely shook her head. He had suspected she would, and for the same reason as he himself. The feeling of loss, even if it was the feeling of a potential loss, was simply too frightening.

Damn, I'm going to betray you, but I don't have the guts for this. To prevent Christina from even asking, he stopped and pulled her close. “I can't. I'm sorry, but I can't. It's too close to my memories.”

Christina's eyes displayed equal parts disappointment and understanding.

For once Ulf felt the kind of childish regret belonging to a child. He wished 2016 hadn't ended, because if this was the way the bells rang out the old and welcomed the new, he wasn't certain he wanted any of it. With regret came more fear, but there was no delaying it any longer. Ulf clung to Christina's arm the way she clung to his, and together they entered the clinic.

He barely made it into the corridor before he heard wails as if someone was being slaughtered alive. Without thinking he left Christina behind him, ran through the corridor and tore open the offending door.

Behind it he saw Yukio and the tall doctor from yesterday, and in the bed Kyoko sat straight up screeching her lungs out.

They told me I can't have a baby. That I can never… Bwah, ah, ah, ah...”

Ulf opened the door and went outside. He left Yukio inside.

Christina sat waiting on a chair in the corridor, and Ulf sank down by the wall. Through the door he could hear Kyoko's wailing.

Nothing we can do now. She's paying for my mistake. He felt drained.

Ulf looked up and saw Christina sobbing silently. Tears ran down her face, and then, finally, he allowed his own helplessness to take control. His cheeks were wet and Christina sat on the other side of the corridor, or an eternity, away. Two metres. A chasm he couldn't bridge.

By the door Amaya had taken position. She leaned against it and looked at him. “Urufu, I have the news you need but don't want.”

What are you talking about? Right now he only wanted to crawl over to Christina.

I know who's behind it, but I can't prove it.”


Or rather, I'm not allowed to. This time it's someone on the inside.”


When I became your handle they told me about the two factions. This time it's someone belonging to the other faction, but it's still someone belonging to the JSDF.”

What the fucking hell are you talking about?” But he didn't need to ask. He already knew about the dirty infighting, had guessed the day he was called to the principal's office after kicking in a door in the girls' locker room.

Amaya flinched, but she never left the door. “I'm afraid you won't be able to avoid him. It's Kareyoshi Takeshi.”

And that made absolutely no sense at all. “Kareyoshi-sensei? The baboon trying to teach English?”


But, even though he's an imbecile he's still Himekaizen.”

Wake up, moron!” Amaya glared at him and bent down a little. “So every student from Red Rose is a disgusting rapist, including you?”

Ulf backed away from his guardian, and on the other side of the corridor he could see how Christina had dropped some of her apathy and eavesdropped on Amaya's admonishing.

No, no of course not,” he mumbled.

And every teacher in Himekaizen is an angel who wants nothing more than filling the students with divine wisdom?” Amaya continued relentlessly.

Kareyoshi. For the first time an enemy had been given a name. Kareyoshi you fuck! Ulf stared at Christina. “We have a name.”

You can't go after him,” came Amaya's silent voice. “I asked, but they forbade me.” When Ulf listened a second time he realised her voice wasn't silent because of sadness, it was silent due to hatred. “You have to convince the others as well, and,” she looked at Christina, “I've been given orders to break you two up.”

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Chapter three (segment eight), 2017, old and new

They're on their way here,” Sato-sensei said.

Yukio looked at her from his bed. By now he had recovered enough to walk around, but the nurse wanted him lying down as much as possible.

They?” Yukio wondered.

Sato-sensei looked at him. “The Wakayama twins, and the girlfriend.”

Girlfriend? Ai-chan?

OK, this is it. Up you go, kiddie.”

Yukio gave her a tired smile. With some luck he didn't look like a monster grinning at her, but with the bruises covering his face that was rather unlikely. At least they didn't hurt any more.

He shifted in his bed, moved his legs outside and stood. He was still a little wobbly, but both legs were comparatively undamaged. A fractured rib and another fracture that kept his left arm in a sling were all the lingering results from the attack. Sato-sensei said they hadn't really tried to inflict damage on him, just to scare the living daylight out of both of them. Then something went horribly wrong.

Kyoko?” he croaked.

Yes. Now or never.”

The two of them left the room and entered the corridor. Urufu and Kuri stood waiting for him there, and Yukio nodded his thanks to them.

Two days they had spent here. Two days for him and Kyoko. Who had better friends?

The doctor should be here soon,” Sato-sensei said.

Yukio could see how both Urufu and Kuri flinched at those words. He had been warned. Kyoko wasn't safe yet, and after her parent received the final verdict he and his friends had been promised to be told as well.

A tall man in a white coat came walking down the corridor towards them. He looked anything but Japanese.

The doctor is a foreigner?

He was, and he approached Yukio. “She'll live.”

Days of fear ran off him in a moment. Yukio sank to his knees. Let me look like a girl. I don't care. She'll live. Kyoko, Kyoko!

But she'll never bear children. I'm sorry.”

Who cares, she'll live!”

Yukio! That's awful!” Kuri rushed to the doctor. “Does she know? Ko-chan I mean.”

The doctor shook his head. Yukio still didn't understand what all the drama was about. Kyoko was saved. Who cared about anything else?

Urufu grabbed his arms. “We're going to have a conversation about what you're allowed to say about women and childbearing.”

Yukio didn't understand what was happening, but both the doctor and Kuri inclined their heads to Urufu. A sure sign of approval.

For every item you fail to grasp I'll personally use my fist and slug one tooth out of that grinning mouth of yours,” Urufu continued.

Yukio looked around himself for help. It didn't seem to be coming.

I'd advise against that,” the doctor said.

Finally a sane person!

Wait until I've called for a dentist.”

Kuri nodded in fervent approval.

What the hell? They just told us Kyoko's going to be all-right and suddenly everyone's going comedy central on me!

Doctor, what the young lady here just asked,” Sato-sensei said.

We will, but first we want her to wake up properly. Allow her a day before giving her that kind of shock, OK?”

At his side Kuri gasped and clutched Urufu closer to her. “Poor Kyoko!”

What's the big deal? But Yukio understood that he was being pigheaded one way or another, and watching the stricken looks on all adults present, including Kuri and Urufu, not having children apparently was a bad thing, or possibly 'Bad Thing' with capital letters. He'd ask them properly when the rush of giddiness left him. Kyoko would live. Who cared about anything else?

About the same time as the doctor turned on his heels and returned from whence he came, a door opened behind them and let angry voices into the corridor. Yukio turned to better see the disturbance.

Where are they?” Ryu's irritated voice carried over the one of an older male who apparently tried to stop him.

In here,” Sato-sensei said.

Through the door Ryu, Noriko and Ai-chan came running.

Been a while. How was hatsumode, man?” Yukio asked and hoped he sounded cool.

Yukio, what have they done to you?” Noriko answered instead, and suddenly he was covered by midget arms and bosom. “Where's Kyoko,” she said, and there was just a hint of accusation in her voice.

Shit, she doesn't know.

Takeida-san is otherwise occupied,” Sato-sensei said.

Yukio shook his head. He didn't want to downplay it like that. “Noriko, she got hurt. Badly. It was I who couldn't be by her side, not the other way around. This is nothing.” Now when he didn't care about sounding cool any longer, Yukio realised he probably did.

Kyoko, hurt?”

Yukio looked at Noriko and Kuri exchange looks. The three girls had grown so close the last months that he no longer could tell who were best friends with whom.

A few steps further away Ryu and Ai-chan held on to each other, but they didn't try to join the chaos closest to him. Ryu had something guilty in his eyes, but mostly his face showed wrath. Ai-chan looked worried more than anything else, but then she hadn't been involved with everything since the start.

Yukio grimaced. There was one thing he needed to verify. He looked at Kuri and Urufu, then at Ryu and last at Ai-chan. The third time he repeated the sequence Ryu shook his head, and Yukio had to suppose Ai-chan still hadn't been told about the arrivals.

Crap, I'm tired. I want to talk with you guys, but not with her here, he thought and looked at Ryu's girlfriend. And Kyoko's fine, or mostly fine. This time he threw a self-conscious look at Kuri and Urufu. We have to get rid of this Red Rose crap once and for all. I hate those bastards!

Because he had deduced from what Sato-sensei had said earlier. Once again Red Rose had been involved with attacking them. For the first time in his life Yukio agreed fully with Urufu's version of honour. They were going down, and this time forgiveness and redemption was no longer an option. 'While you may occasionally break your promises, never, ever, break your threats' Urufu had said.

I'll see you dead or in prison for this. I'll never rest before I do.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Chapter three (segment seven), 2017, old and new

With only a few days left until the short third school term Ryu returned to his senses after over a week's worth of luxury spent with Ai-chan.

He liked her enough to disregard everything that happened around him when he was together with her, even though he admitted that his prior crush on Kuri had been deeper.

Hence it was a rude awakening when he noticed that his sister was far too polite and silent for being her usual midget sized ball of opinionated energy. It wasn't until he asked her to join him for a double date with Ai-chan and Nao-sempai that he understood that something was wrong.

What do you mean he isn't answering,” Ryu asked as they walked out of the Shibuya station to pick up Ai-chan. Noriko had spent local train as well as the subway in sullen silence, and by now Ryu was thoroughly tired of her attitude. He hadn't done anything wrong.

Faced with a direct question she couldn't ignore it, and he watched her screwing a smile to her face before she replied. “He's in Kyoto. With Kuri.”

He's what? Ryu wondered if he should poke some more or wait until Noriko continued of her own volition. In the end he settled for the latter as he saw Ai-chan waving at him from a bench close to the statue.

Nao got caught up with whatever punishment Kuri received for spending Christmas with Urufu,” Noriko said, something that Ryu barely registered when Ai-chan rose and hugged him.

When Noriko and Ai-chan greeted each other Ryu took a look at his surroundings. Even though it was a clear day January was as stingy with its warmth as usual. A lousy two degrees barely kept things above freezing, and anything even resembling a gust of wind blew right through his coats and chilled his bones. For once he wished he had one of Urufu's atrocious jackets.

Is it colder where you used to live? Ryu doubted the polar bears, but Sweden was pretty far north. Maybe like in Hokkaido, which meant freezing your butt off.

Ryu, I heard rumours, are they true?”

Rumours? “There are a lot of rumours about me,” Ryu said and grinned.

Ai-chan gave him a playful box on his arms. “Not about you, stupid!” She smiled and laughed. “I heard some people from your school got caught up in gang violence.”

Huh? “No, not that I know of. Noriko, you?” He didn't exactly expect her to answer. It wasn't like his sister followed the rumour mill; she was just a bit too studious for that.

A sudden tug at his jacket made him turn around. Noriko stared at him with worried eyes. “Ryu, I was about to say. Thing is none of them are answering.”

'Them' could only mean one out of two things. Urufu and Kuri, or all four of their closest friends. “Kyoko or Yukio said anything?” Ryu asked to narrow down the options.

Noriko shook her head. “I can't get through to them. I was going to ask you if we should contact Sato-sensei.”

Sato-sensei? You're worried for real, aren't you? “Don't you think it's a bit rude to disturb them during break,” he said instead.

He looked at Ai-chan where she stood and looked a little abandoned. To make up for his chatting with his sister he took her hand and squeezed. He was rewarded with a smile and the feeling of her fingers hugging his. 'Don't worry,' they seemed to tell him. 'If it's your sister it can't be helped,' her smile said, but Ai-chan's eyes didn't agree.

This was our date. Sis just tagged along after we failed to reach Nao. “Sis, this isn't really a good time,” Ryu said. Noriko was the only girl he could be inconsiderate with. That was what siblings were for after all.

Noriko nodded understanding, and Ryu felt he should at least show her the courtesy to stay waving with Ai-chan until she vanished back inside the station.

After that he and Ai-chan started hunting for shops, just as they had planned from the beginning. He got a new pair of casual trousers, she a new jersey and a fluffy something only girls could really think was cute but boys had an obligation to say it was. At least if the boy wanted to be seen as someone who knew the basics, and Ryu accepted that he was one such boy.

He even allowed her to make him buy a pair of mittens that he wouldn't be seen with outside dates with her. It helped that today was abysmally cold and that the knitted horrors felt warm on his hands. It helped doubly that they had room for her hand as well.

So all in all it was a pretty good date.

But there was something.

Going down the escalators in a department store he finally caved in and grabbed his phone with his free hand. He and Ai-chan made it well into the next section before he gave up on calling any of the four of their shared friends.

Something to drink? My treat,” he offered.

Ai-chan shone up, and he left her at a table with their bags. It really was an ugly excuse to get some time away from her, but Ryu didn't want her to listen in on his next call. He didn't intend to call Urufu's guardian, but rather Principal Nakagawa who knew all about Urufu's and Kuri's real backgrounds.

This is Wakayama Ryu speaking. I wonder...” Ryu began after the old man answered his call. He got no further.

You're needed at the clinic,” Principal Nakagawa cut him off. “Your sister as well.”

After the call there was time to gulp down the drinks, but after that Ryu spent the extra cash on a taxi and made sure to pick Noriko up on the way. Ai-chan rode with him. Given the contents of that last phone-call he wasn't going to let her get back home on her own.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Chapter three (segment six), 2017, old and new

When the first roar blasted through the door Ulf rose and stared in panic around himself. At the second he forced the door open and rushed to Yukio's bed.

What the hell's going on?”

She says Kyoko's dead!” Yukio screamed and pointed at the nurse as if she had murdered his girlfriend.

It might have been comical but for the cold stone of fear that grew in Ulf's stomach.

Yukio, listen to me,” Ulf began.

No! No! No! I don't want to hear!”

Slug him? No, bad idea. His face is already all beat up. Hastily running out of options Ulf regressed to how he'd handled problems the first months since he arrived in this version of Japan. “Shut the fuck up kiddo!”

It worked, to a degree. Yukio retreated back in his bed as much as his prone position allowed.

Yukio,” Ulf started again. “There was a woman who died, but it's not Kyoko.” But Amaya lost a friend, and I don't think I should tell Yukio that just yet. And then there was the reason Ulf had a stone of fear in his stomach. “Kyoko got hurt, Yukio, but she's alive.” I hope she is, because I don't know what to do if she dies. He had to tell his friend. “Kyoko got stabbed. She's in surgery now.”

Waiting for his stunned friend to say anything Ulf mulled over Amaya's whereabouts. Probably running around Tokyo on a private manhunt pretty much like he himself had done half a year earlier. But this time it wasn't instigated by the old goat.

Kyoko's alive?”

Yes,” Ulf said. It didn't matter if that was a lie or not right now. What he needed was exactly the look Yukio just made of deflating totally in his bed.

So she's OK?”

That was the problem. Ulf didn't know. “She's in surgery. They'll tell us more later,” he said. He didn't even know if that was true or not, but he had to say something. You look like crap. What the hell happened?

For the first time Ulf got an idea how worried his friends must have been when he got assaulted behind the gym during the festival. And Christina. He had to call Christina. She didn't know about Kyoko.

Yukio, I was asked to go outside,” Ulf said and looked at the nurse who nodded assent. It wasn't the real reason, but he really, really had to make that phone-call.


Screaming bloody murder, threatening Vogue with horrible publicity every talk-show and making just about everyone understand that quitting modelling suddenly was a very real option for her, well that took two hours. Flying back to Tokyo took less.

In the end it turned out she forced her rushed return in vain, but Christina didn't care. Even if she wasn't allowed to visit Ko-chan, she could at least while away her time in the waiting room. She had done as much when Ulf got rushed to hospital. And, as a huge bonus, she found him doing just that when she arrived at the surprisingly small clinic.

Why here?” Christina asked, rather than the more natural 'How is she?' or 'Did she make it?'. Still, the hospital looked more like a small office than anything related to medical care.

Military treatment,” Ulf answered. “Kyoko got stabbed and shot, and Amaya pulled rank. She's stable now,” he finished, and Christina didn't need an explanation to understand that it wasn't Amaya who was stable.

Thank all gods! She's fine.

Only after delivering the message Christina needed to hear did Ulf rise from his chair and face her in the door opening. “I'm sorry I dragged you all into this,” he said. “I missed you,” he continued. “I want to hug you,” he finished and walked into her embrace.

Christina didn't need asking. “I've missed you as well. I love you,” she said when she wrapped her arms around his back.

Inside his world, in those arms of his, always so strangely strong and confident, pressed against his body and holding on to him for all she was worth; now she could afford to let out all the fear she had carried with her since Ulf made that first call.

He didn't let her fall even a little bit towards the floor when she sagged, and then first sobbed, and when she felt secure, opened up the flood dams and wailed like a small child. She clung to him, cried her heart out, blew her nose in his chest, cried some more and attached even more snot him, and all the while Ulf just stood there like a warm rock holding both her body and sanity above water.

How long she stood there she didn't know. In the end it was Ulf who loosened his arms around her and led her to a chair. After that he went for the bathroom, probably to clean up his stained sweater from all the unsightly things she had put there.

Christina got all the time she needed to study her surroundings, and as she did so she realised no matter how little or how much time she had it would have mattered very little. The waiting room defined the very word 'nondescript'. It took effort to create something as unmemorable as this.

She rose when he returned, and it was at that time she saw, for the first time, how worried he was.

Ulf, is there something you didn't tell me?”

He smirked, but his gaze didn't leave her eyes. “It's Yukio. He got badly beaten up as well.”

Your best friend got beaten up and you went to this clinic for my sake? “Ulf?”

He'll be fine. A few fractures. Nothing compared to what happened to me.”

That Ulf downplayed Yukio's damages by comparing them to his own made Christina want to puke.

How bad?”

Not all that bad, I promise. In fact he should be on his way here as soon as they patch him up. A day or two at most.”

Christina sat down again. Do we keep the Wakayamas out of the loop? was the first thought that struck her. Then she realised it wasn't important. At least not right now.

Christina?” Ulf said, and she broke out of her thoughts and met his eyes. “Amaya's really angry this time. I don't think I can stop her.”

Saturday, 18 June 2016

Chapter three (segment five), 2017, January

If they hadn't stopped for a last quick meal. If they hadn't walked that short-cut. If they hadn't stopped to call for help.

Kyoko wished for those ifs, but wishing and doing something about what happened right now were different things.

For the second time she watched Yukio getting beaten up when he tried to protect her, but this time they weren't anywhere close to home, or anywhere close to where they could expect any help at all.

Stop! You'll kill him! Stop!”

She wriggled in arms holding her. I difference from the last time there was no groping. Whoever held her simply made certain she didn't rush to Yukio's help.

Kyoko turned once more in her captor's hands, but his hold was too tight. She tried stomping on his feet, threw herself backwards, but nothing helped.

Only a short distance from her, on the street and curled together like a ball, Yukio received kick after vicious kick from two men. He had long since stopped screaming, and she could only hear the occasional moan when a foot hurt him especially bad.

Stop! Stop! Stop! Did I shout that? No! “Stop! Stop hurting him! Help! Help me!”

A hand made contact with her face when she gathered air to keep screeching. It searched for her mouth but missed. She wriggled again and managed to get her entire face free. “Help me! Help us! They're killing him!”

This time the hands holding her hurt. She flailed some more and screamed some more, until she received an elbow to her head. Her entire world swam, but a tiny part of her brain kept its slyness and she sagged a little more than she really needed to.

For just a moment those hand released their grip, and that was all she needed to break free. Kyoko twisted and ran. Two, three, four steps she managed before her legs were kicked away from under her. As she fell she turned in the air, and for the first time she saw her captor. Why don't you look like a monster? Why do you look so normal? Then she hit the ground and staggered back up on wobbly feet.


One of the grabbing hands had turned into a fist with a knife.

She swivelled to the left, he grabbed after her with the unarmed hand, and missed.

Yukio! “Yukio! Help!” She dove for him, but this time that hand managed to get a hold of her coat. Twisting hard Kyoko broke free once again and stumbled towards Yukio's prone body.

Her captor missed her again and growled.

He stabbed her.

Shouldn't it hurt more than this?

In the distance gunfire echoed. A ricochet grazed her head.

That hurt. I'm tired.


It stopped hurting. Then it hurt again, and Yukio woke.

What's going on. Oh, man, what's with my face? Kyoko!

A slow ache spread from his jaw to the sides of his head, and then suddenly a knife sharp pain when he tried to open his mouth.

Around him the world flashed in red and white light banishing shadows that always returned just after they fled. There were voices, some talking, some angrily shouting, and one, one that was barking frantically orders.

Urufu, why aren't you going home?

Then a man, no three men, in white and grey leaned over him. They grabbed, and it hurt again.


Hospital? This has to be a hospital. Yukio saw lamps in the ceiling move backwards, and it took him a while before he understood that he was rolled through a corridor on a stretcher.

It's stopped hurting. He tried to move his head, but it was stuck, and he couldn't see sideways at all. Some kind of metal towered above him, and from it cables and tubes flowed down onto his body like some kind of frozen waterfall.

Unlike before the world wasn't flashing. It was all white, and the only noise was subdued voices speaking something that sounded like Japanese, but there were all these strangely foreign sounding words he couldn't understand. They weren't English; Yukio would have caught at least something from it after Urufu's gruelling lessons and their walking talking sessions throughout summer and autumn.

Kyoko, where are you? “Kyoko,” he said, but her name came out wrong, and it hurt just trying to talk.

Please be silent. You're hurt and shouldn't speak right now.”

Who are you? Ah, a nurse? A doctor?

Yukio felt tired, and he groggily wondered why as he must have just woken up. The ceiling continued to move backwards and he slid back into sleep.


He's awake. Thank all gods!”

Huh, what?

This time Yukio could move his head, and his eyes found Urufu sitting on a chair by his side.

He felt dizzy, and his stomach didn't agree with him at all. A sudden wave of unease forced him to turn and he threw up.

Shit! Nurse!”

The sound of a door opening made him turn back again, and Yukio saw a woman entering. Then he was covered in blankets, and someone cleaned up beside him.

We'll need a fresh set of bedding.”

I'm on it.”

Bring a seat as well. He needs a shower.”

OK,” the second of two female voices said before it vanished out the door.

I need you to go outside.”

Of course,” Urufu answered, and Yukio saw him leave the room as well.

Young man, you have a concussion and probably a few fractures. Please be as still as possible,” the nurse who remained in the room said.

Where's Kyoko?” Sure, he was groggy and felt like crap, but that was nothing compared to not knowing what had happened to her.

Who?” came an answer he should have guessed from the beginning.

Yukio began from the start. “There were two of us. My girlfriend, she should be here somewhere waiting for me.” Because that was what he hoped. He suspected the nurse didn't know, but at least he had to chance the question anyway.

The look he got in return had his stomach in uproar all again. “She was your girlfriend? I'm so sorry.”

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Chapter three (segment four), 2017, January, Yukio

Yukio shook his head in exasperation. Urufu, I've already told you about hatsumode. With a smile on his lips Yukio tapped Urufu's shoulder. “Thank you, man.” Noriko needed that. You're a good friend.

Urufu turned at the touch, and Yukio saw how he pretended to be just as clueless as before.

Clenching his fingers around Urufu's shoulders Yukio made him to stay, and both girls slowly got ahead of them by a few steps.

You knew Nao never showed?” Yukio asked.

Urufu smirked. “Yeah, Ryu told me, and I got a text from Christina that she and Nao were tied up in Kyoto.”

Two slaps on Urufu's back later, the way Urufu usually expressed sympathy in that strange Swedish way of his, Yukio cleaned away the grimace from his face. “They're trying to break you up?”

He got a nod in return. “But not Nao and Noriko,” Urufu hurried to add. “That's just Nao jumping at the opportunity. Christina told me.”

Yukio couldn't understand why anyone would chose a job before love, but then that maybe was another of those grown up things. “Would you?” he asked, more for confirmation than anything else.

Urufu took a few steps to get closer to the girls ahead of them. “Would I what?”
Yukio caught up with him, but he wanted to know before they joined the girls in the queue. He tugged his cloak tighter around him and gave some time to his line of thought.

Would you prioritise work before Kuri?”

A cough told Yukio the question had been unexpected. “It's not that easy. At least if you're after a right or wrong kind of answer.” Urufu kicked at a stone, and Yukio saw how his lips had become a thin line. “No, I wouldn't, but at the same time I guess I'm forcing Christina to.”

That made no sense, and it stank of misogyny. “Because she's a girl?”

A sudden laugh made him turn and glance at Urufu.

Now what made you think that way? No, don't worry. Never that. It's just that she gambled everything on an opportunity last August. I don't want to make her lose it all.”

I wonder if you're not making her lose more if you push her away, Yukio thought. That thought, he realised, ironically enough was the result of spending a lot of time with Urufu and Kuri. Without their perspectives from being adults caught in teen-aged bodies he'd never have grown as fast as he did.

But I guess being an adult isn't the same as being right, or knowing everything for that matter. After all, his parents had been adults when they married, and that didn't work out in the end.

Suddenly feeling depressed he hurried away and joined the girls. Feeling Kyoko near him helped loads, and for once he wished Urufu and Kuri could just be as childishly naive as him and Kyoko.

What is it?” Kyoko asked.

Sorry,” Yukio said. “Just thinking about Urufu,” he continued and looked over his shoulder to see if his friend was joining them as well.

Urufu did walk, but he kept his distance, and his tall figure spelled out loneliness contrasted against the colourful stalls behind him.

Him and Kuri, you mean?”

Yukio turned his attention back to his girlfriend. “Yeah. I just feel bad for them.”

By his other side Noriko tugged at his sleeve. “Could we please not, not today, please,” she said.

Sorry.” Then the absurdity of his situation caught up with him, and he grinned. A girl at each side of him. Unthinkable only a year earlier, and he couldn't help but feel a little flattered.

Shortly before the came up to the shrine Urufu had joined them, and Yukio left Noriko in his care. Even is she no longer had a crush on him she probably still didn't want do her players alone.

OK, time for the funny clapping. Yukio stole a glance at Kyoko to see if she also remembered Urufu's verbal blunder. When she dropped a coin into the offerings box she turned her face to him. It was split in a grin that reached from ear to ear.

They barely managed to keep from giggling when they pulled the rope and clapped twice.

After that Kyoko led him to where they could buy fortune slips, and when Yukio paid they were joined by Urufu and Noriko. Her face was twisted into a grin as well, and it was only Urufu who managed to keep a deadpan expression while he paid for his own fortune slip.

Enjoying yourself?” Yukio asked.

Yeah, kind of. By the way, what do you do when it says your life will suck the coming year?”

Yukio leaned over and looked at Urufu's slip. “Man, that's bad! Kyoko, seems we have to get over to the trees over there.”

She pouted and waved with her slip as well. “That makes two of us,” she said.

You both got bad luck? Isn't that kind of rare?

He led Kyoko to the trees and helped her tie her bad luck charm to one of he branches. On the other side Urufu did the same after he watched what Kyoko was doing.

Feeling a little down Yukio dragged his friends and girlfriend to a stall serving amazake to make up for the unlikely outcome of their fortune telling. He even made it his treat, for which Noriko complained at first. Then she shrugged it off and led the four of them to yet another stall.

With the hot and sweet drink working its way in his stomach Yukio listened absent-mindedly to Urufu's wordy comparison with some kind of mulled wine specific to Sweden that they traditionally drank during the first half of December.

Urufu might be his best friend, but sometimes his tendencies to compare everything with Sweden honestly got tiring, and Yukio had long since gotten used to turn his ears off when yet another litany was incoming.

They ate some more hot food, listened to Urufu's incessant chatter about the absence of fireworks during the shift of years, laughed at a few bad jokes, and eventually they left the shrine, said their goodbyes and left for their homes. In Yukio's case that meant escorting Kyoko to her home before riding his bike from there.