This is bad.
Ulf walked Noriko back to her home. Not that it was really needed, but given the escalation of their conflict with the headship Ulf didn’t want to take any chances.
That conflict, however, wasn’t what was bad.
By his side Noriko shook, and tears threatened to leave her eyes. Not grief, not even sadness.
“How dare they!” Fury got the better of her and she shook again.
Ulf smiled. Christina was right, and hers was the world of appearances. Thirty years younger and he would have flatly refused to do less than his best, but he saw all kinds of problems if he suddenly scored among the thirty best.
I’ll do as you say, but not for the reason you think.
Christina’s was the world of appearances. His was one of group dynamics. If his results improved too drastically he might garner a greater reputation as the foreigner with knowledge, but at the cost of resentment, since he so obviously kept the most important parts to himself.
Well, I guess it’s about appearances after all. Ulf grinned and sent Christina a mental ironic nod.
“What are you laughing at?”
Ulf looked down at his side where Noriko still hadn’t let go of her rage.
“Sorry,” he said, “but I guess Christina is right about this.”
“Of all selfish...”
“Noriko, it’s selfish, but she’s right. I’ll do as she says for my own benefit.”
He needed to change the topic before she exploded again. Without thinking he patted her head, and she shook him off with an irritated twist of her head.
“Noriko, after high school, what are you going to do?”
She didn’t even break a step. Noriko might look a child, but as far as Ulf was concerned she was one of the most adult second years in the school.
Which was the answer Ulf had waited for. He opened his bag and took out a small plastic bag inside.
“Want a look at these?” He handed Noriko the small one.
She just gave him a quizzical stare when she accepted it.
“Toudai. Some information. I believe you have the grades to do it. I’ve heard the entrance exam can be a bit harsh, but you should be able to pass it.”
Noriko smirked, but she silently put the papers in her bag.
“No reaction?” Ulf tried.
She gave him a glare.
What did I do now?
“So you just want to send me off there doing whatever you want wherever you’ll spend your life after high school?”
I didn’t mean it that way. “Sorry. I just thought you might be interested. It’s supposed to be a good university.”
She stayed silent for a while. “Sorry,” she said. “Entrance exams are supposed to be hell.”
Ulf shrugged. It was only an exam. You could either cram it the brain dead way people did here, or you could try to understand the material. As far as entrance exams went, cramming was the way to go. They weren’t designed to properly work as vetting machines anyway.
“Look, don’t try to change the topic!”
Damn, she’s too perceptive. “I wasn’t...”
“If you think I’m a moron you’re an idiot.” This time she turned and grabbed him. “I might be in love with you, but that doesn’t turn my head to mush.”
This time Ulf caved in. Besides, she deserved better than a half arsed attempt at pretending nothing happened.
“Look, Noriko, I’m royally pissed that she’s interfering with my studies, but I have a reason to do what she says.”
“She chose her modelling career over you, but now when you’re...”
Whipping out his voice like that was too much. Ulf regretted it as soon as he had done so. Not because he refused to bark at her, but because he’d just reneged on a promise.
To his surprise she didn’t recoil. “Don’t try that with me! Dad’s a jodo san dan.”
“Jodo?” Ulf said just as he realised he’d fallen into Noriko’s trap and now danced to her tune.
“I’ve trained some, and Ryu as well. You used his staff you know. When we met.”
When we met. What a way to describe it. But it was correct. Someone had a weapon he’d used to send the kids to hospital.
“So don’t try to order me around by shouting. It doesn’t work. Now convince me Kuri’s not a first class bitch.”
Fine, I’ll do so. “Noriko, we can’t blow our cover too blatantly. She’s afraid us arrivals get pushed into the open.”
“Yeah, and so?”
You don’t really mean that. “I don’t care all that much,” Ulf lied. He didn’t intend to spend the rest of his life as a military experiment in US custody if he had a chance to avoid it. “I do care if what I do would destroy the club though.” Which was a truth.
This time she didn’t react with irritation when he placed his hand on her head. He did that almost reflexively, and it showed how hard it was for him to treat her as the woman she still hadn’t grown into. Cursing himself he removed his hand.
“Noriko,” he said after she grabbed his hand and put it back on her head. “I’m effectively the acting principal of a very small cram school, as well as a teacher.”
She nodded, and he could feel her fingers caress the back side of his hand.
Opportunist! Ulf thought, but he didn’t take back his hand. Through his insensitive stupidity she had earned the right to use it as her plaything for a little while.
“Mmm,” Noriko purred.
Damn you! But there was no anger in that thought, only the affection for an important friend. “If my own results improve too drastically, the club members are bound to think I’ve been keeping things secret to get ahead of them.”
Noriko immediately stopped playing with his hand. With a movement Ulf felt was filled with reluctance she removed I from her head.
“Why, Urufu, why are you putting the club ahead of you?”
He had waited for that question. “I’ve never done that. In my world I come first. The club is a tool. I plan to make every member gain immensely from being part of it, but in the end it’s my tool.”
Noriko looked at him. For a moment Ulf saw the woman she’d become. “Shoot! I want in.”