They stayed the night. Yukio and Kyoko shared one room, and she and Urufu another. They didn’t sleep with each other, not even the way they had at the hotel. That was one of Urufu’s conditions. At least he didn’t demand that they separate their futons, and when morning came Noriko woke hugging Urufu through the linens.
Breakfast was a sombre affair with questions hanging in the air. Urufu spent most of it in silent conversation with his aunt who wasn’t his aunt, so Noriko didn’t get the time she wanted with him.
There would be other days. A lot of other days if she was to decide, and so she let him have the time he needed. She had promised him after all, even if they were a couple now. She intended to keep that promise. Reeling him in and caging him were two different things. He’d always need his own time, or she’d lose him forever.
Yukio and Kyoko were immersed in their own world of hopes and plans, and Noriko left them to it. Instead she looked out the windows at a landscape as alien to her as Urufu’s old world. Tokyo was Tokyo, a world of its own, and most of Japan was nothing like it. In ways, she suspected, that faraway city where Urufu grew up would be less alien. At least it had to be a cityscape, even if on a much smaller scale.
I wonder what Himekaizen is like now. It scares me to go back.
Not all of them would. Far from. The four of them, she knew. For most of those admitted to Irishima High there was little reason to return to the school that had abandoned them though. To the madman.
She had her own reason – he spoke with his aunt, and her brother very much a similar one. Kyoko and Yukio were bound by ties of friendship, and they had each other. And Sato-sensei. Urufu’s guardian scares me, but she’s on our side. Not everything scary was bad. But her other friends? The other club members? Why when Irishima High was a much better school?
Noriko admitted she was an idiot, but she didn’t care. As long as she had Urufu she’d make do, and he needed her. He was still broken. Healing, but broken. That probably meant Kuri was broken as well. Part of her, Noriko suspected, never left that locked classroom where a sixteen year old girl lay shuddering in tears she had brought on herself.
I moved on, or so I thought. Kuri, why? Suddenly Noriko couldn’t breathe. Urufu, where did you leave part of your soul? Because somewhere a sixteen year old boy lay whimpering in pain as well. Somewhere, but Noriko couldn’t even begin to guess where.
Accepting that he wasn’t her perfect hero had taken some time, but accepting just how deeply flawed he was would take some more. Older didn’t automatically mean better.
Somehow Noriko was happy she’d been left to her own devices. A bit of silence, a slice of strangeness and an ounce of pure joy around her was exactly what she needed to make any sense of the tumultuous last week. Sure, she’d been pushing hard for months, but everything fell in place the very last days, and despite planning for it she couldn’t cope in the end.
Not everything had gone as she planned. Definitely not the part where Kuri and Urufu shared their bodies with each other.
In the end.
He was hers.
A tinge of heat reached Noriko’s cheeks. Does that make me his? Because she had heard Kuri and him that night, and if Noriko was his, then one night... Noriko slammed a mental door on that line of thought. She refused to connect what she had heard with her fantasies about her own first time.
A few steps brought her to a strange outdoors that was still indoors.
Most girls my age have already done it. And another mental door had to be closed. She could worry about that later.
Noriko admired her surroundings. Originally designed to keep the cold out. Here it kept the heat out. A little wood, and a whole lot of glass. And sun shades. Just like at Himekaizen. Whoever once built this wanted a space that defied any definition of what was indoors and what was outdoors.
Construction? He can’t have been in construction. This is the work of an architect.
Her grandfather on her mother’s side had been one as well. Cheating winter wasn’t all new to her, but she’d never seen anything on this scale in a home.
There was some kind of commotion behind her, and Noriko left the room to find out what it was all about.
“It’s too heavy for you. If you give us a ride I’ll take care of it.”
Take care of what? Noriko looked at Urufu, and then at the huge sack at his feet. What’s that?
“You sure. You look like a city boy.”
“Look, aunt, I’ve done this before, OK?”
Urufu! For being so bright he was surprisingly stupid sometimes.
“I guess you have, after all,” their old host said. There was something awestruck in her eyes, and also something sad. “Fine, take it to the car and I’ll drive.”
“Yeah,” Urufu said and hoisted the sack onto his shoulder.
Stringy muscles on his arm, neck and back hardened and relaxed in a show of gorgeous efficiency. For a moment he struggled under the weight, far more than half her own, but then he slid one foot to the side and made for the door.
“It’s heavier than I remembered,” he said and turned his head over his free shoulder. “And I’m a bit skinnier now.” His entire body followed after his head. “But I’ll manage,” Urufu added and shot her a grin void of any sorrow, hesitation or regret. For the first time in half a year he was just a mischievous boy playing a friendly prank on her. “Thank you, Noriko,” he added, and her heart jumped.