Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#63—'Winterhome')

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#59—'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes')

Post by Scroff » Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:26 am

I'm not at all ashamed to admit to brushing a manly tear from my eye after reading this. Misha didn't have an easy time of it in AtD so giving her many years of happiness here was wonderful.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#59—'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes')

Post by brythain » Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:21 am

I'm honoured to be the effective cause of so many manly tears. I can only say that I had good material to work from and with. :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#59—'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes')

Post by Feurox » Thu Aug 15, 2019 12:15 pm

Scroff wrote:
Mon Aug 12, 2019 8:26 am
I'm not at all ashamed to admit to brushing a manly tear from my eye after reading this. Misha didn't have an easy time of it in AtD so giving her many years of happiness here was wonderful.
brythain wrote:
Thu Aug 15, 2019 11:21 am
I'm honoured to be the effective cause of so many manly tears. I can only say that I had good material to work from and with. :)
We've got to stop making Scroff cry Brythain... :lol:

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#60—'Roofrunning')

Post by brythain » Sun Sep 22, 2019 3:39 am

The following post was written in response to Stiles Long's writing contest. Each participant was given a list of KS character pairings and a list of locations. One of each was chosen for this fic. There were a limited set of options available to participants in the contest and it may be that this fic resembles others. Any such resemblance is coincidental.
Kenji spends a lot of time on the roof. Why?


Roofrunning

“Well, shit, it serves you right. You knocked down that kid, running around like the usual idiot you are. Now he’s back to square one just after heading for square two, you know what I mean? You’re lucky he’s not dead.”

The smaller girl burst into tears. “How am I supposed to know what you mean?? Nurse won’t talk to me, Coach won’t talk to me, and I’m… I’m… barred from the track till further notice! For at least THREE WEEKS!!!”

The taller girl sighed. “Hey now, that last one, that’s tough. I’ve seen it on your face, last few days. I wouldn’t be talking to you otherwise. We’re not exactly friends.”

“Miura, you’re the only runner in that class! Can’t you talk to Hakamichi for me? Maybe she can talk to the Principal? If I don’t run, I’ve got nothing to live for!”

“Ibarazaki, to tell you the truth, if you don’t run, I’ve got nobody I want to beat.”

“In three weeks, you could probably beat me with a walking stick.”

“Beat you with a stick? Sounds good.”

“I didn’t mean that! I mean, if I don’t train, I’ll be useless at the next meet.”

“And I’d win it, but not fair and square the way I’d normally do.”

“Ha! You’d never win it if I could train,” Emi Ibarazaki said, her pigtails swinging furiously while she glared daggers. She turned on one composite heel and stomped off, the floor vibrating under her departing tread.

Miki Miura grinned, then frowned. Much as she liked to see her rival’s discomfiture, there wasn’t much she enjoyed more than winning a hard-fought race. Having Emi lose from enforced lack of training was a bummer. Thoughtfully, she tightened the elastic bandage on her left arm and raised an eyebrow to herself.

*****

Dark night, dark city. I am the hunter of the wicked, the scourge of evil, the bane of feminists. From the heights of the world, I will descend on those who deserve my wrath. Let those who deserve to fear, fear me. For I am the…

“Argh! Let go of me you evil bitch!!”

“Hey, Kenji!”

“No! Never! You’re an underhanded cold-hearted witch!”

“Come back here!”

Upon the rooftops, no man can evade my gaze, the gaze of justice. For while justice is blind, still it sees all, and even though the scales of justice are delicate, the judgement they bring is the force of the law, and all men must bow before…

“Woman! Unhand me!”

“It’s nice that you still think I’m a woman, Kenji. I think you’re quite a man. Don’t run away from me!”

“No! What? No! I know what evil power you keep hidden beneath those bandages! It is the ancient Egyptian power of the dead! You’re Mummy Miki Miura, everyone knows that!”

“Aww, c’mon Kenji, I only need a small favour. And only you, the manliest man of them all, can give it to me!”

“I’m not letting you go full Mummy on me!”

“Don’t flatter yourself, Kenji, I’m not letting you make me a Mummy.”

“Lies, Miki! I saw what you did to the new kid! He’s in a coma, where that deceptive two-faced fake medico is keeping him under heavy sedation until he joins the ranks of your brainwashed male feminists!”

“Well, that wasn’t me. I don’t do that kind of shit, he’s not in a coma, and he’s not a feminist. He got knocked down by a fembot, as you should very well know!”

“A fembot?! You’ve led them right to me! You were distracting me all along! How could I have trusted you?!”

“But you’ve never trusted me!”

“Not since that night!”

“We were both drunk!”

“Argh!” Kenji screamed and broke free.

“Shit!”

I run through the night. When I was a younger hero, I fell once or twice, but I always rose again. Dark night, dark city. I am its avenger, its sword of doom against the corruption of the ages! I am…

“Kenji! Listen to me! I’m not the threat you think…”

Miki stopped dead in her tracks.

“I’ll be damned!” she whispered to herself as she saw the blanket-cloaked figure land silently on the roof of the next block and vanish into the gloom. “He really is a hell of an athlete. How the heck does he do it on nothing but pizza and whisky?”

*****

“You want to meet me up on the roof tonight? With my running legs? What the heck for? You can always join me and Rin for lunch if you want. Not that you need to be around.”

“Ibarazaki, do you want to train or not?”

“Miura, Coach has banned me from every school facility, and if she catches me loitering anywhere near any of them, it’ll be a darned sight more than three weeks! I’d be lucky to run ever again!”

“I’ve got a personal trainer. And trust me, he’ll give you a helluva workout.”

“Oho! You pervert!”

“No, it’s not like that!”

“I don’t trust you, Miura!”

“What’s it with you people and your trust issues? Dammit, you meet me up there tonight at midnight—and if you don’t, I won’t give a shit any more about helping a fellow runner.”

“It sounds so sketchy!”

“Fuck off then, Ibarazaki! I guess I’ll just have to anchor the sprint relays instead of you.”

“Miura!”

“Go to hell!”

*****

Why on earth am I up here on the roof? It’s ridiculous. I’m Emi Ibarazaki, fastest thing on no legs! One day I’ll run again, and I’ll beat that conniving Miura with one hand tied behind my back just to show her…

“Ibarazaki, you there?”

Speaking of which, how the heck did she get me to go along with this?

“Yeah, I’m here. Where’s this superstar secret coach of yours?”

“Ta-da! Look over there in the corner, skulking behind the potted plants.”

Emi squinted into the shadows cast by the night security lights. That shape looked somewhat familiar. Where had she seen that profile before? Maybe it was one of the people she’d knocked down over the years.

“What? No! Are you out of your mind?” she hissed furiously. “Isn’t that the weirdo from 3-2, the one who’s always staring creepily at Lilly Satou as she walks past?”

“Calm down, Ibarazaki. He’s pretty short-sighted, has to use special lenses, that’s why he looks as if he’s staring creepily at people when he’s not.”

Hands on hips, Emi glared at her rival. “How come you know so much about him, and what’s he doing here? He’s no coach! I don’t think he even goes for P.E.!”

“Well, he has wonderful fucking secret. And I, Marvellous Miss Miki Miura, am very good at finding out people’s damn secrets.”

“Secret?”

“Yeah. Watch this.”

Miki took two steps towards the figure in the shrubbery. “Hey, Kenji. Guess what? I’ve brought the fembot.”

“Argh! Treachery! You said she was deactivated! You’ve betrayed the Feral Brotherhood Of Nightrunners!”

Kenji turned swiftly and leapt to the edge of the roof. He teetered for a moment, but just as Emi was about to scream, he seemed to flow across the gap between the ladies’ dorm and his own. His distant silhouette now established on the other side, he flapped his arms in an absurd parody of a victory dance and sprinted away like a demented turkey.

Miki closed her eyes and shook her head. “This is gonna take a bit more work than I thought, Ibarazaki.”

“What the hell was that?!”

And can I learn how to do it?

*****

“Kenji, she is deactivated. They grounded her and her circuits are done. Now she can be a practice bot for you.”

“No! It’s a trick! When you told me you had sworn yourself to the Brotherhood by sacrificing a hand, it was all lies, wasn’t it?!”

Miki looked deep into his eyes and tried on her best puppy-dog look. She’d never beat Emi at that, but she was damned if she wouldn’t give it her best shot.

“Kenji, look at me. I have only one hand now. Would anybody do that just to play a trick on you?”

“Ha! But your other hand is lethal, it’s dangerous, it can suck the life force out of a man!”

“That it can… but… wait, Kenji! Come back!”

Miki sighed. It was going to be another late night, and her grades were already tasting the mud on the floor. Not to mention, she had an overpowering urge to wash her remaining hand very, very thoroughly.

*****

“Bot. I command you, stand still!”

“What? Miura, what the hell is he saying?”

“Shhh! Let me do the talking.”

“Ssstop whisssspering!” hissed the cowled figure on the parapet.

“Dark Avenger, I have brought your training fembot to you.”

“What?? Fembot?!”

“It ssssseeeeeemmmmss that she is dissssobedient.”

“Erm, no, she is pretty obedient. When they stopped her circuits, she went a little deaf.”

“I’m not shouting my secret plans into her ears,” said Kenji firmly.

“You don’t have to. We can tune her pickup.”

“Pickup?!!”

“Shut up!”

Miki glowered at her rival, who was already glowering in the gloom. If anyone there wasn’t glowering, they would have felt quite left out.

“Ha! A lot of training to do, then. Fembot, you’re not human, so if you sexed a human, you wouldn’t consume their life-force, right?”

“Not human? Sexed?! Life-force?!! I’ll give you life-force!”

No longer capable of restraint, Emi launched herself at the Dark Avenger.

Three things happened shortly thereafter.

Miki released a heartfelt and very loud, “Oh shit!”

Kenji swirled his cloak dramatically around him and leapt off the parapet.

And Emi charged through the empty space where Kenji had been standing scant seconds before.

*****

“Oh, thank Buddha and all the bodhisattvas. You’re alive.”

“I have to admit, hurdles and long jump aren’t my events.”

“Did you catch him?”

“Once. Then he dived into a third-storey window and I lost him. He’s a maniac!”

“Did you have fun?”

“Damn, Miura, that was the most fun I’ve had since I lapped you in the 4x400.”

“You did not!”

“Okay, it’s the most fun I’ve ever had, then.”

“Just remember, you never beat me in any 400m race.”

“You don’t run 400m anymore, must be a reason.”

“Ah, fuck off.”

*****

Dark night, dark city. Even darker school. I sit on Mount Aoba and consider the memory of the great warlord Masamune Date, the One-Eyed Dragon of Oshu. Only one eye, but he saw everything. And I will continue his legacy, watching without watching, alert always to the threat of…

Kenji felt a disturbance in the force. He rose silently to his feet.

“Hi, it’s me. I just wanted to…”

“Fembot, I am immune to your Feminine Wile software!”

“What? Why do you keep calling me a ‘fembot’?”

“I know that you machines would prefer I thought of you as human, but I can only feel pity that you’re not truly so. Look at your carbon-fibre composites and titanium bones, you have no true soul!”

“I don’t get it, but I wanted to thank you for the run last night.”

“Fembot, you’re pathetic, you will never catch me!”

“Them’s fighting words, moron. Haaaaaarrgh!”

These training exercises, they build a man’s immortal spirit. The one-handed succubus, no matter how unclean her motives, she has found a worthy test for me. I will respect that.

As if he had a sixth sense, Kenji evaded the lunge and danced nimbly across a table and onto the parapet. A quick flick of his reinforced scarf, a moment of vertiginous suspension over innocently patrolling night guards, and he was on his way to the next block.

Fire in her eyes, Emi narrowed her gaze and sprinted for the roof’s edge. Her composite legs flexed as she sprang through the air. By the time she hit the other roof, her adversary was on the run.

He’s quite a runner. Where the hell did he develop the skills?

She’d catch him for sure now. This roof was perfectly flat, and unlike that on the girls’ dormitory building, it had a security fence on the sides facing the hillside and the forest.

“Ha! I am more than your match, fembot!”

“Come down right now, and we’ll find out!”

Kenji looked down at her from the top of the security fence. “I think not. Everyone knows that at close quarters, fembots are deadly. Even with my lacquered body-armour and superior masculine fighting skills, I am not made of carbon-fibre composite materials.”

Daintily, he picked his way along the narrow steel framework on which the fence was mounted. “Thanks for the preview, fembot. This was only a short run. Even if we started at the gift shop or the swimming pool, I’d beat you to my home roof.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Of course. I am the Dark Avenger.”

“I’ll see you tomorrow night at the museum, moron!”

“Any time, fembot.”

*****

“Miss Ibarazaki, what can you tell me about pyroclastic aquifers?”

“Hm?”

“Have you been paying attention at all? It has been one whole week in which your usual lack of academic concern has been replaced by total indifference to life in the classroom.”

“Erm…”

“Go and wash your face. Come back and when you have a more coherent answer, we can decide on whether you have detention class after school or not.”

“Sorry, Miss Haraoka.”

*****

“I can’t keep chasing you around the school at night.”

“Then don’t! I release you from your programming.”

“It doesn’t work that way. My grades suck. I might beat Miura on the track, but I’d hate to lose to her at studies!”

“You can just download stuff from the internet into your brain.”

“I wish!”

“Right. Your circuits are broken.”

“Broken?”

“You’re a sad, pitiful shell of a has-been fembot.”

“You… what? Aarrrrggghhh!”

“Get your hands off me! I let my guard down just once to give you some advice and you…”

Kenji wriggled free, his marginally superior mass winning out over Emi’s unfocussed fury.

“We can do this every night, fembot, and I’ll keep winning!”

*****

‘Exhilaration.’ She’d looked it up in English class. In English, it meant ‘something that made your hair stand up’—or at least, it was what she thought the dictionary was trying to say.

That’s what she’d felt for the last few nights. She’d never been able to get in more than a touch, occasionally a few seconds. But something was happening.

“Nurse, you know how you smell something, and it makes you feel something?”

“Oho! Like when you smell your mother’s bento, the one when she sprinkles cherry blossom petals on the rice, and your saliva leaks out?”

“That’s gross!”

“Or maybe when I smell cherry blossom, and everything leaks out?”

“Euuuuwww, that’s even more gross!”

“Maybe you’re having an olfactory hallucination, or olfactory-induced hallucination.”

“Wha-at? Stop throwing confusing language at me!”

“Emi, is it lemons this time?”

“Nurse!!”

The Chief Nursing Officer at Yamaku stood up and stretched, almost like a cat.

“Miss Ibarazaki, will that be all?”

She looked so downcast that he almost felt sorry for her.

“Nurse, it’s pizza. I smell pizza everywhere. It’s like it’s following me around, and it’s… it’s… ”

“Cough it up, young lady.”

It’s turning me on.

For once in his life, Nurse was left completely speechless for more than a few seconds.

*****

Dark night, dark city. The distant streetlamps beckon. I see the neon of the city below. It is tainted with the rich sweet scent of corruption. A true Japanese restaurant would never call itself ‘The Shanghai’. A true purveyor of curios would never call himself ‘Othello’, nor make jokes about it when asked. And what does, “You will always want more things,” mean in that context anyway? It is as bad as the Scottish mafia and the Catholic church. But as for me, I will remain…

“Ha! You almost got me that time!”

“I’m beginning to enjoy this!”

“No! Your kind cannot really enjoy anything! You have no souls!”

“Oh, really?”

“Aaaaargh!”

At the back of his mind, Kenji Setou was beginning to have flashbacks to the innocent days of his youth, when he’d watch cartoons in which one animated creature chased another around a pastel landscape. He felt strangely alive. A worthy foe, at last!

He laughed as he leapt across the gap to the cafeteria roof. It was a mistake—he knew at once that his wind was gone. And there, she trapped him.

*****

“Emi, you’re glowing.”

“Rin, shut up.”

“You look like you’ve been to the track shed at night again.”

“Rin, shut up!”

“Have you been doing the thing which I don’t have words for because it makes my soul itch?”

“I’ve been training!”

“It’s okay. Nobody likes talking about things that make their souls itch.”

*****

The evil in mankind is profound. The only reason to have congress with feminine robots is that feminine humans are more evil and drain a man’s life-force. Even so, fembots are fembots. One should remember that they are deadly at close range.

“Setou, how the heck did you get up there??”

“A true warrior never shares his secrets.”

“I’m coming for you.”

“You don’t have to come for anybody.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Here we go again.”

*****

“Thanks for everything, Miura.”

“Ibarazaki? Thanking me? Wow, even Marvellous Miss Miki Miura is surprised.”

“It’s been a great experience! You should try cross-country training more often.”

“Nah, I’ll still be gunning for you in the sprints.”

“I’ve decided to train for the long jump and hurdles.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope. I’ve been inspired to conquer other heights. Your funny friend, he’s taught me a lot.”

“Oooooooooh, does that mean what I think it means?”

Emi blushed, but only a little. “Yeah, he’ll always have a little pizza me.”

=====
alt index
Last edited by brythain on Sat Oct 05, 2019 9:42 am, edited 2 times in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#60—'Roofrunning')

Post by NuclearStudent » Tue Sep 24, 2019 3:23 am

thanks I hate it

classic brythian pun

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Feurox
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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#60—'Roofrunning')

Post by Feurox » Fri Oct 04, 2019 3:41 pm

Competition over. Congratulations Brythain. Truly. This story was some seriously good fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's quite light-hearted, and if I'm honest, I doubt the practicality of running-blades for roof-running - and I'm sceptical of Roof-running as a form of exercise anyway, but the heart-warming essence of this story supersedes that. I utterly adore the idea that much to Kenji's ignorance, he's a massive help for Emi's morale (and by implication Miki).

Seriously, a wonderful story. Thank you for writing it Bry, and again, congrats.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#60—'Roofrunning')

Post by Hanako Fancopter » Fri Oct 04, 2019 10:31 pm

Miki and Kenji, huh.... now there's a pairing with some potential. And you showed us such! Nice story!
An Unusual Friendship (Misha x Hanako Route)
Riposte (Rika Mini-Route)
One-Shots Thread (Random Smut/Meme Stories)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#60—'Roofrunning')

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 05, 2019 1:48 pm

Thank you, gentlepeople, for your kind comments. Yes, this was uncharacteristically frivolous of me, but I enjoyed it and I'm glad you did too! :)
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by brythain » Sat Oct 26, 2019 1:32 pm

The following post was written in response to Stiles Long's writing contest. Each participant was given a list of KS character pairings and a list of locations. One of each was chosen for this fic. There were a limited set of options available to participants in the contest and it may be that this fic resembles others. Any such resemblance is coincidental.
This is connected in some ways to '72 Hours', which is partly about Saki, and partly about something weirder.
This one has Suzu in it, so…



Paralysis

I am an obsessive list-maker with a list of things to do. Some time ago, I decided to switch to a laptop, even though I’ve always preferred a fountain pen or a brush. Laptop keys are easier to handle, for me.

I look at my list. Moriko, bless her horribly mixed-race heart, has got me a font so that the text at least looks like my horribly fashionable calligraphy. No point being sad about it—there are reminders of my diminished status everywhere.

I might be eighteen going on eighty-eight. The end is in sight, and the sight is at an end. I write poetry, badly; I paint lovely pictures that are now unsightly. I started porcelain painting, but that’s now too depressing.

And I look at my list. Taro? Check. Ritsu? Check. Shizune Hakamichi, my heir and successor who will be only too happy to take over as class rep? Check. I’ve checked off so many. I point my index finger at the list. Bang! Another crossed out. It’s a check-off gun. Yeah, one of my patented literary jokes.

Who shall I do today? Miki? No, not quite up to it; besides, that part’s easy. Wait. Yes, of course. Sigh.

*****

“Well, she was just seventeen, you know what I mean…”

Mutou looked at his younger friend grimly. “This is no time for your strange musical jokes, Goro. Is she going to be all right or not?”

“I asked you what had happened, and you said that you just saw her standing there, so…”

“Well?”

Nurse grinned. “Our aqua-tinted friend got tired, she fainted. Fortunately, the one-armed bandit caught her before she fell more than one flight. A small emergency.”

“How is she?”

“She’ll be fine. A bit concussed, some bumps and bruises, nothing broken. I’ll let her have visitors starting tomorrow. Best she sleep through tonight, if she can.”

“Let me know when she comes round.”

“She’ll be coming round the… sorry.”

Mutou rolled his eyes. Nurse’s oddly inappropriate sense of humour could be tiring at times. At least nothing serious had happened to Suzu. Yet.

*****

I’m Suzu Suzuki, Four of Five—always happy to be alive. I fall down the stairs, I get up again, no luck with women, no luck with men.

Where’s my head? Oh yes, in bed. Which smells like hell of antiseptic, that’s the life of a narcoleptic.

Hey! Hey who? That’s not me making hey, that must be you, or it must be… they.

“Suzu!”

“Oh hello,” I say, finding my outside voice. Things are becoming focused, or coming into focus. “Honey blonde, good dye job. Saki!”

“How are you?”

“Can only move my mouth, but that’s all I need, as the hooker said to the bishop.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Saki, you aren’t always this chatty, right? Do you expect me to return the favour?”

“I heard you couldn’t be moved. Concussion.”

“Ahahaha. Actually, I have these episodes where I don’t feel like moving, and I lie here enjoying the feeling of helplessness and inability to summon the effort to move my limbs. Apart from that, I’m fine.”

“I had to talk to you. Sorry you’re in this situation. Probably better though, since you can’t run away from me.”

“Run away from you? Why would I? I normally stay far enough away from you to not have to run.”

“We’ve had good times before.”

That gets to me. It gets to something deep inside. It gets to something very deep that I have tried to hide.

I try to raise my disobedient head and look at her, but all I can manage is, “What? Why are you saying that?”

“Because it’s true, and I’m sorry and I’ve got to go.”

“Now you’re sounding a lot like Hanako.”

“Still with the rhymes, dear Suzu? You’ll never change, and I hope that remains true.”

“My outside voice is in prose, mostly. But sometimes I speak in haiku.”

“If I can see you one last time, I will. Otherwise, best of luck. Remember: guillotine, corsage, horseshoe, chameleon.”

Ow. When I wake up, it’s dark and cold in the medical centre’s ‘cargo hold’. I don’t know why there are tears in my eyes—all that is happening is quite a surprise.

*****

“She slept like a baby, your student did.”

Mutou raised an eyebrow over his raised whisky tumbler. He was a Tsingtao man, but sometimes life needed a shot in the arm.

“Yep, totally out. Your class rep visited her, they had a nice chat, then Suzuki just rolled over and went to sleep. Enomoto kept talking for a while, but there was no further response. It’s as if she just didn’t want to talk to Enomoto anymore.”

“Hmm. That’s interesting. They were friends back in First Year, then in Second Year, they…”

A frown appeared on the science teacher’s face as he tried to find the right words.

“Broke up?”

“Not the words I would use, but something along those lines.”

“The two have something in common, as you know. They’d suffer from spells of inability to move, which can be quite frightening. Suzuki got a support group—the people who sit around her in class. Enomoto isolated herself, and when it got extreme, the two of them just got more distant.”

“Should I be prepared for the worst?”

“Yes. It will come soon. I’ve already signed the transfer documents. Enomoto will be going home soon. She wants to take the special entrance examinations, although she’ll probably not see university.”

“That’s sad. The girl has a wide range of talents, and a precious love of learning.”

“My friend, you know what we’ve signed up for in this school. Some of them just won’t make it. And some leave nothing behind at all.”

Mutou raised his glass. “Memory eternal, to all of them.”

Nurse raised his can. “Memory eternal. You have more Sapporo in your fridge?”

*****

It happens one peaceful night in 2009, just as the sakura season begins in Osaka. As the lights dim and flicker, and just before the red ones come on and the beeping begins to get furious, an electronic signal is sent out. It releases a message.

Sometimes, complicated people do devious things. And they have complicated friendships that require it.

*****

In 2008, Miki Miura is busy, and not in a good way. In fact, she has gone in such a way that it is likely her friends will not want to know her. She lets people touch her, and she shuts it out, and she makes a living. There are people who love a cripple in their own sad way. There are many ways towards eternity.

In March 2009, she is in a much better state. She is finding a life for herself, doing something happier. But her phone beeps during an off-hour, when she was falling asleep, and a message appears, with some instructions and words of thanks.

“What the fuck,” says Miki tiredly to herself. But because it’s such a strange message and a personal one, she calls Suzumiya Suzuki, because friendships don’t die so easily. There are tears in her eyes before she calls, and even she doesn’t know who those tears are for.

*****

I’m Suzu Suzuki, Four of Five—always happy to be alive! That’s not quite true, as my four sisters know, but I’ll run with the sun and go with the flow. That’s interesting, my phone is a-ringing, my social life isn’t exactly swinging.

“Hello?”

“Hey, sleepy Suzu, it’s marvelous Miki Miura here. It’s been a long time! How are ya?”

“Miki! It’s been a year since we last spoke! How’s your work in the big city?”

There’s a curious silence that promises violence, a large lump of quiet so big you can’t tie it.

“Didn’t quite work out, but I finally got a place to stay with a roof over my head. One day I’ll tell you more. Maybe. Anyway, I got this fucking weird message from an old friend. Well, sort of.”

“What kind of message?”

“I’m gonna tell you something, then hang up.”

“What? Hey, what?”

“Guillotine, corsage, horseshoe, chameleon.”

*****

The last few minutes drain from Suzu’s mind, as the paralysis takes hold. Miki hangs up. She hangs up. Something begins to unspool in her head. She’ll wake up, free at last, and there’ll be something left behind.

*****

Dearest Suzu,

If you’re reading this, then it’s finally happened. I can’t move anymore, I can’t speak anymore, and my emergency is greater than yours. What I’m doing now is a big ask, the ultimate selfishness I’ve ever imposed on you, and I’m sorry for that.

There’s nothing more personal than to share one’s body with another, and there’s no greater loss than to not share what was once freely shared. So I had a difficult time convincing myself that I could do this at all, and that it would be fine if I did it to you. I’m still not sure.

This is me, Saki Enomoto, vulnerable and alone, naked in your head. Or at least, it’s the part of me that I’ve shared with you, but selfishly did not tell you about. And now that I’m in my last few days, it’s time to remove this last intrusion, this last unwanted sharing in your head.

It’s called a post-hypnotic suggestion. Some people say you can only be hypnotized if you really want it, subconsciously. I’m going to bet that you do want it; if you don’t it won’t happen. And if it doesn’t happen, it’s no loss to you, and it won’t matter to me, since I’m going anyway, and I’ve made my peace.

All this elaborate effort, for what? Well, it’s to say that I still do love you, I’ve loved you, and knowing that I was dying, I decided to avoid loving anyone else again. That included you, and I didn’t tell you. I couldn’t tell you. You would just have tried to hold on till the end.

Yet, that’s what I did. I’m doing this very selfish thing because I can’t bear not to hold on to the end. So when you were half-conscious in the Medical Centre, I decided to plant my last goodbye in your head. Right now, you’ve taken out the blank piece of handmade mulberry paper and removed it from its plastic wrapper. You’re writing this with the pen I gave you, that somehow you always kept with you without really wanting to get rid of it. If the ink’s dried up, well, that’s something I couldn’t fix. I’ll just hope you press hard enough to make it visible.

Suzu, you have been the brightest fixed star in the bowl of my night. And now that bowl has just gotten darker, and is almost completely black. There is one last fire in that darkness, and it’s my dream of you. You and I, and a small house along a beach, and a little cat who kept interrupting us while we laughed and ate cherries. In my mind, the house disappears, one white plank at a time, each brick, each window. The cat walks away. The cherry stones lie lonely in their bowl, and then they too vanish.

I’m holding your hand. You’re holding mine. We move each other’s hands, and everything else falls away in the heat. Neither of us can move, for one brief moment. And then it all unwinds in your memory, and flows out through this writing, and that is you and me forever.

The air is cold outside. And soon it will be cold inside. Remember me, if you will. Goodbye, my Suzu.

Saki

******

I’m Suzu Suzuki, Four of Five—always happy to be alive! That’s not quite true, as my four sisters know, but I’ll run with the sun and go with the flow.

What is this stuff I seem to have written? A doodle of a bowl and a kitten…


END



Note: ‘paralysis’ comes from the Greek for ‘broken down on one side’.

=====
alt index
Last edited by brythain on Sat Oct 26, 2019 9:33 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by Razoredge » Sat Oct 26, 2019 1:52 pm

Well, I have to say, this is really a beautiful piece. That's fucking sad, but beautiful as the same time. You managed to make me sad, which is a hard thing, to be honest.

I really liked how you have written this letter, such as the rest of this piece, sad and beautiful.
You did it well, really.
Lilly = Akira > Miki = Hanako > Emi > Rin > Shizune

Stuff I'm currently writing : Beyond the haze : A Lilly Satou pseudo-route, Razor's One Shots & misc. & Sakura Blossom

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by Scroff » Sun Oct 27, 2019 3:10 pm

While reading this beautiful story it occurred to me that After the Dream is a fractal rather than a mosaic: wherever you look there's more and more intricate, surprising detail to be found.

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by brythain » Mon Oct 28, 2019 6:40 am

Very recently, I had a death in my family—the day I wrote this piece, in fact. Actually, the last few years have been pretty bad.
Some of that has come out in the five years that I've been writing KS fanfic, and it has honed my art somewhat.
So when I read the wonderful comments that people have written about my writing, I just want to write more.
Thanks very much, people!
Razoredge wrote:
Sat Oct 26, 2019 1:52 pm
Well, I have to say, this is really a beautiful piece. That's fucking sad, but beautiful as the same time. You managed to make me sad, which is a hard thing, to be honest.

I really liked how you have written this letter, such as the rest of this piece, sad and beautiful.
You did it well, really.
I was thinking that's indeed an achievement. I'm happy you had that particular type of enjoyment out of it!
Scroff wrote:
Sun Oct 27, 2019 3:10 pm
While reading this beautiful story it occurred to me that After the Dream is a fractal rather than a mosaic: wherever you look there's more and more intricate, surprising detail to be found.
It's like life. There will always be more details, and they surprise me too. When I write characters, sometimes it's as if they sit down with me for a jam session, an interview, or a quiet meal.
Last edited by brythain on Mon Oct 28, 2019 9:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by Feurox » Mon Oct 28, 2019 7:14 am

This was a wonderful story, if actually quite heartbreaking. I’ve been thinking about doing another Saki story myself, and this certainly captures the trapped poetic beauty i’m aiming for. Suzu’s final act of reading the letter, and then drawing subconsciously, I can see them with Suzu gently crying, and somehow being given a small carthasis.

Brythain, simply wonderful. Thank you for writing it.

Oh, and I’m not your judge, just thought I’d leave my thoughts anyway.

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brythain
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Re: Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#61—'Paralysis')

Post by brythain » Mon Oct 28, 2019 9:58 pm

Feurox wrote:
Mon Oct 28, 2019 7:14 am
This was a wonderful story, if actually quite heartbreaking. I’ve been thinking about doing another Saki story myself, and this certainly captures the trapped poetic beauty i’m aiming for. Suzu’s final act of reading the letter, and then drawing subconsciously, I can see them with Suzu gently crying, and somehow being given a small carthasis.

Brythain, simply wonderful. Thank you for writing it.

Oh, and I’m not your judge, just thought I’d leave my thoughts anyway.
Trapped poetic beauty is very close to it; Saki has immortalised herself by remote action. At the same time, it's purgative for Suzu, and she can now get on with her life, free of what encumbered her unknowingly. Thanks!
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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Alt Dreams [One-Shots] (#62—'Secrets')

Post by brythain » Wed Dec 25, 2019 4:47 am

This one's written belatedly for the 2018 Secret Santa project initiated by ProfAllister. I’m not a good ‘fluff’ writer, so I apologise in advance. It's also rather fragmented, I'm afraid. Too much to write, too little time. :(

Victim: Vekter

Prompt: I'd like some fluff/cute Hisao x Misha stuff, something after they leave school preferably.



Secrets
—a tale of hard lessons learnt softly

—warning: the word ‘learnt’ appears quite a bit

They’d graduated from Yamaku! Somehow, finals, and then a last great picture snapped by Yuuko, with all three of them in triumphant pose. Then came the problem of what to do after high school. And the years began to grind at them, as the years begin to grind at anyone who has lived past the age of 18 or so.

***

He’d been a great student, once. Then came winter, and discouragement, and near-death. He’d worked up to being a good student, he’d scraped into a good school somehow, despite his weakness, his despicable selfishness, his…

Hisao threw the compact little book across the room. Its pages fluttered briefly in the air, as if trying to avoid destruction. With a thud and a puff of white dust, the book hit the wall and dropped to the old carpeting. The flimsy green cover of the Handbook of Poisoning creased sharply on impact, and then there was silence.

In days past, he would have hated himself for so much as folding a page. Now, he looked at the sprawled textbook and felt nothing but ugly happiness. “That is what you deserve,” he muttered, grabbing his jacket and keys and wallet, and making sure to slam the door shut on his way out.

***

It was never enough. Who knew that everything would be so expensive? Even with her extra sources of income, she felt stretched. She ought to have been slimmer, thin like her worn-out old stockings, but she was just out of shape. Well, like the same stockings. At the bar, some had learnt to leave her alone while she was working, but others still tried to touch her. She’d learnt some tricks from the girls, and others from some of Hisao’s textbooks. The regulars had figured out how to make it easier for her, and some had even contributed extra. Tokyo was a funny place, but Komaba was relatively pleasant.

Thank heaven for strange uncle-type characters with lots of money, she smiled. It was not the innocent smile of her youth.

***

They were hardly ever at home together, mused Hisao. She worked late hours, he worked until late. There was this badly defined hour of the day, ‘late’, and it normally was somewhere around 6-10 pm, depending on whether it was ‘early late’ or ‘late late’. But it was the time he got home, and she left for work. The only time they were ever together was the other badly defined hour of the day, ‘early’. This was somewhere around ‘breakfast’, the meal they most frequently shared. He had no idea when that was, except that it had mostly some morning sunlight in it.

Thank heaven that it would all soon be over. And thank heaven for parents who could help pay suburban apartment rent for a young cripple and his girlfriend. All that money. For what?

***

There was a man whom she’d come to know. Someone else’s husband. As always, he was trying, and sometimes succeeding, at being a sinister figure in the corner. She sat down in the shadows at a right angle to him, where she could keep an eye on the rest of the room while eking out the precious hours.

“Did you bring the book?”

“Yes.”

“Show me.”

She’d open the book, and money would change hands, and he’d grunt and slip out the side door. She’d follow, moments later. They would get into the car. He’d be a maniac. They’d sometimes be joined by someone else. It was a living, a weird kind of living in which good money came out of thin air and weariness, and put warm food on your plate.

In three years, she’d become familiar with Saitama somewhat, and developed terrible images of Santa Claus. Without her closest friend, she’d have been lost long ago. But she was good at compartmentalising, and it’d all be over soon, anyway. She hoped it would lead to better things.

***

It had been a shock to him, the letter from out of the blue.

Code: Select all

Esteemed friend:
Your health and prosperity.

You’ll remember me, your friend from Yamaku. I warned you long ago about the conspiracy of feminists. I feel that honour must be served, so I am warning you again. Trust nobody. The feminists are still at work, no matter how hard you think you are studying, they are studying harder. They will take you by surprise.

Beware the flash of steel. Beware the enemy who is your friend, and the friend who is your enemy. Remember that even when the drills are removed, the instrument has potential to sow chaos. Better you hold the instrument tightly, than the instrument enslave you.

From one who knows.
A letter, not even an email. Of course, Hisao knew exactly who ‘one who knows’ was. At the end of their time in Yamaku, Kenji had not even attended graduation. He had just disappeared. Then again, so had most of his friends, whether from Yokohama before Yamaku, or from Yamaku itself.

Hisao had been glad he’d kept one. Now, he was not so sure. But with finals only weeks away, he was trying to banish all personal doubts and fears, and aim like an arrow for nothing but the centre spot—graduation from Todai, the grand old University of Tokyo.

***

That Christmas night, they’d both been home for dinner.

“Hicchan~ it’s nice to be sharing some early time together!”

“Aw, Misha. I bought some wine home.”

“Can we afford that, Hicchan?” She’d laughed, but noticed the faint shadow stealing across the edges of his face, and cursed herself for the misplaced joke.

“Of course we can!”

He’d looked at her, the still-pinkish light-brown hair now growing out to shoulder length, her curves still tight and firm. He’d cursed himself for being so entranced by the physicality of it, but he’d given himself a pass for loving her for being herself. She always made him feel less tired after a long day in the labs.

She’d approached him for a kiss—years ago, she’d figured out that he felt uncomfortable about approaching her—and received one. Then, because it was her night off, she’d drawn him into a full embrace. He might’ve been tired, but he felt like a day’s hard knight.

“Hicchan~?”

His hand had crept around her waist, and was sneaking up her back.

“Misha,” he’d snuffled into her neck, tickling her with his warm breath, but not enough to be uncomfortable. He’d learnt how to do it just right. He’d even learnt how to remove her bra without tugging or snapping.

She’d learnt some tricks too. He’d gasped as she grasped him and began to wiggle. He hadn’t even felt his zipper move.

Moments that they’d both felt:
—the white rug was rough, and not even large enough
—it was warm between the coffee table and the sofa
—Hisao had gone lean, if a bit pale from too much time indoors
—Misha’d been off ice-cream for weeks, the skirt was a little loose
—his mouth was a little dry
—she moistened his lips for him with little flicks of her tongue
—and somehow he’d done the same for her with a gentle thumb

Memories they’d subsequently shared:
—well, only between the two of them and not with author-san

Nestled amongst the scattered clothing, they’d eventually finished the wine. It wasn’t very good, but she’d remembered the whisky. She’d almost forgotten protection, but would it really have mattered? It would be just a few weeks more.

Hisao had been all stubbly at that time of night. But when that oddly sandpapery feeling had run up her thigh, she couldn’t help but grab hold of him and squeeze. Fortunately, the bottles had been empty when they rolled across the floor.

“Hicchan! That’s very ~naughty…”

“Misha, your mmm is very mmm argh.”

“What was that, Hicchaaaaaaaaah…”

In the morning, it had been a new day. The weeks passed, and winter became spring.

***

“Sprout, where’s your sister?!”

[…]

“She’s right behind me, isn’t she?”

“Father, we’re waiting for you to drive.”

[Yes, and I’m not letting either my brother or my boyfriend drive.]

“What’d she say? What’d she say?”

“She said Father would be driving. But you knew that already.”

“I can’t always see her surreptitious and sneaky gestures.”

[He’s saying something bad about me again, isn’t he?]

Hideaki would have moaned with frustration had he been the type to be easily frustrated. But it was amusing to watch, so he did what he could do to lower the friction of miscommunication.

“Remind me why I’m driving all over Japan today?”

“Because of the feminist plot, sir,” said the crazy son-in-law.

“What feminist plot?”

“The one your daughter invited you to contribute to, and which I swore never to be part of, but which I have failed to abort. I have even joined in, to my great sorrow and regret.”

“Whose aborting what? Or who?!”

“Father, it is all settled. Don’t worry, I have annotated it in your chronicles.”

“Fine. I suppose it is all right then.”

[Sister, don’t worry, I have everything under control.]

***

They’d had the same conversation many times. Or lack of conversation.

“Hicchan?”

“Yeah?”

Her hair was scented like a mixture of strawberries and apple blossom. He had no idea how she did it, how she brought spring with her wherever she went, regardless of the time of year. She was nestled in the crook of his left arm, a warm and comfortable presence. When he wasn’t with her, he always felt the loss. When she was with him, when she was happy, he always felt the joy.

“Tell me again, how are we affording the rent on this place?”

“Wha-at?”

It was his guilty secret. He hadn’t actually got a full scholarship, and his parents had mortgaged the house. He’d thought that the full scholarship, and his parents’ temporary loans, would cover it. But they hadn’t, and he hadn’t told her.

“It’s okay, Hicchan, I know your parents are kind and generous people.”

“Why did you ask, then?”

“Sometimes I do wish I’d tried to qualify for a university nearby. Then I’d have been able to study with you.”

He felt guilty. And that made him feel uncomfortable. It seemed unfair for her to be bringing that up.

“I wish that too, Misha,” he replied, settling for hugging her a little bit more, enough to make unsettling thoughts go away. “I’m happy you found that job looking after Ritsu’s band.”

“It’s nothing, Hicchan!~”

He couldn’t help feel as if she too was hiding something.

She felt his muscles tense. She’d been thinking about how to break the news to him earlier. Somehow, when her contact had figured out how to make the financing work, she’d conveniently forgotten to tell Hisao. And now it just felt wrong. Especially the part about the band that didn’t exist except in Ritsu’s best dreams.

She had to think about something else. Fortunately, such things were at hand.

How did he manage to smell like sexy leather? Maybe it was the drugs he took. Or maybe, he just produced chemicals that signalled to her. Well, there was nothing for it, then. She giggled, trying hard to put her discomfort away, and took him in hand. He offered no resistance as she reached up for a kiss. Kissing was always much better than talking. And using one’s hands was much better than thinking.

And always, the time for conversation had passed.

***

Hisao twitched in his stiff, suddenly-too-tight, formal suit. This was the greatest day of his life, seated in the august Yasuda Auditorium with hundreds of other graduands. The auditorium was too small to seat all the guests that might want to watch, but the ceremony was being streamed live to other venues.

Misha had helped him adjust his suit. Then she’d smiled cryptically and flicked some lint off his lapel. “You’ll look great, Hicchan, see you outside later!” With little warning, she’d run off as if she was in a great hurry to be elsewhere. He found that odd. But he’d been finding things odder and odder for no particular reason, lately.

He settled back into his seat, surrounded by all the other dark-suited graduands. An irreverent thought crossed his mind: if they all put on dark glasses, they’d look like some sort of gangster consortium.

***

“Ha! How’re you going to repay me for all this? Gold? Services?”

Misha rolled her eyes at him. The man in the nondescript silver car was enjoying all this way too much. “Where did you get this car?”

“He didn’t. Father did. Even Father has to admit the physical impossibility of being in two places at a time. And he wanted to be at Sister’s graduation first.”

She turned her head to grin at the lanky youth in the rear seats. “I like your new hairstyle, Hidechan!”

“Yes, short green hair suits me better than long, I must say.”

“Never get embroiled in feminist conspiracies. It starts with your hairstyle, and before you know it, you’re driving a car in the suburbs of Tokyo doing something so stupid you just know everyone will be upset by the end of the day.”

There was indeed a knot in her guts. She wondered if Hisao would appreciate the situation. Surely it would not be so shocking as to… do something bad to his health? She forced her hands to lie still on her lap, her neatly manicured nails in bright contrast to the darkness of her midnight-blue formal outfit.

“I like your hair too, Misha. Long and straight is so not you, but it looks good. Smells good too.”

“Don’t flirt with them. Before you know it, you’ll end up married to one.”

***

After the ceremony, there were the usual photographs, and juniors who wanted to pose with their seniors. Hisao had to fend off a silver-haired acquaintance from Yamaku; he didn’t usually mind spending time with Rika—after all, they’d shared the same chemistry teacher, the same kind of medical problem, and ended up in the same area of interest—but he was busy looking for a flash of bright pink hair in a crowd of blue and black, and not finding it.

Then he felt something hard and thin prod him in the shoulder.

“Where were…” he began, turning around quickly.

[I’m sorry] signed the well-dressed woman with the sharp fingers.

His mouth stayed open. He’d not spoken to Shizune for ages, not since the terrible break-up at Yamaku.

“Where’s Misha?” he said, somewhat ungraciously even to his own ears, before remembering to sign it instead. [Misha?]

She flinched at what had been one of their private signs, from years past.

[Graduating across town. I graduated yesterday, so I’m here to support you.]

[What? Confused.]

[Your signing has not improved.]

[Sorry. Not doing much now.]

[It was meant to be a surprise. Misha managed to work her way through night school.]

[What? How? English language?]

[No. Business management. My fiancé runs a weird pizza and whisky pub, and Misha’s been working there.]

[Pizza? Whisky? Sounds like something that crazy neighbour would cook up.]

He saw the look on her face, and stopped.

[Yes. He did. My father helped him.]

[Your father?]

Hisao had memories of an equally crazy adult in a Hawaiian shirt. The thought Hawaiian pizza ran through his head before he could stop it, and almost knocked him over. Instead, he laughed weakly.

[Stop it. Anyway, congratulations. Let’s go celebrate.]

[But, Misha?]

[Don’t worry.]

There was a big black SUV waiting for them. He stopped dead as he realised who the driver was, but Shizune’s forward momentum yanked him onward.

“Ha! Heart failure boy! You survived, hurry up, get into the car, we have more driving to do!”

[Father, do you want me to drive?]

Jigoro Hakamichi, Shizune’s father, looked a little put out. He clamped the wheel firmly in his large hands and gestured with his beard.

“Tell my daughter there is no way I would risk my life in such a manner!”

Hisao got in, still dazed.

***

It was a nice pub, tastefully decorated with classical Japanese warrior motifs, mostly in black and red and white. Some gold trim. Lanterns and puppets, of all things. Strange English phrases masquerading as classical Japanese. Strange Hollywood superheroes made to look like mythical Japanese kami. Very loud music from some kind of electronic band.

There was a huge wagyu tomahawk steak in front of him, with grilled mushrooms and potato wedges. He’d managed a fair bit of it, with Kenji’s help—Kenji, who had somehow, unaccountably, amazingly, and weirdly, managed to get Shizune Hakamichi to agree to marry him.

“Yeah, I knew she was tainted goods, the way you were carrying on that year, but bygones, we all make mistakes, and I figured that since we were good friends, sharing is caring.”

Hisao knew he should probably show some anger, that it was expected of him, but the food was very good, and the whisky beyond comparison. Both sat gently in his guts and massaged his heart to the point where anger gave way to something more oesophageal. It wasn’t yet heartburn, and as long as he kept lubricating his innards with this excellent food, he’d be fine.

Besides, Kenji’s fianceé, Hisao’s ex-girlfriend (?) was having a fine time just a few centimetres away, catching up with Misha. The only thing that could possibly have been problematic was if Shizune’s father had been around. Fortunately, he was off talking to the chef about the best traditional way to cook a steak.

“Then, turns out she has a father who is the best manliness consultant in the world, and the deal didn’t seem so bad after all. People on the internet are envious that I have a deaf woman and a samurai father-in-law-to-be. That guy is the boss. He even staked your Pinko a free education if she’d help me manage this place.”

“Why would Shizune’s father do that?” said Hisao, even though he had at least seven other questions to ask.

“Because he was friends with my mother! Everyone in that part of Saitama knew each other, see, and they went to school together.”

Oh, one of those coincidences. It’s almost as if I was in one of those romance manga things. Some other unprintable thoughts flashed through Hisao’s brian as well, but he let none of them out through his mouth.

“So, we’re all good? You don’t resent me converting your feminist interrogator into a useful asset?”

“No, no, not at all!” Hisao sluiced whisky around the wagyu fat in his mouth and let the mellow mixture tickle his tongue.

“Wonderful!”

Misha was relieved that Hisao had taken it so well. As she relaxed, her conversation with Shizune became more fluid.

[Are you happy?]

[Hisao’s a good person. We get along well.]

[That’s good to know.]

Thin fingers, normally very active, now turning a sake cup slowly. Misha noticed, as she always did. It meant that Shizune wasn’t sure about what she was going to say, and this was uncommon.

[What’s on your mind, Shicchan?]

[I wanted to say… I’m sorry.]

[For what, Shicchan?]

[I drove you away, and Hisao away, and made things difficult for both of you.]

Misha put her cup down. Wasn’t it the other way around? she wanted to say. Instead, she found herself signing: [We made it difficult for each other. But somehow, you’ve made it easier for everyone.]

[That was Kenji, and Father. And even Hideaki. For some reason, they all like Hisao.] A hint of a smile presented itself.

Misha took the hint and smiled back. [We haven’t really had time to talk, these last few years. It’s mostly your weird man’s clandestine meetings in parked cars. If my reputation wasn’t horrible already, it’d have disappeared by now.]

Shizune frowned, then grinned. [Kenji makes everyone’s reputation worse just by being with them. Since everyone already hated me, I decided it wouldn’t matter being with him. He thinks our relationship is a great victory for patriotic masculinity, whatever that means. Unfortunately, so does Father.]

***

At the bar, Jigoro Hakamichi patted himself on the back with a certain smugness. Nobody thought of him as the romantic type, but he’d seen a lot, done a lot. It was his task to set the youth of the nation on appropriate trajectories, and he had done it yet again. It was amazing what a little redirected funding could do over time: Yamaku, university scholarship funds, the F&B industry—it was a long list and he never got tired of thinking about it.

“Sprout?”

“Yes, Father?”

“So, what do you think of our five-year plan’s outcomes?”

“Making four unlikely people pair up?”

“Not quite.”

“Putting them on a path of usefulness to society?”

“That too.”

“What have I missed, Father?”

“I’ve also been training the next generation of ‘consultants’.”

“Really? I must have missed… oh, I see. You mean me.”

“Indeed!”

“That’s one hell of a Christmas package, Father.”

“And it isn’t even Christmas, you ungrateful underage whisky-drinking sprout!”

“Thank you, Father. Merry not-Christmas.”


END

=====
alt index
Post-Yamaku, what happens? After The Dream is a mosaic that follows everyone to the (sometimes) bitter end.
Main Index (Complete)Shizune/Lilly/Emi/Hanako/Rin/Misha + Miki + Natsume
Secondary Arcs: Rika/Mutou/AkiraHideaki | Others (WIP): Straw—A Dream of SuzuSakura—The Kenji Saga.
"Much has been lost, and there is much left to lose." — Tim Powers, The Drawing of the Dark (1979)

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