After the Dream—Emi's Arc/Akiko's Story (Complete)

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After the Dream—Akiko Nakai (Letter dated 06 May 2040)

Post by brythain » Mon Jan 26, 2015 10:13 pm

Akiko Ibarazaki
A Letter to Mother (Sunday 6 May 2040)


To my most honourable mother,
who is no longer with me and who was a wonderful parent:

Greetings from your beloved daughter,
who is named Akiko because she is like fire but also a girl.


Dearest Mother,

I have written many incomplete letters to you, because it is difficult to express exactly what I want to say. I have also left some letters for Father, but it is also hard to say much to someone I did not know very well. Perhaps I should have asked you more about him. This is no bad reflection on you, but an error on my part which cannot now be rectified.

In those incomplete letters are words about Koji, a very close friend of mine. It was not until very recently that I realized he was Father’s godson. He has an elder sister who is fierce and very adventurous, and not like him at all. I admire her, but I do not think I am being too impolite when I say she takes risks I would not take. I hope I will complete this letter because it is best to tell you everything.

Koji was my senior in high school by so many years that I hardly saw him. Indeed, he had graduated when I first became a student, but because his mother works closely with Dr Hakamichi, he used to hang around Yamaku quite a bit. Over the years, I learnt that he was a nice person and able to talk about many things, unlike your sorry excuse for a daughter, who is only good at running and languages. So he spent time exchanging thoughts with me, and that always made me feel better.

Last year he took up running and decided to start training as a teacher. Mother, he said that I, your humble Akiko, had taught him about life and how to learn from others! I did not expect this. Maybe he is more like Father than he knows. In fact, I am at Ochanomizu (I think I may have mentioned that to you) while he is at Todai, like you and Father were.

I do not know how this story will end, but it is better to send you a finished letter than keep leaving half-finished letters in my desk. So I will just call it ‘finished’ and end here for now. If I can finish any of the others that way, I will do it.

I wonder if you like my handwriting. I think it is a bit like yours. After I finish writing this, I will scan it and keep a copy in my drive network. Then I will send it to you the usual way. Koji said his father used to do it by burning it in strong whisky, but I know you do not approve of such things.

Oh, I am also doing quite well in training. I have also learnt the English word ‘amazon’ and what it means. I do not think that is what I am. It is Dr Hakamichi’s birthday today and I think I should spend some time with her at dinner. Koji’s father has sent her a cake. I did not remember that they were friends. There is so much I do not know, and there are so many things to think about.


Sincerely yours,

Your daughter Akiko Ibarazaki/Nakai,
who is unsure about many things,
but who continues to love you very much.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:54 am, edited 4 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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After the Dream—Akiko Nakai ('Mothers & Daughters')

Post by brythain » Thu Feb 26, 2015 1:49 pm

I was going through some very old documents when I found a package of loosely assembled writings. Someone had put together notes taken from various people, and stitched them into a crude narrative. I still have my suspicions as to whose well-disguised craftsmanship had been at work, but I will leave you, dear reader, to guess. (N, Osaka.)


Akiko 2: Mothers and Daughters (T +16)

The ‘child of autumn’ is no mere child now. Akiko Nakai, 22 years old, is tall for an Asian. She has long hair, a deep coppery brown; her skin is tanned from outdoor training, and her heptathlete build combines with all that to let her overshadow the grey lady facing her in the room. Yet, she is apprehensive. Perhaps, she is afraid. In this room is silence, because the electronics are off, and only hands will talk.

[Respected principal, this one requests permission to speak honestly.]

[You can always do that, Aki-chan. Will you still not treat me as family?]

[It is difficult, Hakamichi-san.]

[Understood. What would you like to say?]

[I…] Her hands fall limply to her sides, as if she is defeated by what she wants to say, but she raises them again, palms down. She’s a fighter, the kind that won’t stay down. [I come to you as a daughter might come to her mother. For advice, if you will honour me with that.]

For the first time today, strong emotion crosses Shizune Hakamichi’s face. Well it might, for this is the first time in her entire life that Hisao’s daughter has acknowledged her status as adoptive parent.

[It is also my honour, because it is the duty of a mother to her daughter.]

[My own mother is not with us today, respected… aunt. Neither is my godmother, nor my grandmother.]

Shizune feels a poignant anguish, very briefly. The young lady has made it clear where Emi and Meiko Ibarazaki, Hanako Ikezawa and Shizune Hakamichi stand in the pantheon of her mother-figures. But duty is duty, and Shizune is also familiar with caring for someone she loves, but receiving none of that love in return. So be it.

[I will try to advise you well.]

[Thank you. It concerns love, and I do not know what to do about it. I think I am in love. I am not sure. I don’t know what that is!]

I did not know what that was either, my daughter, thinks Shizune to herself. [Tell me more, and maybe I can help.]

[There is a boy, really, a young man. He is my senior, and his family name is Setou.]

[Setou.] It is not a question, but it is an acknowledgement of the situation.

[His father and mine, they were friends. My aunt, I think you might know the father, and also his mother, who is Madam Shirakawa.]

[Yes. We are all old friends. That is a good family, so there is no problem.]

[I am very fond of him. I do not want to hurt him.]

[If you are good friends, but not more, then it is fine. He will recover.] Although, as she knows, some wounds take a long time to heal.

[That is good, my aunt.]

The young lady looks hopeful, and Shizune feels glad that this is so. But Akiko also looks nervous, uneasy.

[Is anything else a problem?]

[I…] Again, that hesitation, that feeling of something impossible to grapple with. [I find his sister to be a wonderful example. She has great strength of personality.]

[So do you, Akiko Nakai. And you are a national champion.]

[She is confident, and beautiful, and I am not.]

[But you are. You are!] Shizune would like to comfort her, but there is a huge gulf between them that one heart-to-heart talk will not yet bridge. And yet, she will try.

[It is nice of you…]

[No. It is honest of me. You are lean like your father and sweet like your mother and you are an honour to their memory and to the memory of your ancestors.]

[Do you think Masako Setou thinks of me that way?]

And suddenly, Shizune realizes where the problem might lie. Masako may not be the type to reciprocate such feelings. It is fine when young girls have crushes. It is difficult when they adults, or almost so. And to bring a brother and sister into a triangle, this is a potential recipe for disaster.

[I don’t know, Aki-chan. Perhaps you could ask her, if you know her well?]

Shizune feels the burden of fifty years of life. She does not know if this is good advice or what it will bring in the future. But she tries to move her hands in an encouraging way, she tries to look positive, and in her heart, she hopes things will work out somehow. She fears they will not.

[Will you let me ask?]

That is an unexpected question. It leaves the older woman in even greater uncertainty than before.

[You have my blessing in all that you do.]

The younger woman is surprised. She is touched by this gesture, but years of antipathy have made it hard to respond. She is speechless—her hands cannot move for precious seconds.

[This one is truly grateful. Thank you for caring.]

Shizune nods. She would like to tell her adopted daughter that she loves her, but she doesn’t trust herself. In the end, the nod becomes a dismissal, albeit one with a smile upon its face. It will have to serve, for now.

*****

“Aunty Misha?”

“Hmmm? Hey! Hi Aki-chan, what can Aunty Misha do for you?~”

Her closest confidante looks up from what seems to be a very crowded workspace and gives her the warm smile that has always brightened her days. That makes things easier, it always does.

“I need some advice, and everyone’s so formal with me, as if I’m a child. I’m twenty-two already!”

“Aww, that’s sad… Aunty Misha will be sad for you too!~ But, seriously, what are you thinking about? Have you asked Shicchan, I mean Aunty Shizune, about it yet?”

Akiko notices that her other adoptive mother has gone back to slightly curling her hair, which is less pink and flows down to her shoulders. She’s always liked pretty Aunty Misha, who used to treat her to ‘illegal’ parfaits back when she had just started the grueling process of national training, and even before that, when she was a sad child.

“Yes, and she said it was fine, but she didn’t say everything she wanted to say.”

Akiko takes a deep breath, draws strength from the reassuring, happy presence of her half-mother. Is that a word, she wonders.

“I’m in love, Aunty Misha. I don’t know what I’m doing. What if I make people sad?”

And then she sees something in the older woman’s eyes: regret, maybe? An old hurt, certainly. But even at the mature age of twenty-two, she can’t connect the points, she can’t see the phantoms of the past.

“Sometimes it happens, Aki-chan. Sometimes you’ll make yourself sad. Try not to blame others, but also remember, it doesn’t have to be your fault.”

Those words sink in, because Akiko Nakai has always somehow felt that things were partly her fault. Why? Because, who else’s fault could it be? And if not her fault, then her responsibility.

“Aunty Misha needs to be a bit rude, Aki-chan!~ Can you tell me who it is you’re in love with? What’s he like? Do we know him?”

By ‘we’, Akiko knows, her Aunty Misha means Aunty Shizune as well. Those two have been friends for a very long time. What kind of friends they are, Akiko thinks she knows. But one tries to avoid imagining what one’s parents do in their privacy, even if those are your adoptive parents. It just doesn’t seem right otherwise. It’s that ‘we’ which makes her feel able to confide her secret.

“It’s a she, Aunty Misha. It’s Masako Setou. You know her parents.”

“Oh… that’s… interesting, Aki-chan!~ Yes, it’s something. When did you know you were in love, dear? How does it feel to you?~”

“I don’t know… at first I thought I was in love with Koji, but I just like Koji a lot. I can be friends with him forever, but I… I… I want to be with his sister, and I want to hold her and be with her and…”

She suddenly feels embarrassed. Is that what it really is? Do I feel as needy as I sound?

“Aki-chan,” Misha sighs, “Sometimes it’s really really hard to tell if you should tell someone that kind of thing. It can break your heart, if you’re not careful. Are you prepared to keep that love with you forever, even if she doesn’t want you? Are you, Aki-chan?”

There are none of the famous Misha-esque trills in her voice now. Aunty Misha has somehow had her cheerfulness exhausted.

“Yes!” she blurts out, looking uncertainly at her half-mother.

“And how will Koji feel, dear?” The way Misha says it, there is warning, there is the sense of old experience gently burning its way to the surface.

“He’s my friend, and he loves his sister.”

“Aki-chan, sometimes love isn’t enough. Sometimes blood and tears are not enough.”

“Then what must I do??” She is strong, she hates feeling weak, she wonders what nonsense love is that makes a strong person weak; she despises herself for speaking to her beloved half-mother as if she is a whining child.

But Misha understands. And the older woman, her eyes damp and her cheeks warm, says to the younger woman, “Akiko Nakai, follow your heart. And if it leads you to an unfamiliar place, or to a place you don’t want to be, I’ll be here for you. That’s me, that’s Aunty Misha, I’m always here!~”

And because it’s Aunty Misha, who always tries to be happy, the tall girl with the copper ponytail steps into the gentle, firm embrace that is offered. In that, she finds sanctuary for the few moments it takes to come to a decision.

*****

The young man cannot recognize his sister, even though he knows that she is. Distractedly, he runs a hand through his messy brown hair and steers the small blue Sparrowhawk with the other. “Onee-chan,” he says, unable to say much more, “We’re almost there.”

There isn’t a response, even when the car comes to a stop outside the old house in Saitama. Deferentially, the younger Nakai helps his sister out of the car. He has never seen her like this before, and it hurts him. He’s the sensitive kind; he is easy-going and he calls Shizune Hakamichi ‘Mother’ because he likes her.

“Will you be okay, my sister?”

She stands there, the winter breeze trying to ruffle her long, untied, unkempt hair. It doesn’t succeed much. Her eyes are dull, the bronze light turned to rust. She can’t speak, she finds; it has been too long and her throat is dry.

He triggers the proximity codes by gesture, and the door opens shortly after. His uncle is belted up, in a midnight blue and silver kimono, his feet in black tabi boots. Long hair has been tied up neatly, and the familiar large hands reach out and land on his shoulders.

“Hey, shortie. Hmm, not so short now, are you? Come in, come in.”

Dexterously, the big man pivots his nephew in through the door. Then, with a much more gentle touch, he moves to his niece. “Aki-chan?”

This time, there’s a glimmer of recognition. “Uncle?”

“Yes. You’re safe now. Come, let me hold you for a while.”

“Uncle.” She has no tears, no expression; her mask is on, and it has set firmly in place. But still, there is an opening in that reply, the chance of life returning like flowers in spring.

They enter the house close together, the big man and the tall girl, so different in appearance. Ushered in before him, she is like a willow with an oak. Her brother is already sitting quietly, speaking softly with their uncle’s wife. This woman is special to them both: she is Akiko’s godmother, and she is the one who binds all their complicated relationships together with her quiet conscientiousness.

“Husband,” she says softly and firmly, looking up. “Take the young man and our girls for a nice walk? It’s a l-little cold outside, so make them dress right, no shortcuts, please?”

“Yes, wife! Always at your service!” he replies, grinning. “But the young ladies are already dressed, because this one has thought things through in advance!”

Hanako Ikezawa smiles fondly, absentmindedly playing with one of her long dark tresses. The scars that carelessly ravage the right side of her face are fading with time. She is a beautiful woman, and proud to be the equal partner of ‘the most underestimated man in Japan’. Someone else’s words, not his—he would rather not be known at all.

“Good!” she says, even as a quiet little commotion heralds the arrival of their two daughters, aged 10 and 7, bundled in wool and looking very cute. “Kit? Shiny? Go with Papa to look for squirrels? And your handsome cousin is here to help look after you!”

“Yes, Mama,” says the younger one, “But Papa will chase all the squirrels away!” The older one turns her gaze on ‘handsome cousin’ and stays silent, her eyes large. Then she whispers, “Is big cousin going to be all right?”

When the little expedition has left, the house is somehow dimmer. Akiko is sitting now, her hands on her lap. From somewhere, a teacup has appeared before her, but she hasn’t touched it.

Hanako moves around the table, sits down next to her goddaughter. Winter light shines delicately through the doorway, silver on them both. Softly, as if cajoling a reluctant kitten, she whispers, “Aki-chan?”

There is more silence, grey and cold against the warm scent of tea. Then Akiko opens her eyes. “Godmother?”

“Yes, child?” The familiar voice speaks of endearment, not immaturity.

“How do you live with it? It hurts so much… I want to die, but things just keep going on.”

“You live, I think, because there are still people who love you.”

“But who loves me? Who wants me? I’m ugly!”

Akiko’s godmother has learnt what she could. The young man who loved this young woman has had his heart broken, and nobody can find him. His sister has emigrated to Brazil, which was her plan all along—and she has told Akiko not to follow. Now, there is great uneasiness between families who were once close. Nobody thought such things might happen, and now it has all happened at once, everyone is upset or angry or confused.

“I do not know who w-wants you, Aki-chan. But someone wanted me, even though I am indeed not pleasant to look at. And we will always love you and care for you.”

“Always? But you are not always here!” The voice is raw, pleading, accusatory, agonized. “People always go away. You lose the ones you love, and sometimes they don’t love you, and sometimes you love the wrong person, and it’s all wrong, and rubbish, and fucked to hell!”

Hanako winces. She has always disliked indelicate language. But she understands, because she has had the temptation to cut loose like that herself. It was only fate that saved her from being alone and unloved, she believes, but that is not something that will ease young Akiko’s grief.

“Aki-chan?” She waits for more words to come, but they don’t, and so she leaves the question hanging in the air.

“I will never be so stupid, so foolish, again.”

“Don’t say that…”

“I miss my mother, I miss her so much! You don’t know how it feels!”

The huge hand enfolds hers before Hanako’s open palm can cross the short distance to her goddaughter’s face. “Hey, wife! The cousins are having fun in the park, but I left my chip in the bathroom and they want to spend my credit at the café, so here I am. Hope everything’s better… see you later!”

Oh, Hanako Ikezawa knows exactly how it feels, to feel that one is ugly and to have lost one’s mother. But she is mortified that only a timely intervention has prevented her from doing something evil. Like a spirit, her husband’s aura wanders around and then vanishes from the house. She hears the door shut firmly and turns to face Akiko.

Her goddaughter’s face is creased with worry, appalled at her careless words and what might have resulted from it. “I… I’m sorry, godmother. I shouldn’t have… I was…”

The older woman gathers the younger one into her arms just as the sobs begin. These tears, they are the cleansing river from the cold mountains that will scour the shambles of the heart. She has been there before.

*****

“Respected half-mothers?”

Shizune looks sad. This is not a term she likes. She wishes that she had left her electronics off, because the action of hands is more beautiful than the harshness of voices.

“Yes, Aki-chan!~ We’re here for you!”

“I am leaving home. I think I will rent a place near the national training ground. I will take courses at the Sports Science Institute.

Of course. She will have the funds, for her inheritance is more than sufficient. But there is perhaps a better option, and there is nothing Shizune likes better than to solve problems.

[That is somewhere near Nishigaoka, Tokyo?]

“Yes.”

[On the books, we have a small apartment near the Koishikawa library. It is not that near, but it is better than nothing.]

Akiko hears her other half-mother breathe in sharply. “Shicchan!~ Isn’t that… ?”

[Yes. It is Hisao’s old apartment. Best that his daughter reclaim it.]

She doesn’t know what to do. She has never wanted to feel indebted to Shizune Hakamichi. She has never really liked her. But this is kindness, and she is wounded—and any kindness is more welcome than it otherwise would be.

She bows, perhaps with more real respect than she ever has before. Her adoptive mother returns the bow. There aren’t any words to be signed or said, now.

Yet, somehow, Misha has always found words.

“Shicchan!~ That’s wonderful! I’m so happy, Aki-chan!~ Aunty Misha will help you move in, and I will tell you all the stories that nobody ever told you!”

Maybe that is indeed enough, for now.

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:54 am, edited 4 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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Interlude (20150314)

Post by brythain » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:42 pm

"Hey!"

I'm used to this kind of greeting, coming from just that altitude and attitude.

"Hello, Emi! Happy birthday!"

"Don't you 'happy birthday' me, mister!"

What now? I hate making Emi pout. So I look at her and ask with my eyes, "What's up?"

"You're telling Akiko's story, and it's all sad and... ugh! It's worse than mine!"

"Wait, wait. You mean you don't know how it ends up?"

"How'm I supposed to know? We're not omni-scientific, you know!"

"That's interesting..."

"No! It's frustrating, is what it is! Couldn't you just let her be happy? She's my daughter, and I wasn't there for her, and... ugh! Ugh!"

Now she's sniffling a bit, and I feel my own eyes well up in sympathy as she tries to hold it back.

"It works out well, I think. It's a happy ending, in case you're wondering. And I try not to reveal such things."

I'm thinking to myself about how grateful I am that it's a happy ending. I really hate making Emi pout. She looks up at me, her pout forgotten and a beseeching expression on her face. I've come to know what Hisao meant when he said that look would make anyone do anything. Well, not quite. You can develop some resistance, although it doesn't always work.

"Thank you! It'll be a happy birthday then!"

As she disappears around the corner, the world feels less exciting, somehow.
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: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; M&D 20150226)

Post by Oscar Wildecat » Sat Mar 14, 2015 9:54 pm

You're telling Akiko's story, and it's all sad and... ugh! It's worse than mine!"
...
"It works out well, I think. It's a happy ending, in case you're wondering. And I try not to reveal such things."
You know you're a depressing writer when the characters in your story start calling you out on it. :lol:

BTW, what are you not trying to reveal? The ending part or the happy part? :wink:


Oh ... Happy Birthday Emi.
I like all the girls in KS, but empathize with Hanako the most.
"Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." - Mark Twain
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Checkout SordidEuphemism's Logo Thread.

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Re: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; M&D 20150226)

Post by brythain » Sun Mar 15, 2015 12:26 pm

Oscar Wildecat wrote:
You're telling Akiko's story, and it's all sad and... ugh! It's worse than mine!"
...
"It works out well, I think. It's a happy ending, in case you're wondering. And I try not to reveal such things."
You know you're a depressing writer when the characters in your story start calling you out on it. :lol:

BTW, what are you not trying to reveal? The ending part or the happy part? :wink:

Oh ... Happy Birthday Emi.
Ha! Well, my new experiment with a character who has no connection at all to canon is now in progress. We'll see how Akiko Nakai's tale works out... :)
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: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; M&D 20150226)

Post by Serviam » Sun Mar 15, 2015 2:04 pm

I believe the word Emi was supposed to use was "omniscient." Also, having read her tales, it's amusing to see "Emi" and "anal" used in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the infamous buttsecks scene.
"What the government is good at is collecting taxes, taking away your freedoms and killing people. It’s not good at much else."
- Tom Clancy summing up l'état in a nutshell

In order of completion:
Lilly > Hanako > Rin > Emi
Currently on: Shizune

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Re: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; M&D 20150226)

Post by brythain » Mon Mar 16, 2015 8:54 am

Serviam wrote:I believe the word Emi was supposed to use was "omniscient." Also, having read her tales, it's amusing to see "Emi" and "anal" used in a way that had absolutely nothing to do with the infamous buttsecks scene.
Ha, yes. Emi does mangle things a bit sometimes. And I was wondering about your spoiler until I realised you meant [this] part.
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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After the Dream—Akiko Nakai ('A Change of Heart')

Post by brythain » Sun Mar 22, 2015 10:23 pm

In which we follow the labyrinth of the heart, and find ourselves changed.


Akiko 3a: A Change of Heart (T +20)

Thursday, 10th March 2044

The tall young woman with the tanned skin and striking hair—some have called it ‘rusty’, some say ‘coppery’—is sitting on the bleachers, relatively relaxed in her black skinsuit and fluorescent yellow accessories. Her long hands cup her knees as she puts her feet up for a while. She watches the trainees do their drills, watched by her able assistants. She’s completed one set herself, and will do another in a while.

Things are relaxed, because it’s Thursday on graduation week, and the seniors are all packing up to go home if they’re not still sleeping off the effects of graduation the night before. Yes, it’s March, and the next Monday would have been her mother’s birthday, the fourteenth day of the month.

She feels a little sad; in past years, Aunty Rin’s birthday would come first, and there’d be something special as a treat. But Aunty Rin is missing, has been away a long while with Miura-san, and the man she once called ‘Old Nurse Doctor-san’ would only give a half-grin and say nothing when asked about it. Gramma Meiko likewise. The old doctor is now two years gone to his gods, and Gramma has grown old and frail.

Akiko sighs. It has also been more than three years since she decided she would not love anybody else. The person she loved is now in Brazil, firmly attached to someone else. The person who loved her is now her colleague, a fellow teacher, but the gap between them seems greater to her than that between continents. It makes her feel awkward and takes away what little eloquence she possesses.

It could not have been helped, Akiko thinks on a good day. I was advised badly by those I trusted, Akiko thinks when she is having a bad day. Those around her have suffered from this too, and her adoptive mother most of all. Akiko is blind to that, however. Fortunately, three years is a length of time long enough to smooth away some of the jagged edges of the past.

They have not all been bad years, but bad enough. Akiko smiles at her students to hide the chafing of painful memories. Well, yes, they call her ‘amazon’, a name she has never liked, with its unpleasant associations. But she wears it with pride now, secure in her accolades. National athlete, head coach and biophysics teacher at the Yamaku Academy on Mount Aoba—who could wish for a more well-rounded CV?

If she could, she would make three wishes. Of course, she’s imagined more. But she has cut them down ruthlessly to three: the life of her mother, the laugh of her father, the love of the one she loved. And over three years, she’s come to understand that if she were forced to cut it down to just one wish, she’d go with only the first of the three.

Dear Mother, she has written so many times before, I wish you were here. But Emi Ibarazaki is now fourteen years departed, and Akiko keeps very few of the letters she has written—in Japanese, in English, in Portuguese, in German, and even in Italian. She thinks often of her pretty mother, with the small nose and big eyes, whose English was poor and whose Japanese inelegant—who was beautiful nonetheless to Hisao Nakai and to the children of that union.

She doesn’t want to grow old and alone; it’s a terrible thought for one who hasn’t reached her quarter-century yet. She sighs again. That can wait, she’s not old yet, and who knows? Akiko, more Ibarazaki than Nakai now, gets up to complete her second set. Coach has to set an example, as always.

Later, she’ll change, get back into the main building—avoiding Principal Hakamichi—and make her way to the staff room. Then it’s Biophysics 202 before lunch; she likes her class and that will help a lot. The thought brings a welcome smile to her face.

Down below, an innocent young man looks up and sees his coach stretch and grin. It sends chills down his spine. She is so beautiful, so happy, and so utterly confident to him. At least, that’s what he thinks as he finds himself falling in love with her for the millionth time. He probably isn’t the only one.

*****

Cognitive neuroscience is one of her things. She has always loved knowing about her body, and she’s always believed that mind emerges from that. This is why she makes her students use physical constructs and write their own notes. What is manipulated in concrete reality is easier to grasp in the mind. Her classes, now that Yamaku has gone to a hybrid system of optional modules and core modules, are always packed. She’s had to enforce the hard limit of 25 to a tutorial.

As always, she finds herself thinking of her ‘aunts’ — Aunty Rin who was born without arms, Aunty Hanako Godma who was burned and scarred, Aunty Misha who was beaten badly as a child, and her other half-mother Principal Hakamichi who was born deaf. How much did these bodily situations affect the way they came to think? How did they overcome the world? And why is it that Akiko, so whole in the body, feels so damaged in the soul?

She finds she misses her best friend, sometimes. She knows that people would find that a weakness. It is like something from a stupid manga of the kind she used to read and still does. Classic tropes, girl likes guy, girl loves girl, girl loses girl, girl runs away from guy… damn. Out with all that, back to class.

But to do that, she has to pass through the staff room. That’s where she is now, as she raises her fingertips to the door-ward and it recognizes what her hand says. In her head, she hears: [Good morning, Miss Nakai, your vital signs are excellent. Lab 3a has been set up for you. Here is your message array.]

She blinks and deals with her headmail quickly. Some of those messages will have to be handled later with a more elaborate keyboard interface. She hasn’t the cognitive space nor time to write replies that look like essays and reports. Besides, she’s working hard at the other thing, the matter of the man she used to know.

There he is, all intense in his workspace even though the day has barely begun. She idly wonders at why he still believes in a fixed workstation when he could be doing what he does at home or in the library, but she doesn’t wonder long because she knows that humans need their rituals and routines.

“Hello, Koji!” she says brightly. They’re still friends, they’re still friends. She wants them to be friends, she tells herself.

He looks up, sharp-faced and serious. He was once baby-faced like his mother, but his father’s genes began to show some time ago. When we were dating, her treacherous mind reminds her. It hurts that he still obviously loves her, because she can’t give that back to him.

“Hello, Akiko,” he says softly. He’d have called her ‘Aki-chan’ a few years ago. “Had a good workout?”

“Yes. Just have to check with Boss about this week’s schedule, and then it’s final biophysics lab with the second-years.”

“Nice bunch, those. Not very enthusiastic about history, but they’re willing to give it a try. It’s the combined 2-3/2-4 pullout class, right?”

“Right. How do you remember all those details? Are you spying on me?” She means it as a joke, but she realizes too late that she’s not good at delivering jokes. It must be her tone of voice, because he looks stricken.

“No, of course not,” he says. “That’s not funny.”

“No, sorry,” she replies. “Of course you would know, timetabling-san.”

It’s so sad and yet so happy-making to see the smile come back to his eyes. There was a time that she could make him smile just by being there. It’s been three years, and it’s sad because it means he still has hopes. She can’t outright deny him that, she’s not cruel enough. She remembers Aunty Misha saying, “Who knows, with Aunty Rin?” and yes, that’s it, who knows what will happen in the long run?

The long run will be a marathon, at this rate. If 42.195 kilometres translates to 42.195 years, maybe they’ll retire together to a home in the country, up in the mountains. That was the dream she had when they were kids. Young children have such dreams, because they don’t realize how terrible being an adult is. And adults also have such dreams, knowing that they’re only dreams.

His smile widens a little bit more as he watches her drift for those few seconds. “Yes. Anyway, have a good day, Akiko. Don’t daydream in class. Remember you’re the teacher now!”

Ha. That is true, and for this memory of her childhood, she gives him as warm a return smile as she can. She is trying hard to rebuild a friendship, and it’s difficult because she has no idea how—short of applying an oxytocin nanospray, which she would never do to him.

“Thanks, Koji. See you later!”

He waves at her and turns back to his annotated hologram model of some ancient battle. We make such promises every day, she thinks to herself as she heads to the admin hub. And we never know when we will be forced to break them.

*****

Classes are over for the day, and Akiko has decided to have some ‘alone time’. So she heads over to the old Shanghai, a place to which she had been introduced by Koji all those years ago. She always remembers his earnest face: “My mother used to work here to support her university education. Your father planned the little ceremony at which my father asked her for her hand.”

But it’s drizzling lightly on a chilly afternoon, and only ghostly memories of all those young people remain in the refurbished café. It’s still a place her students go to for romance, friendship, and a good parfait. Teachers too, but very rarely—so much so that students think of it as a safe haven from those annoying adults.

At some hours of the day, it’s a safe haven for a tired, lovelorn athletics coach too. Or not. Something stops her at the door, a half-recognized umbrella, perhaps, or the echo of a distant voice. She steps in anyway, and is welcomed by the hostess. Some events have a momentum of their own, and as Koji’s father used to say, they turn the world upside down while humans remain powerless.

There they are, she notes without any particular emotion, possibly because positive and negative ones cancel out. Koji Setou, and some woman. The woman looks a little like his mother, some distant part of her brain says wonderingly, but the hair is tempestuous, and the eyes are sensuous, like almonds dipped in honey. She reminds Akiko of Koji’s sister Masako, and yet is not like her at all.

“Hello, Koji,” she hears herself say. That’s what friends say to each other when meeting by surprise, right? She wonders if he’ll sound defensive or confused.

“Ah, hello, Akiko. May I introduce you to… this lady of the Shirakawa family? Her name is Kaori. We are… close relatives.”

Is it her imagination, or does he hesitate as he chooses his words? He seems embarrassed. Maybe he’s found someone, she thinks distractedly. Worse, he’s been hiding it from me, she thinks miserably, all her ideas of friendship and reconciliation trashed at one blow.

And then the trash is swept out and dumped, because when Akiko nods, the woman at Koji’s side replies. The stranger’s voice is more musical than anything she’s ever heard before. It seems almost a shame that the lovely tones are used to convey such simple words.

“Hello, Miss Nakai, Koji has said many good things about you over many years. Would you like to join us for tea?”

No, no, she would not. She doesn’t want to be with this beautiful stranger to whom Koji has been talking for ‘many years’. She wanted time with Koji, she wants time with him. But now, perhaps, she realizes that time might have run out. Numbly, she assents to tea, because it is the polite thing to do.

As she sits down with them, she feels that the world is quite unfair, and that perhaps this is what makes people end their small and silly lives. Just because you choose not to love anyone, Akiko, doesn’t mean that love won’t make you wish you’d chosen otherwise.

*****

“Aunty Misha?” She knocks softly on the door-frame, and as she does, she remembers what it feels like to be a small girl—peeking round the corner of the door at her always-too-loud ‘aunt’, who is now her ‘half-mother’. The feeling is still similar.

“Hmm?” Haloed by faintly pink hair under the evening lamps, the woman some call 'Shiina' and others call 'Miss Kobayashi'—nobody uses the name ‘Mikado’ these days—turns her head from the console in front of her. She does transcriptions and translations now, but for who or whom Akiko does not know.

Misha grins happily when she sees who has come to visit. She hits a button and the audio channels she’s been analyzing switch back out of her sensorium. “Aki-chan!~ What can Aunty Misha do for you?~”

It’s always been that familiar greeting. Akiko wonders when the day will come when she will have to do something for her half-mother, and the thought, like so many others recently, fills her with sadness.

This half-mother has always been perceptive. At a glance, she sees that sadness and mistakes its origin. “Awww, girl, why are you so sad? Is it Kenji Setou’s son again? Come here, come here!~”

She can’t hold it back. Her hot tears leap like goats, her breath coming in sobs. “Aunty Misha, I… I can’t d-do anything right! I… I wanted so much to be friends again. B-but he…”

There’s no time for embarrassment in this grief. It erupts, and yet somehow Misha, who has known greater pain in her time, helps the young woman hold it all together. The slightly plump arms of the older lady encircle her, a moat which keeps the fires tidily in check till they go out. “There, there, Aki-chan… it’s never worth it in the end… these men, they’re all not so clever… give him time, give yourself more value than that!~”

She’s not sure she’s hearing all that, beyond the emptying of herself. But she feels safe, and that is the one thing Aunty Misha has always been able to give her.

Later, they sit in the cozy study. An old stuffed toy on the shelf, its familiar purple fur thinning in spots; a photo of Akiko’s late father, winking cheekily; a wedding programme from a church in Edinburgh. Some are from times long past, some are more recent.

“So, Aki-chan… tell me what Koji actually did~ hmm?”

“He was with an elegant lady, my aunt. Smooth skin, very fair. Hair like Aunty Rin’s, thick and fine, long and slightly curled at the end. Musical voice.” She can recite this because she has already repeated it to herself on the journey here, several times.

“Eh, did you say a musical~ voice? Really, Aki-chan? And did she have a little mole on her… ah, left lower lip?”

There’s silence in the room. In her mind’s eye, Akiko sees exactly that mole, imagines Koji kissing it, curses herself for being silly. But before she can reply, the door clicks open and things change again.

Akiko turns to face her other half-mother, Shizune Hakamichi herself. The other woman is neatly dressed in a white blouse and dark grey skirt, her jacket presumably already hung up elsewhere. Principal Hakamichi looks inquiringly at them, then gestures, indicating that her augments are off. Misha sighs and frees her hands.

[Shicchan!~ Akiko has met someone new!]

[Really? That’s nice. But why are you sad, daughter?]

Akiko’s too tired to protest at the use of that term. Reluctantly, she explains, her signing fluent but halting between passages as she tries to explain.

[See, Shicchan? He’s seeing Kaori Shirakawa!]

[Silly boy, if that is what he’s doing.] Shizune’s face displays outrage.

[Why is he silly, half-mother? I don’t understand.]

Misha clicks her tongue and looks uneasy. Shizune stares at Akiko, then closes the distance between them.

[He didn’t say how they were related?]

[No, although he said they were close. Maybe cousins, I thought.]

Shizune snorts, then signs furiously.

[She’s his mother’s sister. She’s his aunt.]

*****

Friday, 11th March 2044

It’s the end of another day. Time has passed. School is closing briefly to mark the passing of another year. The final-years have graduated, and few of them will return to grace the aging corridors of the school on Mount Aoba.

She’s still in her skinsuit, today a deep purple one under her protective lab coat, as she finishes the stocktaking at Biomedical Lab 1. Duty is something she’s always understood, things like the onerous administrative tasks that a teacher must carry out even when they’d rather just teach.

The soft beep at the door surprises but does not startle her. There aren’t many people left in school.

“Akiko?”

Yes, but not the girl you think I am, she thinks darkly to herself. Who else would come and look for her? Only the useless bum she used to love.

“Setou.”

“Ah.”

To his credit, she observes that he doesn’t bother with the puppy-dog look, or the impassioned intellectual conversation. ‘Ah’ about sums it up. What else is there to say now? But he’s going to try anyway, she can tell.

“Nakai, I thought that I would come to talk to you about Kaori.”

In Biomedical Lab 1, there are many ways to dispose of human tissue. There are even some ways that will leave hardly any trace and confuse even an advanced spectrophotometric array. She can’t help but think of that as she looks at him. Not trusting herself to speak, she nods very slightly, almost as if by accident.

“Kaori is my mother’s half-sister, but she is almost two years younger than I am. We have been friends for a very long time.”

Here it comes. He’ll lie to her and say that this is all they are. That his classic beauty was just a good friend, that after Akiko Nakai dumped him, he went to her, and one thing led to another and… he’s still talking.

“Besides you, she was the only girl in my life who wasn’t my sister. But my parents were very firm about how far our relationship could go—her father is my grandfather, you know. I liked her a lot. She’s still my very good friend.”

Ha. So when your parents said ‘no’, you went after your godfather’s daughter. Well done, you unmentionable cowardly… She remembers the kind of vocabulary her mother used to use when upset. It doesn’t make her happier. Especially because she knows she’s being unfair.

“But you, you were different. My mother tells me that the first thing I said about you when you were just born was that you were very pretty. I wanted my parents to borrow you. I don’t think that has ever changed.”

‘Pretty’. Of course—has all the right body parts, is tall, the kind of thing men like. Well, no, I’m not impressed. She keeps her face deadpan. Surely he will give up and go away, once his gambits are exhausted.

He just looks tired. “You were the only girl I ever loved. When I told you that, it was true. It is still true. I understand this is not important to you any more, but I just wanted to tell you there’s nothing going on between Kaori and myself.”

Sure. It’s not at this moment that she makes up her mind. Surprisingly, she realizes she has made up her mind quite some time before. She’s known Koji long enough to know that it’s harsh to think he’s being dishonest. The only person he might ever lie to is himself.

“Koji, thank you. It’s hard for me to say what I want to say.” She’ll try to say it, though. She takes a deep breath, but very slowly.

“Look, this is modern Japan, 2044. If you want Kaori for the rest of your life, it’s your choice. I’ll wish you well.” Even if it hurts, because Akiko knows she has no claim on him anyway, now.

He’s about to interrupt. If he does, she won’t be able to find the words again, so she puts one hand up to stop him.

“I’m done with all that. But I’m not done with being friends. I was cruel to you because I didn’t know what I was doing. That was years ago. It’s a waste of time. I’m sick of not being your friend and trying to be polite in the staff room.”

There’s enough breath in her left to say this last part and try to mean it.

“Koji, I know you would never betray me. Well, let me say two things. It’s not betrayal if you love someone else now. Also, if you’re free before you go back to Saitama, we can go for a run. I won’t torture you too much.”

She puts a last bit of her energy into her smile. She fights to make it real, adds some Ibarazaki fire to it. She remembers the ice-cream supper she’d shared with her half-mothers a few nights back, the fact that loving one and not the other in the end meant loving them both.

He smiles back hesitantly at first, and then says, “Okay. Usual time?”

Then, rather shyly, he offers her a fist. Such an old, out-of-date, childish thing. It means a lot to her, though. So she smashes her fist gently into his, and the sadness of so many years begins to burn away.



To the memory of Emi (Ibarazaki) Nakai (14 March 1988 – 05 May 2030)

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:55 am, edited 6 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: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; Changes 20150322)

Post by fermatiauda » Mon Mar 23, 2015 3:56 pm

God damnit bryt, you did it again, kudos, cheers, lots of love and keep the good work. :)

Edit: i forgot to say that i loved Emi's ending, so sad but.... I don't know which word to use that can describe it, i think beautiful might be that word, i don't know, lots of mixed feelings.
Those who are heartless once cared too much.
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Re: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; Changes 20150322)

Post by brythain » Tue Mar 24, 2015 11:16 am

fermatiauda wrote:God damnit bryt, you did it again, kudos, cheers, lots of love and keep the good work. :)

Edit: i forgot to say that i loved Emi's ending, so sad but.... I don't know which word to use that can describe it, i think beautiful might be that word, i don't know, lots of mixed feelings.
Hey, I'm glad you liked it! I'm very touched by that comment.
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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Location: East Asia
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After the Dream—Akiko Nakai ('Breaking News')

Post by brythain » Tue Jun 02, 2015 11:59 am

In which we wander deeper into an ancient labyrinth filled with images of those we used to know.


Akiko 3b: Breaking News (T +20)

Saturday 12 March

“Hello, grandmother!”

“Hi, Sunshine! Don’t call me that!” says Meiko Ibarazaki, sounding and looking quite spritely for an octogenarian child of the 1960s.

“How have you been?” says Akiko, somewhat guiltily. Work has kept her away from Gramma for two whole weeks.

“I’m good! Your friend Rin has been with me all the time! We’ll celebrate her birthday tomorrow!”

Akiko sighs. Ever since poor old Dr Kaneshiro had passed on two years back, her grandmother has become increasingly erratic in her grasp of time and relationships.

“That sounds good. I will drop by as usual on Monday?”

“Monday? Ah, for our special lunch! I’ll be sure to buy some really good ingredients. Can’t trust the mass-market stuff.”

“What have you been doing?”

“Oh, this and that. I was just chatting with Rin about how fun it was to design your engagement ring. She’s such an artist! Such vision!”

“Really?” she replies, confused. Engagement ring?

“Yes! Your young man wanted something that would highlight your eyes and your inner fire. And of course I asked your father’s blessing, and then we got some help from that wonderful Akio Mutou for materials. So romantic!”

It’s with some dismay that Akiko watches her grandmother’s beautiful face as it creases into a smile of delight. Resigned, she uses the old trigger phrase: “Have you had your coffee today?”

“Emi! Aren’t I perky enough as it is? You always say I embarrass you by acting like an eighteen year old! But your birthday on Monday won’t make you anywhere near half my age.” Meiko giggles and thrusts her chest forward suggestively. Then her face changes suddenly. “Who are you? You’re not my daughter.”

“This is not Emi, Gramma. This is Akiko.”

“Who? Oh, this person apologises. So embarrassed. One thought that this was one’s daughter. Sorry to have taken up your time. Goodbye!”

The display fades to nothing as Akiko watches. Sadly, she sets her comms to standby mode and gazes out over Sendai from her apartment’s little balcony. A distant memory of Mutou-sensei filters into her head: “So much has been lost, and there is much yet to lose,” he used to say.

Monday is the day that she normally accompanies her grandmother to visit Mother’s grave. Mother would have been fifty-six. It has been fourteen years since she left, two months before Mutou-sensei’s own untimely passing.

*****

Monday 14 March

Then it’s Monday, and Akiko finds herself meditating on the few things that are true about her life. One of these things that calms her mind is this: that there are days on which Hanako Ikezawa makes the effort to be in Japan. How old is the famously quiet, acerbic food writer? Few people actually believe that she is fifty-five this year. Few people who knew her in the past believe what she has done with her decades either.

But the lanky athlete with the copper hair believes it all, because the pen that terrorizes restaurants is also the pen that once wrote reassuring notes, from ‘Aunty Hanako Godma’ to ‘Aki-chan’. This is mid-March, and this lady who was once a close friend to Father will be here, as she is in most Augusts.

Akiko Nakai, national heptathlete, unlucky in love, subject of envious whispers, is going home now, but not to her own little apartment. She’s not driving, nor being chauffeured. She’s taking the bus, just as she used to when she was a little girl. The public bus is a little slower; no attention needs be paid to fellow passengers, surroundings or traffic. It allows her to meditate on the warmth of affection she has for strict, wise Aunt Hana. It allows her to remain silent as she thinks of her grandmother, once strong and practical and happy, now frail and worn. They say she has her grandmother’s hair.

It was Meiko Ibarazaki who brought Akiko up, Emi’s summer mother rearing Emi’s summer child. But Emi Ibarazaki had left the game early, as Akiko once heard her adoptive half-mother say in an unguarded moment. Akiko remembers asking Gramma once: ‘Why was I left behind?’ Gramma had no answer then, but at least she had been there.

All these thoughts glow like milestones, some warm, some terribly cold, as the bus trundles along to Gramma Meiko’s home. The summer lady wonders what her grandmother will be doing — maybe she has found the energy to fire up the kiln, or make a pizza, or some soba. Maybe she is working on the other earring, the uncompleted left side of a pair that she’d been working on forever. Oh, how Akiko regrets not having pierced her earlobes earlier!

But all that about Aunty Rin? How chilling. Akiko hasn’t seen her for years, now; her mother’s reclusive best friend left them one day and never came back. If Meiko has begun hallucinating, that’s a serious thing.

The bus purrs softly as it arrives at its destination. Akiko alights, adjusts the loose shawl and environment-sensitive silk wrap around her brown skinsuit, and slowly finds a comfortable stride that will bring her to the familiar gate in about five minutes. She could do it in one, but where would the fun be in that?

Five minutes later, she dings the old-fashioned bell at the gate firmly, to give her grandmother sufficient time to get to the door, as she always does. The gate unlocks as Akiko’s biometrics engage the house’s proximity links. The paving stones are clean, recently swept by human hands. Meiko won’t use bots for work she can do herself.

The door is open, but Gramma’s not there. Frowning a little, Akiko enters the house.

*****

Efficiently, firmly, quietly, Koji Setou makes tea. “I’ve called the police.”

“Why?” she whispers, sitting in a daze at the kitchen table. It hurts him to see her so hollow and vulnerable, like an autumn leaf in her brown and white outfit. She’s always been so strong and alive.

“It’s a mysterious death. They’ll want to get the coroner to say it was old age or whatever coroners do.”

“We can’t just leave her there!”

“It’s good that you did.” He’s seen her shawl over the still, awkward body in the workroom, and he hasn’t touched anything.

She looks up at him, trembling. He knows that she’s physically much tougher than he is. But as he looks back into her eyes, all he knows is that he wants to hold her tight and tell her that all will be well. The problem is that he doesn’t know how she’ll take it.

He sits down next to her. Carefully, he cups her elbows in his hands. Her triceps twitch at the touch of his fingertips. “Aki-chan, I’m here for you. You called me. I came over. Let me take care of things for a while. Please, have some tea.”

He’s also contacted Akiko’s brother. Young Akira is driving up from Nagasaki, of all places. But Koji doesn’t question why; he just mutters a silent prayer for safety on the road. What really is on Koji’s mind is the last piece of completed work on the workbench. Meiko had made pots and vases and other large items, whenever the mood seized her. That piece is none of those things.

On the workbench is an exquisite little butterfly, sculpted in clay and yet so fine that he’d thought it alive at first. It’s been painted in oranges and browns and lines of yellow and white. It is a very Meiko thing. But it’s clear that this is not Meiko’s work. Someone with microscale tools must have crafted it, and Akiko’s grandmother had been a traditionalist in that regard, if not in other ways.

He keeps his thoughts to himself. He has found, over the years, that this is the course of action that brings the least pain, the smallest chance of disaster. As Akiko leans towards him instinctively, he enfolds her in that most measured of embraces—one that offers everything, but which forces nothing.

*****

They are sitting like that when the police arrive to take a statement—which is to say, they record the state of everything in the space-time volume of interest. The drones arrive first, establishing a perimeter. Then the humans come, asking questions; then the human fatality suite assesses what remains. It’s all routine, although Akiko’s heart feels as hollow as her veins.

The site inspector is kind and competent. But even he is discombobulated by the sudden appearance at the door.

“Ms Hakamichi? Err, many apologies, Ms Ikezawa, this site has been sealed, ah…”

Akiko turns toward the commotion. “Aunt Hana!” she says, and then stops, looking confused. That’s not…

“Hello, Aki-chan. Hello, young Setou. You’ll find, Inspector Fukumara, that I indeed h-have clearance.”

“… Aunt Hana?”

Akiko’s pretty godmother, Koji is thinking, who has only one disconcerting flaw. From the angle at which he sits, he’s unable to see what Akiko has already noticed.

Hanako Ikezawa grimaces as her heart sinks. What a foolish thing to do, she thinks. This just isn’t me. Yet, it is. The Nakai Foundation has finally persuaded her to undergo restorative treatment. Age-old burn scars just go white and smooth and sometimes lumpy. But in this age of the nanomachine, she has been able to go and do something that she felt would be a nice surprise for her very dear husband. He is still recovering from that surprise.

“D-Don’t stare, dear, it’s impolite. I came as soon as I realized you weren’t going to turn up. I was worried, you know. Why are your comms off? What’s happened?”

Lovely Aunt Hana, Koji revises, awestruck, completely beautiful with the reflected noonday light illuminating her. Flawless.

“It’s Grandmother, she… you…”

Hanako remembers Emi telling little Akiko once, “Hey, remember the living people, don’t just think of the dead ones! Dead can’t be fixed.”

“Dear, don’t worry about me—is Gramma gone?”

Koji has a natural sense for avoidance. Sometimes, that’s good; sometimes, bad. Today, he very naturally moves out of the space between Akiko and her godmother, coming to rest at a standing position between the still-surprised Inspector Fukumara and the two women holding each other. Then he bows.

Fukumara nods, understanding, and follows Koji out of the door. The inspector is of the same generation as Koji’s father, and feels oddly pleased that somebody is being polite and sensitive, which isn’t quite his thing. He knows the Ibarazaki name by reputation. He knows the Setou name by personal experience.

“My regards to the General,” he says to Koji, watching carefully for a response. This will determine his consequent approach.

“Ah? Oh. You know my father. Sorry, yes. Will convey your regards; thank you, Inspector.”

“How are you involved in this event, Setou-san?”

“My parents and Akiko’s parents were friends. Akiko’s late father was my godfather.”

The inspector raises an eyebrow just enough to indicate interest without unseemly curiosity. “I see. Do you have any cause to suspect foul play?”

“Errr… no, not, I don’t.”

“Do you know who is registered as next-of-kin?”

“No… wouldn’t that be Akiko?”

Fukumara’s implants tell him that the young man is sincere. Puzzled, but sincere. Probably the whole thing about coming face to face with death. And he’s right about the registered NOK. He sighs tactfully, and tactically. “No further questions. Seems straightforward. The fatality suite reports death within natural parameters. I regret to have intruded upon your loss.”

“Our privilege, Inspector,” Koji Setou says, distractedly.

Such a polite young man, Fukumara thinks. Pity he’s taken. Or is he? He’d be a good match for Suki. Fukumara shakes his head, dispelling the unprofessional thought of his unmarried daughter from this place of recent grief.

“Thank you. I’ll take my leave once we’ve completed the formalities.”

All Koji can think of is butterflies. Butterflies. A faint memory stirs within him, but he is unsure as to its provenance and truth.

*****

“Godmother?”

“Dear?”

“What were you and Koji talking about just now?”

Her godmother smiles a little stiffly, as if unused to her own face. This is indeed the case, for both of them. “About butterflies.”

“Oh. I think I remember seeing one in the room.”

“It reminded Koji of your Aunty Rin.”

“Aunty Rin? Ah. She used to keep butterflies a long time ago, before she left. She had a window-box in the staff quarters.”

“She used to paint butterflies as well.”

“Yes.”

“Koji asked about you. He was worried about you.”

“Koji has always been a bit of a nag. He is like an elder brother.”

Hanako looks her goddaughter in the eye. Akiko is taller, but seated, she cannot evade that innocently piercing gaze.

“He used to think of himself that way, dear.”

Akiko blinks. “Used to?”

“That’s what he told himself for many years. He would p-protect you, watch over you.”

“I do not need that kind of thing.”

“In this family that we have become, none of us need anything of that kind. But it may be unkind to spurn help offered.”

There is heat in Akiko’s eyes now. If only people would stop mothering, fathering, brothering and everything, she fumes. “What help? There is nobody left. When Grandmother’s house is sold, I will make it my life’s work to retire Principal Hakamichi and run Yamaku myself. That is all I will be fit for.”

Hanako has heard harsh words in her time before. She herself has used such language on various Hakamichis. But these are sharp indeed. She lets her lips open in dismay, breathing in and then out so that she won’t say anything regrettable. What could have made her goddaughter so bitter?

The answer is unexpected, and even worse. Gasping, neither crying nor screaming, Akiko speaks, and the words rush out like poetry gone bad.

“They’ve taken everything. My brother is somewhere else with his two-toned slut, Koji is probably sleeping with his aunt, my family is gone. I was adopted by two people who should never have been parents, and you, you were never around. Always away, Godmother. Whatever is best of others, I never got it. I had to be my own best, the way Mother taught me.”

It’s at times like this that Hanako feels the rage within her. Very few know that she carries in herself an anger that is like a lance of blood and steel. She has killed dragons with that spear. She has to bite her lip to hold it back now. Akiko doesn’t deserve that.

Quietly, she nods, and passes the test. “I am sorry,” she says, simply and honestly. “I should have been your f-friend, but I’ve missed my chance.”

Her goddaughter meets her gaze. Big eyes, of that oddly hazel hue, brimming but not tearing. The anger dies, crumbles into sorrow. “No. Not yet, Aunt Hana.”

Quick to wrath and quickly forgiving, Hanako ponders. Akiko’s just like her mother in some ways, perhaps kinder.

“Thank you.”

On impulse, Akiko reaches out and hugs her godmother. Aunty Hanako Godma’s a lot smaller than I remember, the little girl deep inside her whispers. It surprises both of them.

*****

There are things to be done, and Aunt Hana handles them all. She fends off the Hakamichis, beginning with Uncle H. As the day creeps onward, as the wake arrangements unfold, half her face has begun to turn slightly rosy, as if remembering a past recently removed.

Koji had left much earlier. Akiko doesn’t mind. She needs things simple, and there’s something soothing about working with her godmother. Akiko is not in the mood to engage in formalities with her adoptive half-mothers. It shows, when they appear some time in the afternoon.

“Aki-chan… we’re sad for you. Come, let Aunty Misha give you a big hug!~”

She turns away from this half-mother, sees what she thinks is a stern look on her other half-mother’s face, and says something violent and obscene in the darkness of her head. What she misses is the look of wretched dismay that briefly flits over their faces. They do love her, whatever she might think.

Hanako doesn’t miss that. She knows them both very well. Behind Akiko’s back, she makes a sympathetic face at them.

It’s only then that they realize who she is, she sees sadly. Her friends have all learnt to live with her once-damaged face; it defines her to them. Now that her face has been remade, they don’t know what to say.

“Hana-chan!~” trills Misha, glad to find something to be cheerful about. “It’s you! You look so…” — as usual, she’s not thought it through. She’s suddenly aware that perhaps Hanako’s scarred face was a defining characteristic. Now that the scars have gone, how does one speak about them? Can you tell someone they’re ‘beautiful’ as if they weren’t before?

[Nice to see you. Sad that it’s on this kind of occasion. Do you need help?]

As Akiko steps away, Hanako finds enough in herself to produce the ghost of a smile and the memory of sign language. [Yes, it has been some time, Shizune. Thank you for the offer. Things are under control. Hello, Misha.] She doesn’t use speech at all, and avoids saying anything else.

*****

Thursday 17 March

Funerals are brief, intensely ritualized performances. But even if you see them as some sort of drama, a form of theatre, you can still be surprised by unexpected actors. There are little scenes that play out by themselves, seemingly unconnected with the whole.

“Koji, thank you for being here. And tell your father that his p-presence is not as invisible as he thinks it is.”

All Akiko can think of, as Aunt Hana says all the polite things and collects the traditional black and silver envelopes, is that Koji shouldn’t have brought that woman with him. She doesn’t mean his mother—Mrs Setou is always welcome, so kind and sensible—but his mother’s half-sister, the young pretty one who has been Koji’s friend for such a long time.

It’s an intrusion on her grief, Akiko decides. Kaori Shirakawa has no place here. But what does it matter? Gramma’s gone, and the red paint that marked her name among the living has been removed. Now she’s with the grandfather that Akiko never knew, ashes with ashes, dust with dust, mingled for eternity.

It is worse when the woman comes over and sits next to her. She makes Akiko feel big and ungainly; Kaori is a classic modern Japanese beauty, petite with pale sharp features and magnetic eyes. Even worse, she reminds Akiko of Koji’s sister. And she has a ridiculous little mole on her left lower lip, which Akiko feels like scratching just to see if it will come off.

“Sincere condolences, Nakai-san.”

“Thank you, Shirakawa-san.”

Absurd formalities, between two people who don’t know each other and would probably prefer not to get close enough for that.

“It has been good to meet you, even under such circumstances. I will be returning to Saitama, but I think Koji is staying on for a while. Please forgive him. He doesn’t understand women.”

Whatever. Akiko’s not inclined to understand the little nuances and subtexts hidden in such words. She has never been one for that kind of thing. She just nods, and wishes that Kaori would go away.

*****

“You didn’t bring your girlfriend?” Koji inquires, as he and Young Akira walk together along a shaded path some distance away.

Akiko’s brother grimaces. “My sister doesn’t approve. Neither does Uncle H. About the only people I can speak to about it are Aunt Hana and Aunt Lilly.”

“Oh,” says Koji with sympathy. “It’s a bit like that with me too.”

“Ah.”

Koji thinks: What an earnest, decent kid. He deserves a chance of happiness.

Akira thinks: What a nice guy. He should be the elder brother I never had.

They do their thinking in silence for a while. Then Akira sighs. “I should return to my sister. She’ll need company. Heck, I need company.”

“Yes. I am sorry. It pains me to see her sad.”

“She called you before she called anyone else. Perhaps that means something?”

Koji shakes his head. “I think I was the only one within range.”

Akira looks sharply at his older friend, someone he’s known for a very long time—someone he’s always thought would make a good match for his broody sister. “You don’t really have another girlfriend, do you, boss?”

Koji stops moving. “You’re not yet twenty-two, small fart.”

The younger man laughs at this childhood nickname. But there’s a dogged determination behind his next words as he too comes to a stop. “My sister, she needs a friend. She thinks you’re in bed with your aunt. I’ve heard the story.”

“Well, you shouldn’t trust stories,” says Koji unhappily.

“Tell me.”

They stare at each other for a while. If a surveillance drone, by any chance, were to look at them, they’d look a lot like Hisao Nakai and Kenji Setou from a long time ago. It’s obvious they are both the sons of their respective fathers. Weighing up the burdens of his soul, his conscience, and his duty, Koji Setou makes a decision. He will tell what he can to young Master Nakai.

“I’ve liked your sister since we were kids. We’ve always been casual friends. Didn’t think we’d be lovers or anything like that. She didn’t think of it at all. But she’s a much nicer person to hang around with than she believes.”

“She is?” Akira asks innocently, and then immediately adds, “Sorry, I believe you,” when he sees the look on the older man’s face.

Koji looks at what remains to be said, and tries to put it in the right order. It’s more difficult than crafting historical narratives.

“Kaori, my aunt, my mother’s half-sister? She is like light where your sister is fire. But Kaori’s always not seen me as anything but a friend, she says. She told me some weeks ago that all I had was an infatuation from long ago, and I should stop. I’m beginning to think that’s true.”

“So who do you want to live with for the rest of your life, boss?”

“It won’t be Miss Shirakawa, I’m afraid. I am fond of her, and perhaps I do love her, but it doesn’t go both ways and life is too short for regrettable behaviour.”

Akira swallows slowly. It’s a moment, he senses, on which lives might depend. “Do you love my sister, then?”

“If she doesn’t love me, it doesn’t matter.”

“Do you?”

“She loved someone else, actually.”

It’s against young Akira’s instincts to do this, but he knows he must. He reaches up slightly to the thinner, taller man’s scarf and seizes the dark stripes. “Koji, if you love her, tell her! You’ve always been my elder brother anyway!”

Slowly, very slowly, Koji removes the younger man’s hands from his neck. “I did. People are watching. I’ll talk to you later.” An unfathomable expression on his gaunt face, he turns around and strides down a different path.

Akiko’s brother stands unmoving for a moment. It’s a sad day, but it doesn’t have to become even sadder, he growls to himself.

*****

Friday 25 March

But it does, of course. In real life, or in stories, it is always darkest before the dawn. Days before the end of March, Akiko Nakai turns in her staff keys to Principal Hakamichi, her adoptive half-mother.

“It is with regret that this unworthy one requests leave of absence for an indefinite period. All access privileges have been rescinded. This one will understand completely if there is no vacancy left should she return at a later date. Arrangements have been made to cover all existing duties.”

[Daughter, you will always be welcome at Yamaku.]

Akiko returns a twisted, bitter smile to Shizune. The older woman, clad in her usual dove-grey suit, winces slightly. She has come to love this girl whom she adopted years ago. Affection not returned, she thinks to herself, makes the heart sick. But I am used to that.

[Go well.]

“Keep in touch?” says Aunty Misha, her other half-mother.

Akiko allows her lips to relax a little, into something closer to a genuine smile. She nods, but will not test her resolve further. And then she’s gone.

In the sunset, a last ray of light fades. Shizune and Misha sit silently in the room, alone with their many splintered thoughts. The one thought they have in common is: How did it all go so wrong?

=====
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Last edited by brythain on Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:55 am, edited 4 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: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; Breaking 20150602)

Post by Blank Mage » Wed Jun 03, 2015 1:49 am

Cheerful as always, eh? I admit, My view of AtD is beginning to fracture a bit, the scope and depth is a little staggering anymore. I take it that Akiko's yuri crush didn't work out, eh?
It’s at times like this that Hanako feels the rage within her. Very few know that she carries in herself an anger that is like a lance of blood and steel. She has killed dragons with that spear.
Hanako is fucking metal.
And we're back.
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"I wish I could convey to you just how socially inept I am, but I can't."
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"No, I really, truly haven't."

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Re: After the Dream—Emi's Arc (Complete; Breaking 20150602)

Post by brythain » Wed Jun 03, 2015 2:01 am

Blank Mage wrote:Cheerful as always, eh? I admit, My view of AtD is beginning to fracture a bit, the scope and depth is a little staggering anymore. I take it that Akiko's yuri crush didn't work out, eh?
It’s at times like this that Hanako feels the rage within her. Very few know that she carries in herself an anger that is like a lance of blood and steel. She has killed dragons with that spear.
Hanako is fucking metal.
That's how you know there'll be a happy ending. If you don't have blood and steel, it's hard to have a proper happy ending. Really! :)
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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After the Dream—Akiko Nakai ('Space, Time and Destiny')

Post by brythain » Wed Jun 03, 2015 11:04 pm

An ending, in which Akiko Nakai and Koji Setou realise how big time and space and destiny are.
The best coffee is rich and bitter, sometimes one leading to the other.

Some of the events in this piece dovetail with events from Hanako Ikezawa's story here.



Akiko 3c: Time, Space and Destiny (T +20)

Friday 5 August

The air is still damp, although it won’t be for much longer. It’s a cool summer, and summer’s lady kneels in the clearing where the two sets of grave markers sit. Her parents, her grandparents, united in one plot.

She’s jet-lagged, having just returned from the 2044 San Francisco Olympics, where she only barely medalled in the heptathlon. Her brother has remained across the ocean with his girlfriend, a kind of betrayal as far as she’s concerned.

Yet, even this early in the morning, there’s light. She cannot escape it, no matter how dark her mood. Deep inside, she wants to be free. She doesn’t hate the light; she was born with a lot of it within her. Carefully, she wipes dirt from the marble and steel surfaces, finds peace in lighting the candles, placing the flowers.

“I thought I might find you here.”

Over the last few months, Akiko Nakai has grown her hair even longer. Nobody noticed, because she’s learnt to get it out of her way when in training. Now, released from their bondage, the muted copper tresses fall over her shoulder the way her godmother’s dark hair does.

But this isn’t the right day for Godma to be here, and this isn’t her godmother at all. Against her instincts, she turns towards that light, slightly awkward voice. “Are your father’s resources aimed at your friends now?” she says, only a split second later realizing that again, she is being cruel.

He breathes in sharply, breathes out slowly. “No. I guessed you would not be here on the day itself. I’ve brought something for your father though. From mine.”

Of course he has. It’s the thin golden thread of fire and alcohol, unpronounceable poetry and ridiculous conversation, that tied their fathers together swinging from rooftop to rooftop. And for some reason, on this eve of all days, she has forgotten the drink offering, although the secret favourite food that her parents shared is already on a small plate, laid on the cold stone.

It is as if fated to be. That’s not something Akiko wants; her instincts shrink from it. She knows Koji Setou would not want that either, for both of them are creatures of free will. Fire and air, they used to joke. Passion and reason.

She sighs, her thoughts in disarray, and stands. “How have you been, Koji?” she asks. Looking at him, she realizes that this doesn’t need asking. He looks thin, overworked, careworn. It crosses her mind that she’s probably heavier than he is. In one scrawny hand he holds a transparent bag with a bottle and another package inside.

He looks at the package, then looks at the plate ruefully. It’s enough to tell her that in the white wrapping is a veal curry bun. “I’ve been better. Missed you on campus.”

Without a thought, she takes the tumblers from his other hand, as if to carry them much longer would be too much for him. They’re old tumblers, a classic design. The idea that her father’s living hands might have touched the thick glass thrills her. She cannot speak, caught up in the moment.

They turn to face the markers. On the left, the traditional stone with her Ibarazaki grandparents’ names on them; on the right, the unusual stone and steel marker with a running track and a field of stars.

She places the tumblers on the flat part of the grave and he places a careful measure of expensive amber fluid into each one. The bottle holds a century malt: a whisky distilled more than forty years ago and worth a fortune.

With the ease of routine, her friend moves one of the tumblers to a space in front of her grandmother’s name. He knows; how does he know? Mother never let Gramma drink. He’s possibly the only person living who might do this gracious duty for the dead.

Why not say it? It’s true. She looks at him out of the corner of her eye. “I have missed you as well, Setou-san.”

She just about catches the twitch of his jaw muscle that signals amusement at this unnecessary formality. The sun is rising, and a gentle breeze wafts the scent of flowers across the cemetery grounds.

*****

Monday 8 August

This day is the last day of the Sendai Tanabata festival. Almost exactly two decades ago, they’d laid Father to rest. Akiko never really knew him; she’d been only four years old when his heart had given out.

But Aunt Hana remembers this time of the year, every year. And though she’d been held up by bad flying conditions and traffic, she’s here. The rest of her family is in Saitama as usual.

Akiko zips into the parking area and lets her little car coast into a space. There is hardly any residual force as the flame-painted Swift decelerates smoothly to a stop. Hanako smiles a little. She’s all grown up now, always overriding the electronics, driving by effort of will. Better still, Aki-chan seems happy.

Her smile is returned by a brief grin, quickly damped as they exit the vehicle and look at the somber entrance. “Aunt Hana? Shall I wait at the gate, or would you prefer some company?”

The answer is always the same, so Akiko and her godmother share an embrace before the older woman enters the cemetery alone. As they separate, Akiko has taken a good, close-up look at Hanako Ikezawa’s face. The skin is flawless. It requires a very strong imagination to even guess at where the burn scars used to be. And yet, she muses, as Aunt Hana is lost to sight, she seems so uncomfortable to be even more beautiful than before.

Pondering the strangeness of human life does not come naturally to her, but as she settles down to wait for her godmother, she thinks about the complex web that has brought them all together over the years. She wonders what her godmother actually does at her father’s grave.

An hour later, Akiko decides that an unusually long time has passed. Should she be concerned? Whether she should be or not, she is. She gets to her feet like a cat, somehow stretching without effort, and thinks very hard about whether going in to check on Aunt Hana might be a breach of privacy or not.

It’s very quiet. A few minutes in, she spots her godmother, alone and silent. As she approaches, she notices something odd. There’s a bouquet of white chrysanthemums on the slab. Everything else is as it should be, the little vessel for cleansing water, the candles, and the book of poetry that Aunt Hana always carries with her.

As if startled, the older woman rises stiffly to her feet.

“Aunt Hana? Are you okay?”

“Coming, dear. Just had a f-funny thought, that’s all. Talking it over with your father.”

“It’s all right, I’m sure Father won’t mind. Mother always said you were one of his closest friends.”

Akiko is quite sure her mother had never said that of any of the others. The next thing that Aunt Hana says, however, is truly very odd.

“Sometimes I wonder if he ever really thought I was p-pretty.”

“Awww. What brought that on? Everyone says he thought you were beautiful.” Akiko realizes that this is true, and that she hadn’t thought twice before saying it. A little embarrassed, she points at the flowers, which she is sure Aunt Hana hadn’t brought in with her. “Whose flowers are those?”

Her godmother stoops beside the grave, and Akiko joins her. The wind blows dark hair across Hanako’s face, but she makes no attempt to stop it. “It’s nothing really, Aki-chan. Those flowers? They’re from s-someone he used to know a long, long time ago.”

“Someone was here? What did she tell you?”

“A long, sad story. She told me that sometimes first instincts are the best, and if you fail to follow through on them, you might lose something valuable forever.”

*****

Friday 12 August

Koji remembers the unfamiliar shouting and the grim words. He remembers the heated exchanges, and the pallor of Kaori Shirakawa’s face. He doesn’t understand women very well. From the look on his father’s face, neither does Director-General Setou. But later on, in a quiet room with a plain desk gouged with impromptu carvings and graffiti, it was all explained to him in excruciating detail.

Days later, he speaks to Kaori. She’s not under an interdict; they are as free to talk as any two adults over the age of consent would be. The problem, on the face of it, is that she is his mother’s half-sister. His mother, mostly cheerful and practical, is almost apoplectic at the idea that they should share a house, let alone a bed. Truth be told, Koji’s mind isn’t on sex or babies, but on the point of sharing a life with someone he has a great affection for.

But over the years, as Kaori tactfully points out to him, he should’ve realized that affection is a great thing on its own. Eros doesn’t necessarily come into it, and friendship is a precious thing.

Sunlight casts her face into relief, her delicate nose, the set of her jaw. “If you hadn’t been so upset with Akiko, whom you’ve loved all your life, would you have decided you wanted to marry me?”

He starts slightly, stabbed suddenly by Kaori’s subtle stiletto. That is indeed the point. Would he? He’s never lied to Kaori before; he’s not about to start. “Perhaps not,” he mutters, ashamed.

“I’ve always been happy to be your sort-of cousin, and your friend, and your confidante, Koji. I never understood why I never got to meet your godfather’s daughter, until I actually met her. Whether consciously or not, you’ve been keeping us secret from each other. You’ve been dishonest in your heart.”

If these were knife-wounds, she is remorselessly bleeding him out. And he knows he deserves it. “I never thought of it that way.”

“It’s not coincidence. It’s not only you. In a quarter-century, Akiko and I have been in the same room perhaps twice? Three times? Did you see her face when she walked into the Shanghai and saw us? She didn’t know who I was at all. Damn, I hardly recognized her except that you reacted that way.”

“It’s not only… what do you mean?”

“You know basic genetics? You and I, we have an X-chromosome in common. It was a fifty-fifty chance, but I checked. It’s not good. Your grandfather, my father, knows it. Your parents too. They made an invisible circle around our relationship, a wall not to be crossed. And there are other kinds of walls as well.”

Koji does not understand at first. Science, to him, is not the first line of attack when getting confused by human relationships. What was explained to him in the quiet room is not what Kaori is talking about now. For some reason, she is crying. But why? He’d never hurt her. He doesn’t know what to say.

“So even if… even if… we… had some common feelings, we’d have had something else in common, anyway.”

She dabs at her eyes, which remain damp. He tries to speak, but she gestures at him with the fine lace handkerchief. “And so, we’re friends. I’ll be your very good friend, and if you have children some day, Aunty Kaori will look after them when you need a babysitter. It’s the way this family does things.”

“I never knew this. But my father said something else about you…”

She cuts him off. “Your father has a strong sense of duty. Don’t say anything else. I don’t want to hear it. I know he made promises, and I won’t be the reason for breaking them.”

He sighs unhappily. How does she know so much? It’s too complicated.

“I won’t say I love you, Koji, because you’d misunderstand. I am very fond of the man I grew up with. But you had another life, over in Sendai, and that has its own value. You should find out for yourself what that is. Then we’ll talk again, if you want.”

She’s small, and sweet, and she understands him. But somewhere in his heart, he knows that it’s over without having ever really begun. He nods. They leave together, and then take separate paths away.

*****

Thursday 15 September

When all’s said and done, all the people in this story will remember this year for so many reasons. Everyone has lost someone or something. But a few of them have found what was missing or lost.

It’s one week before the autumn equinox, when the long days draw to an end and the shorter days of winter have their beginning. Many words have been said, and both Akiko and Koji have spoken to many people. They have tried to stay apart for most of the time in between, but it is as if some old magnetism is drawing them closer. Fate? Destiny? Nothing like that, because they won’t have it that way.

That’s why in September, Akiko finds herself taking a walk in the city with her late father’s friend, Director-General Setou. She still doesn’t know what he directs, or what kind of general he is. A long distance away, Koji is having a heart-to-heart chat with Principal Hakamichi, who knows his parents well.

If the two young people could compare notes, they’d find that these two conversations cover largely the same ground. They form two halves of an awkward meet-the-parents-for-real tango that is being danced in order to force a decision of some kind from both parties. It’s a mess, but that’s what humanity is about.

There’s a small apartment in Sendai, where Hanako Ikezawa used to live whenever she returned. Being married means that she’s not been back in a long while. In fact, the keys have found their way into Akiko Nakai’s purse, with their owner’s blessing.

Those keys are on a table in a run-down little restaurant nearby, that sits conveniently in the shadow of the Academy on the hill. Akiko is sipping green tea, and watching the rain, and running through memories. She’d much rather be running through the rain and sipping memories. But the tea would get cold.

A shadow falls over the table. The unshaven man in the old navy-blue overcoat speaks. “I’m sorry I’m late. I was afraid you would not be here.”

“Afraid?” she queries. “What is there to be afraid of?”

Indeed, says Koji to himself as he looks at her, I am only afraid that this is a dream. But with the wisdom he’s gained, he says instead, “I was afraid I’d miss you.”

“Tea?” she says, avoiding the point.

“Let’s order,” he says, neatly folding his father’s spare overcoat and placing it on the seat.

Six months have passed since Akiko’s grandmother left this world. Four years have passed since Akiko broke Koji’s heart and left it to heal on its own. These are mere numbers, ways in which the silent passage of time is measured.

Two hours later, Koji winces at his own indelicacy. But what else can he say? He looks at her, the one person he knows he has indeed always loved, and whispers that dangerous question, “Your place, or mine?”

Somehow, both of them find an answer. In fact, in the many years that follow, they make it a habit that one of them should always ask, and the other should answer. Then arm in arm, they either walk down the street or up the hill. It doesn’t matter, because wherever they go together, they’ll both call it home.

*****

Editors’ Note:

We are two humble assemblers of tales. We grew up as friends, and were estranged, and then were friends again—in a way, this is one thing that qualified us, in our minds, to be putting together the story of Akiko Nakai and Koji Setou. We are also godmothers, although not of the supernatural kind, and we felt that the story of their early relationship should be blessed in the telling of it. Please forgive us for the many things left unsaid—and thank those who were kind enough to give us things to say. — NO/HH, Andorra la Vella


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Last edited by brythain on Sat Apr 29, 2017 11:56 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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HipsterJoe
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Re: After the Dream—Emi's Arc/Akiko's Story (Complete 201506

Post by HipsterJoe » Thu Jun 04, 2015 12:48 am

I think Akiko's story is the most tragic one in your 'verse, which is kinda of an accomplishment. It's good to see that she ends up finding her own bit of happiness. I think some of your most elegant writing revolves around the subtle heartbreak of doomed relationships—the Kaori/Koji interaction didn't fail to deliver. Glad you posted this in the evening because it makes it easier to avoid the temptation of making myself depressed at work.

I've read all of the main arcs and most of the side arcs, but I honestly cannot remember where it said who Akira (Nakai) is dating.

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