Moon: 2/8 Waning

Vitality

Click. Roll out of bed, ready for a fight. J-Pop on the radio.
For a moment Naoki Kashima just stood there. Lyrics which had once been familiar no longer even made sense. He knew it had made sense once, but now couldn’t find the logic. Just meaningless drivel in a language which no longer seemed so familiar.
The same language which now grumbled at him from the other side of the bunk to turn “…that stupid song off.”
He looked at the digital clock. How did he do that again? He hadn’t had to deal with it since he had come back.
For a moment he just stared at the clock.
“Seriously? You don’t even like this song.”
Since when had ever said that? He had to admit he didn’t think it was good, but there was something pleasant about waking up to something so upbeat.
Someone, his little brother, rolled across the bottom bunk. “Just turn it off.”
Naoki just stared at him. It felt wrong to share his space with another human. Another? Was he even still human anymore?
His brother groaned and reached over to turn the clock off. Naoki let him. Had his brother always been this scrawny, or was he just too used to Dante?
Naoki closed his eyes. Dante. What had happened to him? What about Pixie?
He heard his brother stand up on the other side of the bunks. “Come on. Mom doesn’t serve ‘til we’re all at the table.”
Didn’t she? Naoki had vague memories of coming into the kitchen to find all the food long gone. Still, this was the monotony he had wished for, right?
He turned and looked at his uniform. Second year starting today. Would he be in the same homeroom as Chiaki and Isamu again? He hadn’t spoken to them since leaving the hospital. Could he even face them after what he’d seen? After what they’d done? After what he’d done?
“Hurry up.”
Naoki grabbed the hanger. It felt weird to put this on again. Surely it hadn’t been that long, but the pants didn’t feel like they fit quite right and the jacket was definitely a little tight around his arms. When he put on his socks he realized that his pants were just a little bit too short.
What? How long had he been gone? Had he really ever been gone?
His brother rolled across the bed. “Seriously? Why are you staring at your feet?”
Naoki stood up. “Yukio, it is the start of a new semester, right?”
“Yeah. You forgot what day it was?”
“Sort of.” Naoki reached down and grabbed his school bag. Had it always been this light?
“Come on.”
“Right behind you.”
“Always.”
Brat. Still, Naoki followed his brother out the room and into the kitchen. For Tokyo their apartment was pretty big, especially for being in Shinjuku. A kitchen with a reasonable fridge and two burners, a rice maker, a table that fit the four of them easily, two bedrooms, and a full bathroom. The complex may have been old, but it was central and spacious.
“You bother to wake up.”
Great greeting, mom. His dad sat at the small table flipping through news on his phone. The two children sat down while their mom dished out the rice.
“Thanks for the food,” Yukio chipped.
Naoki just grabbed the bowl, sliding an egg overtop the rice. Yukio glared at him a moment before doing the same.
“Are you looking forward to your last year of middle school?”
“Definitely, but I’m not looking forward to the entrance exams. I definitely don’t want to get stuck at the same school as brother.”
Their father chuckled. “That’s my boy. Set your sights high.”
“Well, I figure if I want to be a doctor I need to go somewhere better, that’s all. If you don’t have any goals in life than Naoki’s school is fine. It’s just not good enough for me.”
Naoki continued eating. Whatever. He’d have been lying to say it didn’t get on his nerves, but he had indeed taken the easiest of the local choices. Simply put, the most convenient school he could find. It was a pretty average school, all things said and done, and he was fine with that. Or at least, he had been, but now…What did he want to do next?
“Well, make sure you’re up for breakfast every morning then, and don’t neglect your club activities. Education is important, but club participation will really help you stand out.”
“I know, mom.”
“Heh, at least one of our kids shows interest in school activities.”
“Indeed,” their mother responded wryly. “Naoki, why don’t you join a club this year?”
He shrugged. “I’ll look.”
“Well, I suppose that’s all I can demand of you, but I do wish you’d make more friends.”
Oh yeah, more people to worry about. That was just what he needed.
“I kind of like Chiaki,” Yukio whispered beside him.
“Don’t bother.”
“What?” Yukio stared at him wide-eyed. He probably hadn’t even realized he’d said anything aloud, and even if he did, Naoki had never gotten on him before.
“She only likes older guys.”
“What is this?” their mother asked.
“I..” Yukio blushed.
“He said he likes Chiaki. Thought I should dissuade him now.”
Their mother looked between the two brothers, eyes wide with confusion. Naoki didn’t generally talk enough to start a fight.
“She’s a perfectly nice girl,” his father reprimanded.
“Dear, obviously he thinks so. I’m sure he’s just jealous because he likes her too.”
Naoki started at that. Honestly, it had never even occurred to him to date Chiaki. She was just the homicidal girl he’d been friends with as long as he could remember. He figured Dante’s standard of not dating girls who try to kill you was a good one.
“Do you like Chiaki?”
Naoki could feel his face contort slightly, but he had no idea the effect. His mother’s eyes widened though, and he figured he ought to say something. “A friend. She’s an…important friend. An old friend that, that I know well.”
“Sounds like you’re hiding something,” his mother teased.
You mean the fact she’s a homicidal lunatic who values personal power and control over everything else? Yeah, I’m hiding that, just not from myself. “Maybe.”
His mother chuckled. “Well, you two better head to school. I’m sure Chiaki is already waiting for you.”
“Don’t tell her what I said.”
“I won’t.”
“Alright, you two.” Their mother pulled out two bento boxes. “Have a good day.”
“Yes, mom.”


School had never seemed so boring. Naoki, Isamu, and Chiaki were in the same class again. Chiaki was class representative, again. And Isamu wanted to hang out after school, like always. The only thing was now Naoki knew he probably didn’t really mean it. Besides, what was the point of hanging out at convenience stores anyway?
“Geez, you sick or something?” Isamu pressed.
How strange to know the person pushing you to hang out would be happier if you told them off.
“Class rep, class rep, I think Naoki’s sick.”
Chiaki came up. “Did you catch something at the hospital?”
Naoki sighed. “I’m fine.”
“Never even called to hang out.”
“We don’t have to hang every weekend?”
“What else are we going to do?”
“You could try doing your homework,” Chiaki chided.
“Come on, Chiaki. Who does that?” Isamu paused. “Oh yeah, you.”
Yukio wanted to be a doctor. Chiaki wanted to work in business. “Hey, where you thinking of college?”
“Seriously, dude?”
Isamu may have said something, but Chiaki seemed just as surprised. “Where’d that come from?”
“What kind of future do you want?”
“What kind of future?”
“Yeah. I know you want to do business, but…what else, or then? What kind of world do you want? How do you want to live?”
“Are you…getting philosophical?” Isamu asked, face contorted in confused disgust.
“That dream must have really gotten to you.”
Naoki sighed. Dream. Sure. Because a dream explained his pants no longer fitting right. Still, it had gotten to him. He knew what they did in an extreme situation. Now he wanted to know what they’d do in a normal life. Given that they had both tried to kill him for their beliefs this seemed like a reasonable concerned.
He didn’t want to have to kill them again.
“I guess. It was pretty intense.”
“Must have been for five minutes to shake you up this much,” Isamu joked.
Five minutes. That was what the clock had read. Not even long enough to feel displaced. Then they’d just gone up to visit Ms. Takao and nothing bad had happened. He’d been tense the entire time, but she had behaved as the kind teacher he’d known all year.
“I guess.”
“Are you okay?”
“I’m okay,” he assured Chiaki. Still, he didn’t entirely feel that way. He didn’t believe for a moment that it had all been a dream, but that meant it had all been true instead. A dream would have been better, even if hollow.
“Isamu, I think he just needs to rest. You should go home and get to bed early, Naoki.”
Naoki grabbed his bag. “Good idea. See you guys tomorrow.”

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