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Standing in the middle of the fire-storm there was a dignified figure.
Her waving hair was silver.
Her eyes were deep blue.
'Takaya... nothing's even happening, and I'm protecting you...!'
By the light reflected in her unsheathed blade, her sooty cheeks were revealed. Those arms were awfully young to be sent into the battlefield, and too soft.
In those wide open blue eyes, though, the power of her heart had become a light that shone intensely.
'If you want to know my name, I will tell you. My name is---'
* * *
"---'VJ', that's what I'm calling you."
As if he were thinking he had to suck his chin into his mouth, chewing his lower lip with all his might, Tada Banri was repeating the lovely VJ's name. His face showing exaggerated emotion like some young unknown comedian, he suddenly nodded in understanding.
"Indeed, indeed, has it come to that... fill us in, Mr. Two Dimensions."
To that side was Yanagisawa Mitsuo. His nickname 'Yana-ssan', he was still grinning, as if waiting for an answer, he was silent, not saying anything more.
Looking at the two of them, friends as they were, seated across the table from Satou Takaya (aka Mr. Two Dimensions), he hesitantly continued.
"VJ's real name is Brigitte Jeomillia. She's a natural born soldier. However, she's actually the daughter of a legitimate royal family."
The name of his heart's bride resounded around the student cafeteria, which was already closing down for the afternoon. Nevertheless, there was much more to the story.
"Because of which, VJ's got a sword. It's for protecting me. She uses a Japanese katana. By the way, that sword, it was marked. It was something demonic, having an ancient doom. Therefore, though it will sometimes speak forth, should I be talking about that matter right now?"
"No, that sounds dull... right now I'd rather listen to a bit more of a Bri's background, myself."
At Banri's words, Yana-ssan also nodded, saying "for sure".
"Understood. Well then, first of all some basic data. VJ is fourteen years old. She's four foot nine, and weighs eighty-four pounds. That she's really small chested, honestly, I secretly don't mind."
"He's a loli, a loli a loli, he's a loli", the two friends were whispering between themselves, like chattering birds.
"Though perfectly under control, without emotion, in the typical voice of a soldier, she has a weakness for her favorite cookie. If I say 'Look, look VJ, it's your favorite~! Eat up~!', then she says 'Ah, Takaya, what're you doing!? Those are my favorite!? Meooww!' ...So cute! Like a cat for catnip, for VJ her cookies were something to speak up for."
"Mmm, I see, I see."
Banri, a notepad in the palm of his left hand, pretended to be writing with a pen in his right hand. While affecting a frown and acting as if he were wetting the tip of his pen,
"Well then, just what does Bri wear, normally?"
He'd heard what he wanted to hear. Right this moment it was just what he wanted to talk about.
"It's a sailor suit."
"Yes, she's wearing it. She's wearing a sailor suit."
Into the notepad in his palm, Banri quickly wrote something down.
"For some reason, VJ came from the other world to find me, and she's been coming over to visit ever since. She said things like, 'In this world, if you're a girl of my age, wouldn't I be wearing clothing like this normally? If I want to avoid standing out in situations like, I have to prepare my clothing.' and then innocently wore her sailor suit. Well, though, the first time she came over it was in military uniform."
"Hmm, ho ho ho ho, as a flat-chested loli in a sailor suit carrying a Japanese katana and fighting at fourteen years of age, and... well, excuse us, but here it's time for deliberations. Hey, Yana-ssan!"
Banri mumbled something unintelligible in Yana-ssan's ear, and then Yana-ssan's brows knitted too while he whispered back. There was a bad feeling as of male bonding in their huddle, talking secretly for a while,
"Mr. Two Dimensions, we cannot condone this!"
"Ah, this is regrettable, Mr. Two Dimensions."
The two of them quietly looked him in the eyes, looking straight at the face of Takaya (aka Mr. Two Dimensions).
"Why? What's the problem?"
Somehow shaking his head sadly from side to side, Banri pronounced the verdict.
"Though it's deplorable... we were thinking that it is entirely a sickness. Come back already, to reality!"
"Reality? How is this a problem!?"
In a flash, answering back clearly, Takaya stared back at the two of them severely.
"I have no attachment to three dimensions! Ever since, naturally, I've been saddled with the name 'Mr. Two Dimensions'. Real women I don't even notice, and characters drawn by other people in other places are not enough! Through and through, I am original! By me, for me, the only bride of my heart, I will go on living and loving VJ!"
"In other words, though for some reason I thought so, that really was original? This character, it didn't already exist? Though I'm not very familiar with anime or manga, it is absolutely something I've seen."
What Yana-ssan said was not so. It was not impossible.
"Hey, hold on!"
Unconsciously, he was beginning to mimic Mitsuo's way of talking somewhat while,
"What're you saying, Yana-ssan!? VJ is completely original to me! She's the only one for me! That, I think, in part, is perhaps where one's taste comes in though, but that's the way the world is, isn't!? How many thousands, tens of thousands of so-called characters are being created today, right this moment!? Is there even one completely the same!? Eh!? Though I think that if you were to listen to this, you would have to admit that I am seriously original, and I still have super important details to put together! Are you listening!? Or rather, listen to me! Please! This is the best time and place! It'd be good for you to listen!"
When he noticed, he was half-standing; somehow, finally, with a pleading tone of voice he faced Yana-ssan and took his hand. Yana-ssan nodded as if he were overwhelmed.
"For VJ... a heart-lock... that's a term I made up though, well, it was something she started saying...!"
Heart-lock--- that was an awfully clumsy invention. Even if Takaya invented it himself, looking at it honestly, it was painful.
To VJ's heart, no--- to her spirit, which had previously been employed as a fighting machine, a powerful 'lock' had been bound. Though it was understood to be a means to enhance VJ's fighting strength, no--- it was a psychic device to restrain VJ's immeasurable power. Incidentally, the 'key', well--- it was lost, its whereabouts as yet unknown. According to one theory, that as a human, it seems to be living as a freshman of this school--- no. That is yet another story.
"Ha haa. A heart-lock."
In spite of his voice showing that he did not understood perfectly, Banri could be seen nodding,
"A lock, you see, or handcuffs, or a padlock. A lock especially for the heart."
"Ah, that way eh... What happens when it comes off?"
"Her eyes... they go violet...!"
With fingers raised in a V, he struck a pose which emphasized his left eye. Eyes of amethyst---. That signature-like pose hinted at VJ's harsh fate.
"Eh, what's so special about that? That's enough now, Yana-ssan"
"Ah, it seems kinda cool to me, rather."
Without thinking he sighed. What were these amateurs saying?
"Hey now, not at all, no way. You aren't understanding at all. When it comes to my VJ, you two cannot understand at all. What, what is with you? Even though from the start you two have been saying, 'We want to know about Mr. 2-D's beloved', but from the very start, you guys have had no intention of trying to understand. Especially Yana-ssan, more so you, your inability to do so is truly unbelievable. You cannot feel it. That being so, VJ's starting to say 'I don't think... I want you... to know me.' It's getting to where she wants to turn her back on you!"
"Eh?", Yana-ssan's well ordered face showed a frown.
"If that's the case, then I apologize. Of course I, since I don't have the rest of the otaku background... but, after just the one piece, would it be all right if I offered an opinion? From the point of view of this brand new not-otaku."
"Though that's OK."
"You called VJ 'Brigitte Jeomillia', didn't you?"
"That's what I said."
"I've been thinking, 'Isn't that BJ?'"
There was a moment of silence.
"...What... did you say...?"
Every last drop had been wrung out from those words. Banri burst out laughing. He was covering his nose with the back of his hand, glancing accidentally towards him, as if in apology, but unable to completely resist, he kept on laughing.
"BJ... hahahaha! It can't be, BJ! Isn't that 'Black Jack'!"
Eventually, even Yana-ssan wound up laughing together with him, leaving Takaya alone, looking at the table in astonishment.
"B...? Brigitte... Is that a 'B'...? You're kidding, aren't you...? No way... myself, by nature... I mean BJ... it was BJ...?"
No way, but--- no! It can't be that way!
"Th... that's enough! She's fine as VJ! Because I decided myself, for myself, VJ is VJ! This name is absolutely the best! The more I thought about it, the more I saw it to be right for VJ! B isn't cute, V it is, absolutely!"
Seeing Takaya's hardened determination to race to VJ's aid, Banri and Yana-ssan, while still smiling, repeated over and over, "We got it, we got it."
* * *
What now, VJ?
'Wasn't there nothing but lecture from the first period on this morning? You must be really tired.'
I suppose. Though I'm a little sleepy, I don't have to work today on top of it, so I'll be able to take it easy back home.
'That should be good. But, ah, that... what is it... not that I want to do anything more, but if Takaya doesn't mind, that... usually, what...'
I know, I know, you want your favorite? I'll go and buy some! Man, VJ sure likes her sweets. Well, she's cute though.
'What you're saying to a soldier! D, did I make any particular request of you!? Ta, Takaya arbitrarily, that, ...gah, I hate that! Anyhow, you'll be back quickly!'
Huh? So, you won't be lonely while I'm gone?
'No, no way!'
VJ's face went red, and her cheeks bulged. Platinum hair spilling down to her hips, emerald green eyes flashing the color of a coral reef. She wore a baggy men's T-shirt made for a club, covering her to about half-way down her milky thighs. Incidentally, underneath there was nothing. Nothing else. 'Is my rear covered by this T-shirt? Why do other people have to wear clothing? Indeed, the humans of this world such illogical things... ah, hyaa! How did a banana peel fall in a place like this!? Ta, Takayaa! My feet are slipping...'
VJ~~~~~~~! You can't go sliding around without panties~~~~~~!
---Such was the conversation in his imagination. Naturally.
He snickered, but at that very moment, he quickly stiffened his slackened jaw: he realized there was an aged form standing before him. Dazedly excusing himself, he offered up his seat and stood by the door, holding a handrail.
In the opposite window of the train, the all too familiar everyday scenery flowed past. Old-looking houses were lined up along the tracks. Profusely blooming potted flowers were arranged as if they were in a competition to touch the trains. A little further along, groups of condominiums. Huge pachinko parlors with bright red smiling signs. A brand new shopping mall. Pachinko parlors again. There was a lot of noise from some high-school girls standing off to the side. Their eyes meeting casually, he was greeted by "Why don't you take a break?", and the old man gave up his seat. He couldn't breathe: it smelled of sweat from the members of a baseball club returning home. They had been talking about Hoshino Aki. Since waaayy back.
And then, inside his head,
'Owww..., w, what are you looking at!?'
Bah! Her rumpled T-shirt's bottom edge pulled down, the embarrassed looking, blushing VJ had sat down.
His beloved, Brigitte Jeomillia.
Having moved on from three dimensions, this spring Takaya had declared his love of nothing but two-dimensional girls.
Originally, it was a small, private matter. The women of this world, so to speak, were making him tired. Moreover, as a young otaku, though he loved anime, manga and games, sometimes he would set aside the anime magazines and take up the paintbrush. He even had notebooks full of notes about characters. Rather than worrying about the many parts of the real world he couldn't get his way with, he preferred to build up experience in the world of his made-up creations. For him, that was fun.
And then this spring, as far as Takaya was concerned, was the last straw.
At the welcome party for the Tea Ceremony club, he had been disconcerted by the older girls who greeted him, and had been completely disappointed by their appearance. Enough is enough, twice trying to deal with three-dimensional women? I'm going to live in two dimensions! He remembered quite clearly he had been drunk to the point of obscenities at the time. As it happened, moving on to the university, so to speak, felt like the proper time to pause and establish a new self-image, a new life. Would he finally let his character stand forth?
From that point on, when meeting new friends, he was called "Mr. Two Dimensions".
Still, he wouldn't be able to be Mr. Two Dimensions for too long. Turning stubborn, he tried with all his heart to love two-dimensional characters, but no matter how much he struggled, it didn't quite go as he wished. Up to a certain point, since he'd decided to love, even though he wanted to fill his thoughts to perfection, in spite of it all, every now and then the created characters didn't live up to his hopes. It was well and good for a fan, but they were not good enough to be his bride for life.
That being the case, he had no choice but to create his own character. Despite having arrived at that conclusion, he hesitated. Making him squirm inside, she was to be utterly captivating, entirely ideal, unabashedly projected to become a perfect girl in detail, created over a lifetime. He decided it would be good if he loved her.
So it was, and now to that extent,
'...Takaya, you idiot. You're mean. You don't care anymore.'
Definitely a woman.
He loved VJ.
'Hurry up... lend me a hand. I fell down. It hurts.'
Snow white beneath his hand, the platinum blonde girl from a parallel universe.
Tell us about Mr. Two Dimension’s beloved! No, introduce us! Still reviewing the encounter with friends at college, he daydreamed about his perfect lover.
...Well, when at long last he'd finally introduced them to her, both Banri and Yana-ssan had laughed.
'What's not good? Such things don't bother me in the least. Aren't they good guys? At least, nothing bad was said. It was laughed at as if it were a joke, but it wasn't the laughter of ridicule. It wasn't denial either. Weren't they laughing merrily along with you? Don't you think you would like to be closer to those guys?'
Well, I guess. I would certainly agree. Really, they weren’t trying to hurt me.
Having answered VJ's words in his head, he stepped down through the open door to the platform of the train station closest to where he lived. He recalled conversations he had with a classmate from high school, who had applied to a single public university far away from home, desperate to leave the capital city. Trying to draw closer to his friend, he'd been texting him continuously, sending things like "I can't make any friends here...", "What am I going to do?", "I'm definitely alone." and "I wanna go home already..."
Going out through the ticket gate, as he walked out into the Tokyo he'd lived in all his life, he thought about his future. Comparatively speaking, wasn't he very blessed? In a neighborhood with nothing but friends from childhood, continuing to live with his family, he was getting to know guys he could call friends in college.
'And then, you've got me too.'
Ah, that's so. I've got VJ too.
From the roundabout in front of the station, he proceeded through a busy shopping district full of people walking, and then entered a narrow alleyway between a mixture of houses and workshops. While he walked slowly down his accustomed way home, he was thinking about what he had not yet done this spring.
Separated from his friends, leaving home even, it was the season to make new acquaintances. He wasn't off to the best of starts, but, the start is something that always has its ups and downs anyway. It's all about the future, he thought.
'But, our relationship is for ever. It started well, and will continue like that. There haven't been any problems. ...Isn't that so? Tell me it wasn't.'
Of course not, VJ. What are you talking about? Man.
He approached the entrance to a small children's park, the greenery budding thickly. Inside his head, making like a voice actress, VJ's sweet young voice echoed gently, and then continued.
'Because, if you and I were separated... it'd be such a shock, I don't think I could deal with it.'
If she were separated from her senior, it'd be such a shock, she didn't think she could deal with it.
That was unexpected.
To bring back VJ's absent and dearly missed voice, he quickly averted his gaze from the park. He ran away, so to speak, but not too fast: an obviously hurried trot. He turned and crossed at the traffic light, going to the other side of the road. Putting his back to the park, he headed towards home. Walking in long strides, "Hey, VJ", he tried to talk to her. But VJ was completely silent, and he couldn't hear any answer.
Far behind him in the middle of the children's park, there was a concrete slide made in the shape of a stegosaurus. In the entrance of a hollowed out cavity--- was it still there, like that? It was four years ago.
Four years ago, graduation ceremony from middle school. He had changed into casual clothing before a class meeting was to start. That day he had heard a girl's words.
So it was. But, he heard them.
That was the only thing he did that day. And not just that day. Since then, he had made nothing more.
And since then a lot of time had passed, nowadays, though he had intended to completely forget about it, his memories had mysteriously and suddenly been brought back to life.
He had a hunch that maybe something was whispering to him.
* * *
He opened the door to his twenty-five year old house. If somebody from the countryside had seen it, he might have burst into laughter from how small it was.
Taken off and scattered violently, shocking pink, really tall, really slim, with weapon-like metal heels, with leopard print lining, size 7½ women's sandals. That meant, namely---
He was blinking in shock, easily as miserable as can be, every muscle of his body trembling.
'What's going on, Takaya! What happened!? Sh~, did a gang make it in here!?'
VJ's fingers were creeping to the hilt of her katana, suddenly switching to combat mode. With a sharp blue-eyed gaze like a wild animal, she quickly looked around the area.
"...You, you're mistaken, VJ... Th, this... this sandal, a demon's..."
'A demon, you say!? Sh~!'
"My demon older sister's... Mai's... ah, my room...! Oh no...!"
From the entrance of the small Satou house, the next thing you find are three doors in different directions: straight ahead is a combined kitchen and living room, to the right is the parent's room, and to the left what had become Takaya's room. Taking off his sneakers in a rush, as if to throw them away, he pushed open the door to the left-hand room and,
A really bad premonition hit him. It got to where he wanted to scratch his brain off.
"Ah?", wheeling towards him, the elder one, the older sister... the demon, Mai.
Whether it was real or fake, anyhow, blonde hair reached to her waist. Sitting with her bare, sunburned back pointing towards the bathroom, her jersey pulled down to her low-risers, the T portion of her deep blue T-back panties was visible, and about half her rear exposed.
"Aren't you a noisy jerk? What were you shouting, scumbag?"
Looking up at her younger brother, scowling like a battle-demon, she threatened him in a deep, low voice. What's more, the upper half of her body had nothing on but a leopard print bra. Her well burnt skin exposed to the fluorescent lighting, she skillfully took a drag of her cigarette as it remained on her lips. A sneer on her face, what her hand was playing around with was,
"You are such a pain, you must be happy you went and got so much garbage. What an ero-idiot you are!"
It was a laptop computer. Takaya's, of course. With all sorts of secret stuff. Traced from three dimensions to two.
And of all things, she was launching Media Player, and was surely breaking into the treasure trove of three dimensional animation he'd saved .
"You say you were going to college, but you're doing such foolishness after all? Eh? You must be seriously perverted, eh? You're becoming even more disgusting."
"St, Stop! A person's PC is private! You don't just touch it whenever you feel like it!"
<Ohh! That! There!>
"You're collecting such stupid perverted garbage, you uber-geek!"
'What's going on Takaya! Sh.., just settle down, VJ will protect you!'
<There! Over there! Aaahh! Where!?>
"Mai-chan must not have a guy! I mean, seriously give it back! Stop touching it! G, give it back!"
"Hey Mom! Look at the kind of stuff Takaya has!"
"Aargh! Stop it!"
'Takayaa! Sh..! Hold on a bit, I'll be right there to help you!'
Mai--- the one year older sister-demon, currently living with her boyfriend in a neighboring apartment, <his imagination going overboard here...> stood up with the computer still open, easily fending off her little brother's resistance, burst into the living room.
"Stooopppp ittt! VJ-! Mai! Mom! Kyaa!"
Right in front of his mother's nose, turned to look towards the uproar from the noisy siblings, he recovered his endangered computer. He slammed it shut. He glared at his older sister. She laughed back at him scornfully. And then,
"Hey mom, is this one's room free? I kicked him out..."
She breathed out a strong cloud of smoke from her nose. Mother, who was doing the accounts for Father's small workshop by hand, removed her reading glasses and waved the smoke away from her with her hands as if in shock.
"Don't fight, after all you two are already grown up. More importantly, what about your appearance as an older sister, aren't you without clothes?"
"I am not naked. It's hot around here. I mean, don't I look good? Look here, no extra fat."
Mai triumphantly tensed her abs, certainly something to look at, a well-defined six-pack. The handsome and somewhat flashy features you happen to see, you might think was nothing more than a woman of the night, but Mai as a matter of fact had been working four years as an interior designer. She possessed such strength, she even hauled a bathtub eighteen floors up the stairway of an apartment tower. Barely as tall as her skinny little brother, she had about five times his strength.
"Since you understood, go put something on."
"Jeez, you're such a pain, go write a reflection essay."
Cigarette still held in her lips, Mai appeared bored with Takaya--- in the old days, a curtain had divided the room the two siblings shared, and she'd brought it back. She muttered, "I mean, I wanna go take a dump." When her mother didn't reply, she said "Just be quiet!", supplying the words her mother didn't say.
"...Why!? Why's she staying here!?"
"Here, come here."
His mother could be seen making a cross with the index fingers of both hands.
"She had a fight with the king. And then came flying back here."
"Eh? With the king?"
By the way, the so-called king's real name was Saruwatari Jirou, Mai's fiancé. The amusement they'd once had in the Satou household regarding his name when it was new to them was long gone, since he'd been with them as her boyfriend for six years now.
"Whether there's been cheating or not, though, those two aren't talking right now. I don't really know what's going on."
"Ehh... no, though it doesn't matter, how long is this going to be? No way! After such a long time to be sharing a room with Mai! Tobacco stinks! And I'd only finally got a room to myself!"
"It should only be for a bit, since it wasn't a big fight."
"Just how much is a bit? One minute? Two minutes? Three?"
"Well, even if your sister's said she's already moved out, don't you think three days at most?"
"Three days!? Three days more!?"
"No way!", cried Takaya, at wit's end.
Living together with his older sister, dividing a ten foot by ten foot room between them, as they went through the horrendous time of puberty, simply could not be described. Since she had left the house four years ago, peace had finally came to his life.
That he was privately afraid of three-dimensional women--- some 80%, no 90% was from that. As an older sister, Mai was a demon.
Famous around the area as a delinquent, her standard score in second year middle school only in the 17th percentile, she was violent, quick-tempered, noisy smelly dirty, and, as for feeling shy, being a caring person and being nice, she was nothing of that. An older sister that would, in the dead of night, without any warning, open the partition curtain wide, grinning while shining a flashlight on her little brother as if to catch him at something. An older sister who, if in a bad mood, would throw punches for no reason whatsoever. An older sister for which in truth, he did not have the strength to answer back in kind. An older sister that, if he were to call her an ugly gorilla, then a gang of ten of her minions would ambush him behind the train station, running circles around him on their bikes. An older sister that would force him to choose, in the middle of that circle, "Never talk again, or bow down before me here and now, which will it be?" An older sister that, when he bowed down, stuffed the oh-so-fragrant socks she'd been wearing into his mouth. If he were to report, crying, that he had been shook down by bullies from another middle school, then the next day the whole group of delinquents would be on their knees before the shoe racks, wailing "We didn't know Demon Mai had a little brother, please spare us!", and offering him their wallets. Such an older sister. Saying, "It's a question of honor", her unkempt blonde hair brushed upwards as if she were a she-lion, she would go around to each of them in turn and spit on their heads. That kind of older sister.
Though he did not understand that demon's actions,
"Perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea if you went to one of your friend's places."
Mother said such a thing as if it were no big deal.
"Huh!? Asking me to leave!? Why are you taking Mai-chan's side!"
"Because your sister brings in $1000 every day, that's why."
"And when bonus time rolls around, she'll bring in even more. There's probably something that girl wants, and she might be trying to save. And your father's shop is a mess right now. Since his pay doesn't last long when it does show up, already, your older sister's $1000 is a big help around the house. As for me, when the time came she felt like coming back, I always wanted to welcome her."
Since Mai had stopped in her first year in high school, not going the full three years, but her brother had gone on to college, could he complain? --- No, he could not say anything. As you might expect, his own spending money was covered by his part-time job, but part of his tuition was something that indirectly came from his demon sister.
Unable to say anything more, he sank into silence. Then,
"Takayaa! Come over here for a bit!"
With a gravelly voice like an old gangster, Mai called from the room. Leaving behind his mother, her eyeglasses in place once more and sighing as she started into the accounts book, he had no choice but to hurry over.
What kind of thing would his eyes be subjected to this time, he thought nervously as he entered his room,
In her bra and jersey just as she was before, Mai was sprawled on some cushions placed on the rug, her blonde hair every which-way. While wiggling the toes of her bare feet, she pointed at a bottle of nail polish with the tip of the cigarette still in her mouth.
"M, me? Y, your feet? P, paint them?"
"Yep. How dense can you be? I mean, what time is it now? Huh!? Eight o'clock!? Whoa that's no good, wasn't I supposed to go out in a little bit for the night!? For the first time in a long time, I'm going out drinking with some of the girls!"
While talking like that, Mai was trying to glue a chip to one of her fingernails, which had been clipped short for the sake of her job.
As for her good for nothing brother, unable to talk back nor to refuse her, he miserably knelt at Mai's feet, and following her instructions took the bottle, it's strong color like that of a blood blister. No matter what, VJ cannot see this. Taking the small manicure bottle with a sigh, with his other hand he was already taking hold of Mai's strangely warm, dry, bare feet.
Normally, protected by work shoes, they were white, never dirty, which was why he had wanted to say something. He got kicked in the jaw.
One more time, this one to the nose. "Hurry up and get done!", she said, glaring at him in fury.
Since he had to start over again, he placed Mai's heel on his lap, bent over, and started painting from the big toe onwards with a red so deep it looked almost black. He didn't even try to say "looks dirty...", and this time nothing happened to him. Concentrating on sticking the chip to her fingernail with a pair of tweezers, Mai was going crosseyed.
Not knowing when she might give him a kick with her foot sticking out like that, Takaya involuntarily only put little bits of color on her toenails, but,
"Mai-chan... something like this, isn't it strange?"
"Look", he said, waving the nail polish bottle for her to see. Whether the seal was good yet, or it was getting old and had gone bad, in either case, the liquid was strangely thick and stiff, a hard layer clinging to and perfectly dividing the inside of the bottle. No matter how carefully he put the liquid on her nails, because it was so stiff, all he got was speckles. Seeing it, Mai clicked her tongue too.
"You've got to be kidding, what's with you!? They say you don't mess around, that you don't even have anybody! I mean... even for critters like you, that's bad, the worst, even..."
Reaching out her hand to look for herself if the toenails had become speckled, at that very moment, after all she'd done, three tubes worth of glue, the chip suddenly went crooked. Shouting, "Ahh!", Mai looked up at the ceiling. Clicking her tongue six more times in succession, plainly annoyed from how she had recklessly used her hands, she jammed her cigarette all the way to the filter into the ashtray.
"The worst of the worst of the worst...! When I've finally got a drinking party, I'm not gonna let a stinkin' fingernail keep me from going... it's indecent!"
"What about hanging with the girls? Mustn't be particularly good."
"It's not good at all!"
She whacked him on the head. The torn off chip went flying to the corner of the room.
"What am I going to do with such a nail!? Am I going to get to tell King about it!? Would he tell me if he cheated on me!? And if he did, would I do the same to him? Throwing away a woman, he's getting into a fantasy! That idiot's making fun of me! ...Or rather, it's already so late... guess I've got no choice but to call Aki."
Hearing that name, his heart jumped uneasily.
Aki, she said.
"Aki's really good a fixing nails and such. And she's quick. Whatever you call her, you can call her skillful."
Taking her cell she dialed at once, without even saying who she was, she said "Right now, my house." "Paint my nails." "Come right away.", and with those three commands ended the call.
Aki, she said. ---Takaya is still here.
"Takayaa, a bit more still. Bring me the remover from the dresser. The nail polish remover."
"...'Aki', ...t, that Aki-chan? ...The one older than me...?"
"Na-il po-lish re-mo-ver!"
He received a good kick in the chest from Mai's foot, which was still on his lap. The shock halted his ruminations completely, and the miserable little brother stood in order to go and bring the nail-polish remover from his mother's room.
He remembered the voice that had called to him that way.
---Getting referred to as somebody's senior was surprising, and something he really couldn't quite get used to, he felt.
Delicate, sweet, a young girl's voice. His breath seemed to stand still the day of that voice. One year her senior, Aki's voice again. That he just remembered the day of his graduation ceremony, was that an omen of this meeting to come? He grabbed what looked like the right bottle from the dresser. He stared at the tiny lettering. That was it: the printing said 'Nail Polish'.
He passed it over to Mai, and then, ...shouldn't I get out of here? Shouldn't I go kill some time over at the bookstore, or somewhere? Yes, let's go do that.
Facing Aki felt somehow awkward, so he decided to escape altogether. It was only going to take a few moments to do Mai's bidding, returning to their room with the nail polish remover, but it was just that moment.
"I'm heeere! May I come innnn!?"
Without so much as a knock or a ring of the bell, the entrance door suddenly opened. "You're slow!", shouted Mai, though in fact, in was hard to believe how fast she was. Aki, who didn't even live next door, normally managed to arrive at the Satou house impossibly quick.
When she appeared in the doorway, Aki was breathing heavily, however fast she'd come flying, she was stuffing her bicycle key into her pocket while she leaned against the door, almost collapsing.
And then, as if amazed, noticing Takaya's presence,
"...Ah. Hi there."
She bowed her head.
Her jet black hair spilled smoothly down from her shoulders.
* * *
Aki-chan--- in middle school, if he remembered correctly, they called her "Take". He supposed that it had been shortened from Takeshiro (no such family name existed, of course), becoming Take.
The girl from the old days had adored Mai. Incredibly.
From the time Mai was in elementary school, as the home town junior basketball team's wonderful star, Aki from the same time was a junior member of the team. When Aki moved up to middle school, and from being a senior member of the girl's basketball club to becoming a junior, she came to adore Mai no less. In school, and of course at home and wherever, coming over to play, it came to be as if Takaya and Aki were dating.
Up to the year before, Aki, burdened by a leather backpack, was cute, resembling a snow-child.
Her skin as white as snow, her hair in a page-boy bob, only her lips tinted pink. Watching Mai with shining eyes, she even adored Takaya as "Mai-chan’s younger brother Takaya-senpai".
But, once she entered second year middle school, there came a day when suddenly, as if shedding her skin, she became an adult, prettier than anybody else. You could say she began to stand out. Shedding not once, but over and over again, Aki attracted attention like crazy.
Nonetheless, Aki continued to adore plain old Takaya. If they ran into each other at school, she would give him a smile and a hug, and tell him some tale about Mai, and when time came to go home, they would all gather around the kitchen table together. The change, perhaps, was when Mai quit going to high school, looked for a job, and left home to live with King.
The fact that Mai had left home bothered Takaya.
'But, Takaya. Didn't you say you wouldn't be happy unless your sister left and you could have the room all to yourself?'
...So I did, VJ. But it isn't that easy. There were bad feelings at the time. Anyways.
Mai declared to our parents that she was going to leave, to spend her time with King, living with him every day. ---How can I say it? Smelly woman? ...Smelling like fish. Anyway, feelings were really bad. Nowadays we think nothing of such things, but in her third year of middle school, my sister was feeling pretty bad.
And then, inevitably, Aki, who was always coming over to the Satou house, trying to be Mai's favorite little sister, stopped coming over. That was because she started heading over to the apartment.
Speaking of Takaya, his feelings of irritation unconsciously extended all the way to Aki.
When at times they passed each other in school, Aki smelled ridiculously nice. Like a flower beginning to bloom, as if singing "I'm blooming here!", all the boys nearby noticed the aroma, and gazed at her with damp eyes. Nobody jokingly called her "Take" anymore.
It was in that time that he started to avoid Aki when she smilingly called out to him, "Takaya-senpaai, hi there!" All of Takaya's friends were envious of his situation, but the more they were envious, the more he avoided Aki. He took care to not meet up with her, and even if they did, he didn't talk with her. Half ignoring--- with an 'ah', or an 'oh', no more than that, he turned away from Aki.
Even her white face was repellent, even the fragrance that came from her entire body was unpleasant. Even her glowing aura. Her voice, the way she walked, anything and everything about her in that time was unpleasant to him. It may have been repellant, but he remembered it all as he fell asleep.
Aki was devilish.
So he felt.
However much he denied it, however much he defended himself against it, as if in surging waves her image poured over him. Without a way to dam it, he couldn't keep from being flooded by her image over and over again. Disgusting! Nasty! Stop breaking into me! However much he cried, it was futile.
And then the day of his graduation ceremony arrived, Devil Aki ambushed him in the park.
Getting separated from him and all, it was such a shock, it was something she couldn't get used to, she thought.
Saying that, she held out a little present she'd planned to give him, congratulating him on his graduation. It was a cell-phone strap. "We were really used to each other, weren't we? But we aren't a couple, are we?" was all Takaya replied, and never using the strap had thrown it in a drawer. It might even still be there.
And then, on that note.
VJ called with an anxious voice. "What's up?", he answered cheerfully. Truly, on that note.
Though he didn't see Aki around school anymore, sometimes he would catch sight of her around town. Each time he saw her, she seemed to have changed her skin. At times, her hair was brightly colored. Sometimes she was the only girl in a bunch of guys. Suddenly losing weight. Or suddenly gaining weight. She hardly grew any taller. Once she was showing off a really big ring on her left ring finger. She had something like a piercing once, and heavy makeup. In the gossip around town, Aki really was going out with so-and-so, Aki was doing something or other with so-and-so--- just by existing the girl was conspicuous; she was becoming the target of every nasty rumor. How much was the truth, he didn't want to know, he wanted to make sure he didn't know.
As it was already, he felt it was completely wrong, and he had no connection with her in this world.
'Err... Takaya. ...Do I look ridiculous?'
And then his love in this world, VJ, turned her back towards him in a strange squirming motion.
'D, does it not become me? It's OK if you want to laugh. Because such as this, ...I understand, even by myself. That's... strange, don't you think? It doesn't suit me at all.'
Reflexively, Takaya almost spoke aloud. What're you up to, VJ!?
As if prepared, she turned around quickly.
'Today, as a matter of fact, there is a costume party, and I've been forced to get dressed up.'
Her platinum hair done up prettily with a ribbon, she was wearing a light peach colored dress. However she dressed was OK; normally her personal appearance was absolutely no problem for VJ the soldier. Wearing a rather girlish dress with lots of flowers and three layers of lace, she seemed embarrassed, her face downcast. Her cheeks blushing red, she appeared to lack self-confidence, only her emerald green eyes turning up and flashing.
Ah, VJ...! You're so adorable...!?
'Y, you're kidding me! Adorable, I am no such thing! It simply doesn't suit me! For such as me, dresses and such... and things that go with them...'
It suits you supremely! Best in all the world, VJ is pretty! Absolutely absolutely beautiful! As you would expect a lady of substance, and if times had not changed, a princess due to become a queen seated on her throne!
'Stop it! That... d, don't look over here...! ...This is embarrassing...! Don't look, just don't look! Enough!'
"...What are you looking at?"
Black, big eyes were looking back at Takaya. Suddenly pulled back to the reality of an eight-tatami room from his very comfortable imaginary world, Takaya carefully kept a straight face. Three people in an eight-tatami room. Reality had a high population density.
Mumbling as if she were simply tired of Takaya, averting her eyes from him, Aki once more returned to the work of painting Mai's toenails. Like a faithful servant (sort of, if there is such a thing), she sat down with one knee raised in the space between Mai's feet, bending down, carefully working with a little manicure brush she had brought with her.
Looking over the toenails Aki had just finished painting, Mai was in a good mood.
"That color's something else, it looks good on me. Of course: you've got good taste."
Aki sounded off with a pleased "Heyyy."
Incidentally, Takaya had been given the job of maintaining a cool breeze over her nails with a blow-dryer. Unable to take his leave, he wound up sitting with Mai and Aki, quietly holding the buzzing dryer with both hands. The nail color that suited Mai was a dark brown close to black, and to Takaya's eyes didn't seem all that nice a color, but here and now he didn't have the courage to open his mouth. Nor did he need the courage.
"Haa... I've done it."
While letting out the breath she was holding, Aki looked up. Closing the dark brown nail polish bottle tightly, she threw it in her bag.
"You done? Is it ready?"
"Not quite. I'm doing the top coat. Takaya-senpai."
Uneasy, Takaya's shoulders stiffened.
Aki was looking at him.
Turned towards him, her face seemed a little thinner than when he caught sight of her earlier. Her skin was as snow-white as ever, but beneath her eyes there just the hint of a shadow. Maybe she wasn't getting enough sleep? The color of her hair had a natural translucence turning towards black, falling beautifully and straight to the region of her chest. Boldly contrasting, her eyes glittered strongly, like a cat's. Pale pink lips. Her flowered tank top opened widely. Delicate collarbones. Stuffed into her thin hoodie, her arms were slender. Her loose house pants seemed filled out.
Aki gave an overwhelming impression.
"Please dry the sides of her feet, too. ...Senpai?"
"Are you listening?", she asked,
"...Eh!? Wh, what!?"
Confused, he turned off the noisy dryer. The room suddenly going quiet,
"Though I said, please use the dryer on her feet too."
"F, feet, eh... feet..."
Takaya's head a blank, right then he turned the dryer on maximum towards Aki's bare feet. Worse, it was set to heat. Of course, if you do such a stupid thing,
"Hot hot hot!"
Aki screamed and jumped back,
"Eh!? Whoa, sorry sorry sorry!"
Reflexively, Mai guffawed at the sight of Takaya apologizing deeply.
"Whatta dunce! What're ya doing, where's yer head!? Are ya puttin' on an act!?"
"Aki-chan, I'm really sorry, did you get burned!?"
"I, I'm OK... sort of."
Letting out only a yelp and a high-pitched laugh, she covered her face with the cuffs of her hoodie's sleeves, which extended all the way to her fingertips. Like that, she wasn't saying anything, just twitching back and forth a lot as she laughed under her breath. While saying things like, "I get it."
To judge by the strange laughter, what Takaya had been staring at had been discovered.
And, Mai's cell-phone sounded off with it's ridiculous ring tone.
"Long time, no hear! Ah, it's already come to that? Then I'll be heading over, right away! Oh Aki, my feet are OK already. I'm outta time."
"Are you sure? It's still not completely done..."
Aki was clutching the clear top-coat bottle as if she were disappointed.
"I'm fine, I'm fine. I've gotta go already."
Watched by Aki and Takaya before her, Mai was unconcerned in her bra, her jersey half off and the T-back showing behind her. Smoothly pulling skinny jeans from a bag, and putting them and a black tank top on, once she had put on a chain necklace her preparations were complete. Even though it was still April, she wasn't taking a jacket. She stuffed just her cell-phone, wallet and key-case into a little pouch and put it under her arm. She just ran a comb through her lion's mane. And then turning to the still-disappointed, upturned face of Aki, Mai,
"Since these guy's've got driver's licenses, they'll bring me back home. Since it'll be getting dark, and you never know what kind of molesters or weirdos you might run into. Takaya, tell Mom I'm taking a light and being careful! ‘Cause I might go shopping."
Having made her arrangements, she left the room walking quickly.
* * *
In the end, Takaya and Aki walked out into the twilight-darkened street side by side.
Now that it had come to this, he had no choice but to take her home by car as Mai had told him to, or so he was thinking, but he wound up saying "Aki, it was a good thing you came by bicycle."
"...It's been a long time since we've talked, Takaya-senpai, hasn't it?"
"...Has it been?"
"How many years has it been, more or less?"
"Ah, really." "Well then, get to it." "Catch you later." ...and so on, unable to say "Because we'd heard talk about molesters and such", they agreed to say "We're walking together up to her house!"
They conversed in bits and pieces, but of course it just wouldn't catch fire. He couldn't even remember anything they ought to have shared, and a continuing relationship in the present progressive tense didn't even exist. But at times,
Aki was walking the bike, and walking on the other side Takaya's foot was scratched pretty good by the pedal. Doing it three times in only one minute,
"That hurt! That's enough... hand it over. Let me take the bike. Hang the bag from your shoulder, you don't want it snatched."
Grabbing the handles he took her place. Aki obediently did as she was told, hanging the bag which had been thrown into the front cargo basket over her shoulder, her sandals clacking while she went around behind the bicycle and placed herself by Takaya's side. This time she appeared wary of getting her calves scraped by the pedals.
For a while that way, the two without saying anything continued walking. Eventually, approaching the front of that park, Takaya virtually stopped breathing.
Walking by his side, Aki,
For some reason, she was covering her mouth, her fingertips poking from the sleeves of her hoodie, just like the last time she was laughing.
Was she laughing, was her mouth itching, or--- was she remembering that thing from four years before? Which was it? As for Takaya, he completely did not understand the meaning of his own pause. What in the world Aki was thinking? He was unable to read anything at all from the fractured pieces of her expression he gathered from sidelong glances.
He was all shook up, and quite scared, but there was nothing he could do about it.
He asked himself how come, even though he'd become a college student, he could not even walk beside a real girl without a mask? He had never been able to deal with three-dimensional girls, but even by ordinary standards, even he was strangely not conscious of it himself, he intended to be able to get together with the opposite sex. Precisely because that was "normal", even calling himself something like Mr. Two Dimensions, there was no way he was going to hang his head because of it.
It was as if he were a middle-schooler.
He had not been able to progress even one bit since that time, and now, he felt embarrassed and exposed.
He was stalling Aki.
Nearly dying of her own accord, Aki suddenly turned her gaze towards him. The streetlights reflected, glittering, in her wide cat-like eyes.
"The university. Is it fun?"
"...Eh? Why... do you ask that...?"
While responding lamely like an idiot, he pretended to keep an eye on the traffic lights. He carefully averted his eyes from Aki's face.
"Why don't I take the exams too? Next year. I mean, ...the exams are straightforward, my parents told me."
"...Is, is that so? You're third year, aren't you? You are, aren't you? Well... you gonna take it? That, exam..."
"I have no idea. I'm lost. Though I don't particularly mind studying, why I would like make-ups and such, and what area to choose would be right, and so on..."
Inside, he was thinking of how to say something in response that would seem older and sensible.
"There's no way you got lost, ‘cause you're smart."
Peppering him with questions, Aki was making it hard for him to answer.
"Eh? How so? I'm not like that."
"But am I smart enough? Even if I were to study super seriously from now on, I don't think there's any way I can go to the same university as you."
"Eh, though I don't think so, in particular, such..."
"Then I'll have to do like Mai and go look for a job."
"Ah, no way."
Plainly, this much could be answered clearly.
"Because Mai-chan's strange. Because women with such solid strength don't exist. Because working hard the way she does is unusual."
Right then, with a small voice Aki laughed, this time in clear understanding. A sound like a dove cooing came from her throat and her eyes narrowed.
"Yep. You're not that strange. One thing's for sure, you have a strong sister complex. Mai-chan, even."
"No, you're wrong! Don't say such things, giving me grief like that! I mean, you know about that!? The ugly gorilla incident!?"
"Though I knew about it, of course to hear it mentioned after so much time is rather hilarious."
"But you're in love, really. With Mai-san."
"What are you saying!? I hate her! That ugly idiotic she-gorilla! ...Ha..."
When she involuntarily looked around, Aki's hair touched Takaya's shoulder. She clapped her hands and, laughing even louder,
"Just today, I was looking for Mai-san... that's something... really something... not hearing anything I was getting nervous..."
Apparently twisting in pain, she was wailing like a baby. Muttering, "Has she been laughing too much?" he took special care as they passed through the park.
The traffic light at the crossing being red, Takaya naturally stopped, but,
"A, Aki-chan! Watch out!"
Her face unconcerned, Aki had been walking as before. To be sure, there wasn't even one car passing by, but the light was red. There was no reason to hurry, but Takaya wasn't really comfortable with jaywalking.
"There are never cars coming by. I don't know who they're trying to protect with this signal."
Though Aki looked over her shoulder at the red, still the light did not change. Aki stared expressionlessly at Takaya for just a few seconds, and then, turned around and resumed walking as she was before.
When the light turned green, Takaya got on the bicycle in order to catch up with Aki. He pedaled, and shortly he caught up with the slowly walking Aki.
"Hold on a bit! Do you always run that red light over there? Stop it already! What would you do if the worst happened? Act like a little kid, perhaps?"
"...Really, you are too serious."
As always, the boring guy.
And, as if it were written on his face, slightly annoyed. While he sat in the bicycle seat, his feet kicking the ground beneath,
"...It looks like Aki-chan has changed. In surprising ways."
His answer back to her seemed loaded with many meanings. Thereupon, looking up at him Aki's lips were twisted asymmetrically.
Whether she was getting ready to say a joke, or getting ready to cry, of course Takaya had no idea.
Still not understanding,
She pointed at his nose with the tip of her finger.
"It doesn't look like there's a girl."
Turning away, he kicked the ground hard and advanced straight ahead.
Aki chased after him at a trot.
"It's the truth! Her name is VJ!"
"B, ...how's that?"
"That's Brigitte Jeomillia!"
"...Ah, is that an anime character?"
"Wrong! She's real! She's real! She's real!"
He suddenly kicked the ground. It might have been a slight incline, but he wasn't advancing as fast as before. Aki, a little out of breath, had caught up with him.
"Well, so it is, really, it doesn't, matter though."
She reached out her hand to him.
She placed her hand on Takaya's, which was holding the handlebars. Slowly but steadily, warming his hand,
"Rumors, and such, they say, some things, this and that."
He looked at Aki's face without thinking. Aki looked steadily at Takaya's face too. Her beautiful profile, her soft hair was illuminated by the streetlights.
"I'm good for nothing--- don't worry yourself about me. I am what I am. Standing here it's only me, in truth."
Exerting the strength in her slender fingers, Aki pulled the bicycle, stopping it. As if the two of them were unable to move, they were frozen in the middle of the road.
Her gaze four inches below his, she was looking straight up into Takaya's eyes. Aki seemed to be waiting for something, blinking slowly. Her long eyelashes cash shadows on her cheeks. "Senpai", Aki called again an even smaller voice. You would have to bend close to even hear her. The palm of her hand on his was warm. Aki's slim body seemed to have a fever. Moreover, it seemed to him that the pores all over her body had opened. She had goose-bumps, as if she'd just heard a spooky story.
The troubles of April--- spring storms.
He was unable to move into this reality.
What ought he be doing? In this gathering storm, how should he face it? What should he do, how should he move this body, standing in the three-dimensional world?
If he did not regret anything, nor was hurt, nor even was able to be hurt, how could he deal with reality? If somebody were to appear, trying to open the windows closed in self-defense, would he turn that person away, knock that person down, or, what?
Inviting that person inside, he would go on existing in the same world. ...Even with such a choice, as for himself, didn't he have some preparations to be done? If he could do so, such a thing, if it were to come true, if...
Still astride the bicycle, he watched the real Aki. Reaching out his shaky hand to her slender shoulder, he was trying to organize the words in his burnt-out mind.
In truth, that day, he was incredibly happy.
Even with the present, he was incredibly happy.
He was really, really regretting what he had done. The thought that he couldn't take it back now, there was nothing he could do now, truly pained him. To change it entirely was frightening, he could do nothing but be scared. He wanted to protect himself. And now, he regretted it. From the bottom of his heart---
He tried to draw back his hand, a couple of inches back to touch her shoulder. Quietly closing his lips, he slowly approached the source of warm breathing.
He was going to.
To go ahead, he was decided.
"...Isn’t this my house?"
---Visibly jumping back, he separated from her. In an instant. She grinned. As if it absolutely weren't a mistake, Aki grinned at him. Like a devil incarnate. And then, looking up at Takaya's face,
"Is it all right if we stop the bicycle?"
Every emotion running wildly, almost in a somersault he got down from the bicycle seat. Or rather, he fell. What the? What the heck is this? What the heck is this reality? What is reality? What, what the, Aki-chan? What, what the? What what the, what what the heck? ...Ah, Aki-chan...!
...You, are devilish...!
Glancing once more at Takaya, who was about to die, Aki brought the bike to the side of a concrete house. This certainly seemed to be her house. Smoothly combing up her hair,
"Thank you very much for having walked me home. ...Senpai, what's wrong? Your face has turned an incredible color. Strange."
Aki flourished her keys and smiled. Smiling, she continued up the steps to the entrance, even her steps light, and inserted the key into the door of the empty-looking house.
Opening the door and going to enter, at the last moment she turned around one more time. Just then...
"...Such a strange person, could he be Aki's first love?"
* * *
Three dimensions, of course, is bad news!
This is a mess!
Stupid idiot stupid idiot stupid idiot stupid idiot mongrel son of a...! Aahh!
Everyone who could hurt me, let them all be smashed up, blown to smithereens, vanish and disappear!
D-e-s-t-r-o-y--t-h-e-m--c-o-m-p-l-e-t-e-l-y----------------------! ! ! !
Nuaaaaaaaaaaaaa----------------------! ! ! !
VJ----------------------! ! ! !
'...Such worthless gossip, don't worry about it. VJ is VJ. It's just me here, since it's the truth.'
Of course, you are my one and only beloved. You are the only woman worthy to be given such devotion.
'Takaya, would you give me a hug...?'
Of course, VJ. These two arms, they were created only for hugging you.
He hugged VJ, her form dressed in a sailor suit, with all his strength.
'...A kiss too... I'd like a kiss too.'
'And then I'd like you to tell me you love me.'
'I've always loved you, and I've wanted to know your true heart.'
Let's grant all of VJ's wish, and he hugged her once to the breaking point, then let go. And then, smothered her deeply with his lips. Look! It's so much easier in this world. You're able to do everything to your own satisfaction.
But at that moment, he felt a warm salty liquid, smelling of blood, smeared on his lips. Slightly confused, and with a bad feeling about it, he wiped it off with his hand. It was blood. Red blood.
VJ slowly fell into it. It was a horrible scene. Screaming and reaching out his hand to help her too late, the bloodstained VJ, completely exhausted, collapsed. She was trying to sit up beside him, next to his knee, but she was soaked in a pool of blood. Her platinum hair too, and that head held by these hands.
It was a mystery. Such a thing was a puzzle to him. Who the heck had done VJ such a horrible injury? As it is, she may die.
'...The injury done to me...'
The light fading in her green eyes, at that moment, a dark flame flickered.
'...The injury might be senpai...'
The blood-soaked and fallen VJ, looking at him darkly, spoke with the voice of a fourteen year old.
'Aki is probably hurting to death. Look, like this. Hurting, in agony, it's painful. Already dead. Such as this is absolutely impossible.'
When did I 'hurt her'!?
'For ages. You've probably been hurting her all along. 'Aki's changed', you keep on accusing her, perhaps. Even though senpai's changed... but senpai, it doesn't feel right. 'Gross gross, dirty dirty', you don't say anything but that about Aki!'
What the heck was I supposed to do!?
'What she yearned for, you were already too late to help. Aki is dying. Good only for sempai's convenience, worthless, under the wild delusion that she was already unable to go out with him. Getting into such an awful state, being cut into shreds so, there was nothing left but to eventually die, right? Was there any advantage in that for Aki? What kind of relationship was that? But, or...'
Like the far off sound of feathers, a strange shivering shook her body.
'Or, still, she keeps on? This'
'How many times will you to continue to let Aki die?'
'Though it's fine with me either way...'
'...At any rate, let's be open about it, OK?'
Waking up felt awful this time.
It took a while for his eyes to open, he wasn't able to come back to reality.
A dream--- he'd had a dream. A dream with a very bad feel to it, horribly real. Takaya's sweat-soaked body lying down in bed in his own room, outside the window it glimmered faintly. Four or five in the morning, could it be around then? He could not see the clock.
A cell phone could be heard vibrating, like the sound of feathers. In the corner of the unpartitioned room, whenever she got back, Mai was sprawled out on her mattress. Whether the vibration woke her, or she had been awake anyway, her hand could be seen reaching for the cell-phone. When she flipped it open, blue-white artificial light shone out on Mai's face.
"...At this hour... the telephone? ...From King...?"
"...What're you doing up? Go to sleep."
She quickly threw back a text message, or something, and clicked her tongue. Mai closed her cell-phone, threw it down roughly by the bedside and laid herself down with her face up. She could be seen looking up at the ceiling, wearing a T-shirt with something strange on it, and a borrowed pair of father's pajama shorts pulled on as pants.
"...Did you make up...?"
In the quiet dimness, only the hoarse voices of the older sister and younger brother, it was like a continuation of his dream.
"...Though it would have been good to update the family register... quickly..."
"Why...? Maybe... because you're bringing money into the house...? Me... because I'm good for nothing...?"
"...There's no relationship!"
Mai closed her eyes.
"...Because there's no relationship, go to sleep. Because it was decided that 'until you've grown up, we aren't getting married.' "
"What's this about 'grown up'?"
"...I've still not become what I should be! Don't think anything strange. Anyhow, study. Cause Dad's got his hopes set on you. Seriously, do it. Apart from studying never,"
His drowsiness assailing him again, Takaya's eyes closed too.
In the darkness only a quiet voice, feeling as if it were a dream,
"I will neeever try to take your place. So don't worry."
'...And because I will protect you!'
It echoed in his head.
'So then, you need not worry!'
VJ was there.
Dressed in a pure white uniform, flower petals falling from the blue sky, she brandished her sword. Strength that nothing could defeat shone overwhelmingly in her emerald green eyes.
Standing alone in the wind, her platinum hair flying wild, VJ held out her hand to him.
'Takaya. I am not dying either. However many times, wherever it may be, if you wish it, I will be restored.'
Grasping that hand, hugging her close, in Takaya's world a shout of joy and blessing resounded. A many gun salute went off loudly. There were garlands of multicolored flowers. Still spinning around in the air, VJ and Takaya hugged each other close.
'Stop worrying so much, I will always be here with you---'
* * *
When morning came and Takaya awoke once more, a light snore was rising from Mai, who was still deeply asleep. Dressed in pajama shorts and with her towel-blanket in a flying scissors kick, her real hair rather than the lion hair spread across her pillow, with an expectedly child-like face she slept.
That said, was it good she was sleeping? Did she have the day off work? He thought perhaps he should call her, but as he approached her sleeping face he saw a deep wrinkle on her forehead and stopped at once. His instincts as younger brother told him to not wake her.
Taking care to walk quietly, he dressed and went out into the living room,
"Mom, it is OK if I don't wake Mai-chan? Huh?"
He realized there was a person at the table. Welcome, excuse me, moving his head forward and back as if making his entrance to the room, was King. Unlike the Jirou-kun of the old days, a delinquent kid you couldn't deal with, now he had the thoroughly stoic appearance of a blue-collar worker, his hair cut short, the torn-appearing sleeves of his T-shirt moving over his thick arms, at the Satou house table eating toast.
"Could Mai-chan, perhaps, come out and say hello?"
"Yes, she could. But she's still sleeping... I should go wake her up... Mai-chan getting up can be scary..."
"I can wait."
"Since I've got the day off..."
Shortly, apologetically, seating himself behind King, whose large body was imprisoned in their small living room, Takaya took some toast for himself too.
Mother from the kitchen was nervously saying things like "Hurry up and eat!" and "Look at the time!" Father having dressed for work, and his special place at the table having been turned over to King, was sitting on the sofa looking over the newspaper. Sitting ill-manneredly with one knee up, he was munching on his toast.
"Since the room's small, please go quickly and send Mai-chan out here."
At the word to Takaya, King slowly nodded, a serious expression on his face.
Seeing that expression, Takaya thought, 'Ah, Mai's going home today too.'
Half-hidden by King's bulk, the television was passing the news about some famous entertainer's divorce. His expression instinctively becoming serious, he noticed he was running out of time. He couldn't just miss language class, so the flustered Takaya threw away his half-eaten toast and set about to get dressed.
He washed his face and changed his clothes.
He flew out the door. Having missed breakfast, he thought he would buy something to drink at a convenience store along the way, and something easy to eat. Something sweet.
Thinking the same thing at the same time, a platinum colored head cheerfully popped up.
'Can I pick!?'
It figures, you. Without so much as a good morning, you suddenly go for that? Smiling wryly, he poked the soft cheek of his beloved. Though of course, it was in the world of his imagination.
'Aren't you going to let me choose what to buy!? Let's go pick! Ah, d, doesn't it matter what I want to eat!? But, but, if you're going to buy... hey! That 'poking', stop it!'
What's that? It's all right if I stop? Weren't you the one who wanted to choose?
'Eh!? You haven't decided what you want!? ...Even, then, just a little!? Once you've stopped poking me, then there's a choice to be made!? Absolutely, for sure!?'
VJ puffed out her pink cheeks and closed her eyes tightly. Was she teasing him? He patiently ignored her, and then she peered up at him uncertainly and said, "Ta, Takaya...?", her eyes half closed, checking out what he was up to. Aren't you cute? Really, you are something else.
Walking down the street in the spring sunlight, before long they drew near the entrance to the children's park.
'Just now, were you teasing me!? Takaya you dummy! I don't care anymore!'
His eyes, unconsciously, were searching for the form of a young girl in the stomach of the stegosaurus. Of course, right now there was nobody else. The girl of that time, the boy of that time, no longer existed. Nevertheless, he was strangely uncomfortable there, but that was a mystery to him. Even if he wanted to bring it all back, it was only a memory. Stop it already, he thought, you're drowning in that time again, for sure. That world no longer exists in reality.
And there was nobody in this world prettier, or more beloved, than VJ.
More particularly, she was the present Takaya's reality. VJ followed him around like a kitten, insistently. Hehe, he sticks to me like glue, when I'm not hugging her tight. Acting like a child, she stuck her hand under his arm and spun them around, her sailor-suit clad form hurriedly holding down her skirt while she raised her voice.
'Nnyaa! Already, acting irresponsibly! I am a soldier, if you make a real effort Takaya, you will easily break free! But, the way it is you're being pushed around as she pleases! For your own sake! Do you understand!?'
Yeesss yes yes, I understand.
'Hmm, anyway, play as much as you like! If that's the way it is, that's fine! But, but eventually...'
VJ's white face looked back at him fleetingly.
'...Perhaps you will be letting me go?'
Takaya saw that devilish smile floating before him, grinning. "What're you doing?", he thought as he skillfully entered the crowd beyond the station's ticket gate, smoothly flowing into campus. Walking forward, casually holding up his cell-phone in one hand, he proceeded up the staircase to his home-room. Pretending not to notice the neglect around him, he passed through. He could put such things on the shelf for an hour. Confronted with reality, he honestly paused for each thing one by one, he was honestly confused by it all, but he was no longer a child.
Therefore--- the future would be. Eventually.
That was not a matter for today.
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