Chapter 11: Denial and Rationalization
…What did I get myself into this time?
It had been his idea to go out with Freya – informing both Ceres and his sister beforehand – and take Oyuki with them.
Yet even so, the word most applicable with respect to how Rei Mikage felt at that moment, was awkward.
A date with your own persocom? Are you serious, bro?
No, he was not, in fact, one of those bigots who denounced 'coms as mere automatons. Freya and Ceres would have attested to that, vigorously and insistently. And besides, following a certain incident from around a year ago, the concept of sentient persocoms truly capable of emotional responses was not unheard of. Hell, if Freya's struggle to confront her dark and troubled past wasn't enough proof of the sapience all persocoms now possessed, he didn't know what was.
But even then, part of Rei still cared about the notions of social acceptance, and of adherence to cultural norms. It was this side of him, he contemplated as he directed Oyuki in her stroller, which surfaced as he endured aside glances and stares from people they passed by on the street. Really; he, Freya and Oyuki were supposed to go to some coffee shop – Tirol, if he recalled correctly – just for a little change of scenery, but to be gawked at along the way...
Even though he and Freya held their heads high and ignored them, it got old, not to mention annoying, rather quickly.
He even heard a few of them muttering, no doubt comparing him with that guy from a few years back who'd gone so far as to marry a persocom. Even back then, Rei failed to see what was so unacceptable about that – especially after seeing the guy on the news again, following his wife's 'death' – but now that he had two persocoms who he respectively saw as an older sister figure and…
…Say what? Seriously?
The exclamation, which came from seemingly out of nowhere, startled all three of them. Equally sudden was Freya's body double – her sister – leaping from the door of some building and embracing her tightly.
"Chii missed you, Freya! Welcome to Tirol!"
Sure enough, there it was, written in katakana, on a sign above the door: Tirol Bakery and Coffee Shop. Smiling slightly, Rei allowed himself a slight smile as he was welcomed inside by Chii, who joyfully clasped her sister's hand as she led them to a vacant table.
Once seated, he took in the sights; the place really was as beautiful as its pastries were delicious. He'd never gone here before, but Sayuri used to take home chocolate cake for him every so often, back when she and her now-husband had still been dating and their parents were still alive. And now, he thought as Freya returned, having ordered two slices of butter cake, it was fitting that he brought his niece here for the same treat.
"Oh, hello there! I see you've already met Chii."
Not long after both uncle and niece – being fed by Freya – finished eating their cake, the door opened again. It was a man in a white chef's outfit, and judging from the words out of his mouth, he owned the place. Chii, who had been manning the counter, ran up to the new arrival and gestured towards him and Freya.
"Welcome back, Manager! Look, it's Freya! Chii's sister! And her boyfriend, too!"
Yeah, I kinda noticed, thought Rei, the corners of his mouth twitching as he fought to keep from laughing. Whereas Freya was bitter, moody and worldly, her sister seemed to be innocent, naïve and adorable – more adorable than Freya, anyway. He wondered whether Freya had been the same way before her life got worse.
Wait a minute, he did a double-take as he recalled the second thing Chii had said. SAY WHAT!
He sneaked a glance at Freya, who appeared to be troubled with her head bowed down.
"Hey there," said the manager as he took the third seat at Rei and Freya's table, "Did you enjoy the cake? Motosuwa did mention something about Chii's sister last time, come to think of it. The two of you seem pretty close," this he added as he observed Freya, who was now playing with Oyuki. Their eyes briefly met as the persocom gave him a small smile.
"Right on both counts," Rei replied with a grin on his face. "I've loved your stuff since I was a kid, and yeah, Freya and I have grown pretty close, I suppose."
Exactly how close they were, though, Rei wasn't sure just yet. It wasn't that the idea of having a persocom for a girlfriend repelled him – it was rather… unorthodox, no point denying it. The way he saw it, though, the one difference where he and Freya were concerned was that he was flesh and blood, while she was circuits and servos.
It was just that, human or persocom, he'd never had a girlfriend. He once carried a torch for someone, who sadly didn't feel the same way, but that was it. More importantly, other pursuits, such as schoolwork and hardcore gaming, had kept Rei too busy to pursue and maintain something like that.
"Manager," Chii piped up suddenly, "Can Chii go out with Freya for a while? Chii missed her sister very much, please?"
The manager didn't even hesitate. "Sure thing, Chii. Just don't be out too long, and be careful!"
He hadn't even finished, though, as Chii had already led Freya out the store to look around at the nearby stalls. Still with a slight smile on his face, he turned back to face Rei and introduced himself.
"I'm Hiroyasu Ueda," he said. "It's nice to meet you."
"Rei Mikage," Rei returned the favour. "And, err… no, Freya isn't my girlfriend. I had one, once before, but..."
It happened 4 years ago, when Rei was still in high school, but still he couldn't bring himself to talk about it. He'd poured his heart out to some chick… only to get turned down for another girl, with whom she subsequently eloped. Needless to say, it left quite an impact on his worldview.
Besides, where did Chii get that notion, anyway?
"Not that there's anything wrong with something like that, though," he hastily added.
Despite having to refute Chii's earlier claim of a relationship between him and Freya, he still somehow felt a need to stress a certain point. While the idea of being involved with a persocom had never occurred to him, that didn't mean he found it abhorrent, either.
Riiiiiiiiiiiight. Just keep telling yourself that.
There it was again, that snide voice in his head. Irritated, Rei quashed it with a retort of his own:
Make sense, will you?
Denial and rationalization are among the most common defense mechanisms, you know –
"I see," Ueda nodded, inadvertently cutting Rei off from arguing with himself. "Y'know, I've got a story for you. You remember that story in the news, about a guy who married a persocom?"
Rei nodded. Of course he remembered that one; it came up as a topic for conversation during dinner that night, and was something his peers had wasted no time laughing about and ridiculing the next day. "Yeah…?"
"It was my story," Ueda said matter-of-factly, in the tone he most likely used when instructing Chii about work. "I'd bought her to do math, which I was terrible at, and, well… things just happened from there."
Rei listened intently as Ueda told him his story. He couldn't help but feel bad for the man when he related the part about his persocom-wife gradually losing her memories to a broken hard drive. And when she got hit by a truck after pushing him out of the way…
It was like Alzheimer's, he thought; something in the brain goes, taking the patient's memories with it. Relatives of such patients would often experience their loved one losing all recognition of them even as they ministered to their needs. Needless to say, Alzheimer's disease took its toll on everyone involved, and was just as painful to the loved ones as it was to the patient himself.
He prayed he and Freya would never experience something like that.
Would you look at that, again chimed the snide voice. I thought Freya wasn't your girlfriend?
He ignored this, but still the voice continued to mock him. Rei felt a fresh twinge of annoyance as the points it made were rather accurate – uncomfortably so, in fact.
Honestly, the sooner you quit denying it, the easier it'll all be.
"How about you, Mikage?" Ueda again recalled him to his surroundings. "How are you and Freya?"
"Well…" Rei hesitated, unsure of exactly what to say or how to say it. He wasn't opposed to the idea of them being in a relationship, but –
"She's very… broken up right now," he began. "She'd been kidnapped from her mother, and the people who kidnapped her… did things to her."
Ueda gave a start at that. Rei supposed he was under the impression that Freya had been raped or something – which wasn't too far from the truth, actually. In taking what was a normal girl and turning her into some kind of murderous doll, they pretty much forced themselves upon her in a way that was just as bad, if not even worse than 'forced entry', so to speak.
All was silent for a moment. And except for Oyuki wriggling in her stroller, all was still. He coughed slightly, as if to clear his throat, before continuing:
"At the moment she's very vulnerable, and I'd rather not take advantage of that. If I did I wouldn't be much better than the ones who violated her, now would I?"
As Ueda contemplated all this, Rei let out a sigh. He'd left out certain details, but then, he couldn't be blamed for that. Freya had trusted him implicitly with her secrets, and they really weren't his to give away.
And besides, he wasn't the type to betray other people's trust, least of all hers.
Chii and Freya were at a nearby bookstore, looking around in the children's section. More appropriately, it was Chii who was looking, while Freya just stood there, waiting for her sister to finish. She watched as Chii perused a picture book with what looked like a pink… thing, with bunny ears, on the cover. The City With No People, it was called.
Then, out of nowhere, that question.
"Is Rei the person just for Freya?" Chii asked her sister.
Freya froze. She couldn't have heard what she thought she just heard. Could she?
"...Come again, Chii? I'm not sure I heard you right."
"Is Rei the person just for Freya?" her sister and doppelganger repeated, causing her to flinch as though expecting a slap to come her way.
"What do you mean?" Freya's tone of voice was one of mock cluelessness. She knew all too well the folly of judging a book by its cover, but she still couldn't quite believe that Chii was that observant. Or had she merely been too obvious?
Regardless, the next thing Chii said no longer left any room for doubt.
"Does Freya love Rei, like Chii loves Hideki?"
Her voice sounded faintly impatient now, a dead giveaway that Freya's auditory faculties had not, in fact, deceived her. Regardless of how it had happened, the fact remained that Chii saw right through her. Slowly, Freya nodded.
"I'm broken, yet he makes me whole again. I'm a bad person, but he cares for me anyway. The idea of him being taken away makes my heart ache."
"I want to protect him, just as he protects me. I don't ever want to go away, or for him to disappear."
"Chii," she murmured as she wrapped her arms around her older sister, who reciprocated. When Chii decided she felt that way for Hideki, it was Freya – not this Freya, but Freya nonetheless – who cared for her and supported her. When someone had kidnapped her and attempted to violate her, her older sister was once again there to protect her.
And now that Freya had also found the person just for her, it was her turn to give Freya the same support and care, and she would. Chii squeezed her sister more tightly, hoping to convey these sentiments through that hug. Freya is Chii's sister. Chii loves her sister. Chii wants her sister to be happy.
"What about you, Chii?" it was Freya's turn to speak. "You love… Hideki, don't you? Hideki is… the one who is just for you?"
It was a rhetorical question, given that Chii said it first. Regardless, Freya made the decision right there. Her eyes glazed over as she interfaced with her sister, sending her… a gift of sorts.
"Huh?" Chii looked up as she registered a hunk of data integrating itself into her system. "What did Freya give Chii just now?"
But Freya only raised her eyebrows, and said, "C'mon, Chii, we'd better go back now."
And so they did. For a moment, Freya wondered whether she did the right thing, but her doubt was fleeting. She would never give her friends, much less her own sister, something she knew perfectly well would hurt them.
Just as with Yuzuki, though, Freya hoped her gift was something Chii would never need.