‘Scorched Halloween’, as the term was applied to the event on October 31st by the media when an almost war broke out between the Great Asian Alliance and Japan, had passed a week ago and the student present during Yokohama disturbance were just beginning to attend the school again. Already there was a lot of work for the student Council and Miyuki was busy with her position of Vice President in the new student council. Tatsuya being the diligent brother he was, was not about to leave the side of his loving sister. Honoka like always, crushing over Tatsuya was not keen on leaving him alone and Shizuku was of course with Honoka. And only God knew where Mikihiko and Mizuki had disappeared to.
So it was only Leo and Erika who found themselves walking home together, at least till the station where they would take separate cars to their homes.
Erika was walking slightly ahead of Leo in a companionable silence which their friends certainly didn’t think was possible between them.
And right they were.
“Oi dumb head,” Erika called out from ahead.
“Who the heck are you calling dumb head,” Leo answered, that is almost shouted.
Erika made an exaggerated motion of looking around, “I don’t see anyone but you who is qualified for that post around.”
“Erika, you are crossing a line,” Leo threatened.
“Whatever,” Erika shrugged her shoulder, “I meant to ask are you going to keep coming to the dojo?”
Leo halted in his steps. For a question that was really simple, it sure looked like a heavy question to him.
He silently pondered over the answer but Erika being the impatient one that she was couldn’t wait for long.
“Are you so dense that you can’t answer a simple question like that?” Erika said annoyingly.
“I am not dense,” Leo protested, “I was just thinking.”
“Huh?” Erika stared at him like he had lost his head, “What’s there to think about? It’s a simple question.”
Leo contemplated Erika’s query. It really was a simple question so why was he hesitating so much.
“You are right,” Leo answered, “I am not going to keep coming to the Chiba dojo. I mean I already have received a black belt and I certainly can’t keep bothering you people anymore.”
“Oh,” Erika replied before she turned her back to him, “okay then, see you later.”
During their conversation they had already completed the short trek to the station and Erika was about to board the car to her home.
As Leo watched Erika sped away he couldn’t help but wonder that Erika’s reply was a little lifeless.
As Leo lay in his bed trying to will himself to sleep he couldn’t help but recall the conversation that he had with Erika this afternoon on their way back from First High.
This in itself was not an oddity since he would reminisce about his day before sleeping daily but today for some reason it felt different.
For some reason he felt a keen sense of loss. Like he had lost something important.
And what was up with Erika today. Leo couldn’t help but wonder.
When she first asked that question about him coming to the dojo. Her voice seemed a little different.
He was not really known for his emotional side. But even he could sense that something was off with Erika.
But what was it? That he didn’t know.
Faced with the daunting task of unmasking the signs in a woman’s phrase, Leo’s attention began wandering and not long after it once again settled on the topic of that conversation.
His decision of leaving the dojo.
Why did that decision felt so erroneous to him?
He had spent a short time in the dojo and in that short time he had managed to receive a black belt from it. A black belt from the prestigious Chiba dojo didn’t come cheap. It had a lot of Leo’s sweat with a little bit of blood mixed in it.
But that was not the reason the decision seemed flawed to him.
In the heart of matter was Erika, and the time spent with her while training.
Sure they were almost together during the school too, but then they were with their group.
In the dojo though, it was just the two of them.
Even among the throng of students, just the two of them.
That time somehow seemed to mean a lot to him.
Erika was always an enigma to him. In the beginning she was just an annoying girl who used to butt her head in the wrong places. Slowly she became a barely tolerable acquaintance. During Nine School competition, Leo began to truly count her as a friend. And the time spent in the dojo together cemented that friendship even further.
But now he didn’t know.
Sure they bicker a lot even now, but it seemed to have lost the hostility of the beginning.
True Erika still hit him for no apparent reason but now Leo could tell that she really didn’t mean anything by that.
She seemed like a friend but yet there was something that he was missing.
But what was it? That point seemed lost on Leo.
Once again encountering his weak side pertaining to emotions, the muscle headed Leo forcefully, albeit unconsciously, diverted his attention back to a safer topic.
The time spent in Dojo.
Leo had trained a lot in his time. His hardened muscles were an evidence of that. But no other training session had felt as good to him as the ones with Erika.
They wouldn’t speak to each other.
They didn’t need words to communicate.
With each strike of their swords they could tell exactly what the other was feeling.
For them it was the best form of conversation. The one through swords.
And with each hit Leo would feel his worries slipping away.
He would no longer feel the distress about his genetic mutation.
For once he could let his problem go in their entirety without the dread of losing himself.
But even after taking into account all of this, he still couldn’t reverse his decision.
He really couldn’t bother Erika anymore.
His fears were his alone.
He couldn’t take advantage of her like that.
Even if it meant wallowing in his darkest fears, he would accept that, but he be damned if he would let anyone else be affected.
But as Leo lay in his bed, sleep far away from his eyes, he couldn’t help but conclude that he was already missing the time spent in the dojo.
“Leo, Leo,” Mikihiko snapped his finger in front of Leo who seemed to be staring blankly in space.
“Huh,” Leo stared at Mikihiko like he was seeing him for the first time.
A week has passed since Leo made the decision of not coming to dojo and since then every night of his was plagued with nightmares, of Yokohama and of his own fears. A restful sleep had become a scarcity for Leo now.
“Are you alright Leo, you seemed a little out of it today,” Mikihiko asked, concerned for his friend.
“It’s nothing,” Leo answered whilst rubbing his eyes, “just not sleeping that well.”
“Are you sure you are not sick?” Mikihiko pressed.
“Really I am fine,” Leo waved away Mikihiko’s concern with his smile, “I’ll just go wash my face.”
Mikihiko watched as his best friend stood up to wash his face.
“What’s up with him?” Mikihiko couldn’t help but mutter to himself.
“It’s not just him,” a feminine voice spoke up from behind him.
Mikihiko turned his head only to be confronted by Mizuki’s figure.
“What do you mean Shibata san?” Mikihiko couldn’t help but ask.
Mizuki turned her eyes to him that were till a moment ago fixed on the door from which Leo exited, “Even Erika seemed a little different this past week.”
“Huh?” Mikihiko answered a tad bit dumbly, for that Erika to be acting strange something big should have happened.
But what was it? His current knowledge of the event transpiring around him was not enough to answer that.
“Seriously what’s up with me?” Erika asked herself miserably.
In her current position of laying on her bed in her uniform with an arm over her eyes, anyone could guess that she was drenching herself in self-loathing.
And they would be right on the mark, as that’s exactly what she was doing.
Erika was acutely aware of the hidden concerned glances that Mizuki kept sending her way over the past week, even Miyuki seemed a little worried about her.
So what was wrong with her?
In short Erika was despondent.
This in itself was not a new development, as she was continuously glum since her mother died.
Even before that her home condition was not something that anyone could call ideal.
Heck it was actually far from normal.
She belonged to a family that she was not a part of.
But it was fine with her as long as she had her mother. But then she too died, even then Erika learned to stand up on her feet without relying on her so called family.
And Erika entered High School. She had what one could call true friends and she was content with that.
One of those friends was Leo. Since the beginning she took pleasure in ordering him around. Her nature was always like that but something about him just seemed to tick her off every time.
The reason she offered to train him was simple. She wanted to help Tatsuya in fighting. But as they continued to train together she realized something else.
She was content.
For the first time since her mother died she was comfortable in that home.
True that Chiba had accepted her but they had only done so with great disinclination. She was not fool enough to not grasp that.
While sparring with him, she could forget her own troubles.
She had accepted that she could never be relaxed in that accursed house, it held nothing but nightmares for her.
Her content was in the school not in the house.
But now that she knew of a way of being satisfied in the house she simply couldn’t accept it now.
Yet it was not like she could force him to come.
No, even if she could, she wouldn’t.
For her fears were hers alone, and she would be damned if she would let anyone else be affected by them, especially him.
But as she lay there, she couldn’t control the lone tear that escaped from her eye.
She was miserable.
She was lonely.
She missed him already.
Once again it was Erika and Leo who found themselves walking home together, though unlike the companionable silence of the first time, a strange tension hung in the air. Unlikely it was that one of them had picked on it since each was engrossed in his thought.
While walking together, the centre of their musings was on each other too. Not exactly the person per se, but the dependence they had come to realize they had on that person.
Both of them thinking the same thing, yet both afraid to voice out the thought for the same purpose.
The station was not that far from school, and each of them knew it unlikely that they would get such an opportune moment again.
In the end it was Leo who called out to Erika walking slightly ahead of him as always.
“What is it Dumb head?” the reply was instantaneous.
“What’s with you and that phrase, it’s from the wrong century,” Leo shot back.
“You picking a fight?” Erika turned towards him.
“It’s you who is picking a fight,” Leo replied.
“Whatever, speak fast or I might be infected by your dumb headedness,” Erika’s answer was nonchalant.
”Seriously is there something wrong with this girl,” Leo couldn’t help but mutter.
“Huh? What was that?” This time Erika turned around completely.
“Nothing,” Leo cleared his throat before mustering his courage, “Do you think I can drop by the dojo today?”
“Huh?” Erika’s answer was full of shock and if one could say with a little bit of hope.
“I mean if it’s not too much trouble,” Leo added hastily.
“Is it just for today?” Erika’s tone was guarded.
“I don’t know,” Leo rubbed the back of his head, “I guess I’ll drop by occasionally.”
“Sure, whatever, guess I can make a little bit of time for a dumb head like you,” This time Erika gave him an unreserved smile and turned back.
As Leo took in that shining smile he couldn’t help but wonder that it had been more than a week since he saw Erika smiling like that.
“Ouch,” Leo rubbed the back of his head, “Are you a monster or what?” he glared at Erika who was standing over him grinning.
“Ouch, what was that for,” Erika had once again smacked him in the head with her wooden sword.
“For no reason,” Erika answered.
“There is something wrong with this girl,” Leo muttered to himself.
As they crossed sword once again they couldn’t help but be happy.
That’s where they should be.
They didn’t know what the other meant to them.
These feelings certainly didn’t make any sense to them.
But it’s not like they needed them to.
As long as they had this they would be contented.
When the time would come they would face these uncertain feelings.
But that time was not now.
For now they would revel in this bliss of theirs and be happy.
For this friendship was more than enough for them.
They didn’t need anything else for now.
They were happy and that’s all they needed to know.
Even without knowing what the other was feeling,
They knew one thing.
This is where they should be.