The Weight in Their Eyes
The next day, Akiko hardly spoke when she came down for breakfast. Karura asked if she needed to stay home, but she insisted on sticking to Yoko's request of keeping up appearances. He offered her an extra helping of rice with her favorite furikake seasoning, but the tennyo just kissed his cheek in gratitude and walked out the door with the bento.
The whole walk to school was a blur. After her aggressive attempts to release her self loathing, her scarf was close to her neck today. Her amethysts were fixated on the ground in front of her feet as she drug her shoes across the sidewalk. The tennyo nearly gasped in fright when she realized she was standing next to her desk.
The lethargic display was enough to draw Emi's attention from her DVD player. Akiko looked like a classic, movie zombie, but this was rising from the grave speed was unusual behavior. The foggy gray irises gaped in awe at her classmate before realizing her staring with obvious to others.
"Junko..." The nerdy hermit whispered loudly to the taller student in the back. "Junko...!"
The horny teenager glanced up from where she was napping at her desk. Legs crossed on top of the desk, her chair was leaning back just enough to lounge as they waited on the class to begin. The anxious voice was annoying at first, but when she realized who was calling her, she became curious.
Standing to check on her friend, Junko squatted next to the desk to get closer to her eye level. Emi never called for her unless she needed help. This didn't look like a bully or a power source emergency. What had her so wound up?
"Junko, look at Tennin."
The athlete glanced around Emi to look at the second seat back from the far row. Sure enough, their classmate looked dead on her feet. Had something happened yesterday to crush her newborn joy?
"Don't try anything yet," Emi said softly, drawing Junko's gaze back. "Wait till she's alone to approach. After phys ed might be best. You'll have the best opportunity when she's isolated and alone."
"You're doing that creepy, psycho thing again, but I'll take your word on this one. Good call, Tanuki. I won't tease you with meat today."
"You're too kind..." The otaku groaned at the reward.
"You should really change your future job goal from doctor to psychologist. Maybe even criminal psychology."
"Which one offers the most binge time?"
"I'm so depressed that you're making life decisions around your obsessions," Junko sighed heavily, leaning her head against the other's desk.
Pulling his undershirt over his head, Kazuki stared blankly at the floor of the shower room. Practice had ended, and despite his team's positivity, he knew his head wasn't in the dojo. All he could think about was Akiko.
Ever since he had left their home, he'd been rolling Karura's information around his brain. Akiko was in a rut, and it left them at a disadvantage. If he knew her as well as he thought, she felt useless and needed a means to get her life back. She was an honest soul, and like him, she didn't like to sit back and do nothing in the face of adversity. How could he help her though? For all he knew, she was scared of him now.
The Blood Magic from his previous death and last night's crippling blow were aggressive displays to witness. Tennyo were peaceful at heart, so perhaps he had taken her brash attitude for granted. Whatever the reason she had said those things last night, he felt uncertain how to approach the tennyo now.
"Praying under the shower, Suzuki?" Coach Narita asked with an amused huff. "The captain got worried when you hadn't gotten out yet."
Kazuki glanced back at the man. Once, he would have opened up to him about something like this, but that was another life, another face. If he couldn't talk to Karura, was it mere coincidence Narita had become another connection to his past?
The coach frowned at the look in the youth's black eyes. It was hauntingly familiar to him, so he couldn't pretend he didn't know what to do about it. Walking up to turn off the stream, he dropped a towel on the soaked black locks. Ruffling it around, he smiled a bit.
"Dry off and get dressed. Then, come see me."
Kazuki gaped at the gesture a moment. It seemed Narita understood his lost expression still. Damn, he felt stupid. He toweled off sluggishly, nervous about what the coach wanted to talk about. It wasn't like he could tell him anything, could he? Hopefully, another person hadn't busted him on reincarnating.
"You wanted to see me, Mr. Narita?"
"Have a seat." The man waved to a place next to his desk. "You look like a black coffee guy. Am I right?"
"Yeah, actually," Kazuki muttered softly as he sat down. "How'd you know?"
"You came to get to know Fujimoto, so I figured you had to have some traits in common. He always took it black, so he could pour it and go. Have a cup."
Kazuki saw the man extend a paper cup of fresh coffee. He could smell the dark roast on the steam. His kouhai had a sound memory. Taking the cup, he sipped the hot brew slowly. A soft growl left his throat with pleasure.
"What's eating you up, Suzuki? I doubt it's homesickness. You've got more sense than that. I know that look in your eye. Fujimoto would make it when he thought he'd messed up. It's that tired stare when your brain's sapped of strength from thinking too much. Talk to me. I promised I'd look out for you on his behalf."
"Are you sure? I don't want to trouble you."
"You don't have many people to talk to here. It's common for young people to become isolated when they moved away for college. Your folks didn't come to see you get settled, and with a mature presence like yours, I can only guess you asked to do it on your own.
"You did a lot in the past few days, checking into school and moving on your own. Burnout is a logical thing for freshmen early on, so it's important that you communicate with others rather than bottle things up. I doubt whatever happened is unfixable, so feel free to talk to me if you need a soundboard to bounce off. I'm pretty good at making coffee, and that chair is always open to you."
Staring back at his coach, Kazuki wondered if he could actually share his thoughts with him. If he were still Mamoru, he might consider it, but Narita had been a bit overwhelmed when it came to the occult. He had gotten pretty good at adapting the truth with aliases that preserved the core issues over his lives though. Taking one more sip, he set the cup down in his lap, staring at the movement on the surface of the coffee.
"Mr. Narita... When I said I came here to get to know Fujimoto Mamoru, that wasn't the complete truth, but it was a major part of why I'm here."
"Really? Does it have to do with your mood slump?" The coach was genuinely curious to find out more about his old friend's relative. He wanted to hear it from the youth though, no digging around behind his back. Mamoru had always let people share their thoughts, so he tried to extend the same to others as a means of keeping the man's memory alive. What better place was there than where the next generation was coming into their own?
"Yeah," Kazuki glanced up anxiously, "when I was looking up Fujimoto, I came across someone that told me about his death. She's a few years younger than me, but we hit it off pretty well. I surprised her the day I moved here, and her father seems to like me now that he's met me in person. I thought things were great... until last night."
"Did something happen?" Narita asked with concern.
"Well, I didn't realize why he hit so close to home for her until dinner last night. Her mother was murdered, and they had to leave their home because the case was never solved. I guess he was kind of her hero, but I said something without realizing it that upset her. She locked herself in her room, and when I tried to talk to her, I overheard her said I made her look stupid. I don't know what to say or do to apologize."
"Wow... That is pretty heavy," Narita said as delicately as he could muster. The student considered other's feelings as heavily as Mamoru had, and that weighed both their hearts down. Leaning backward in his chair, the coach considered how to help direct the youth's line of thinking. "Was that all you heard her say?"
"Huh?" Kazuki lifted his head at the question. "What do you mean?"
"Was she ranting about you, or was she just saying stuff? It's hard to tell with women, but if you know her at all, you should be able to tell if you consider the bigger picture. Were you the only thing she was talking to herself about?"
"Well..." The old soul paused as he considered the question. He thought back at what she had been muttering. It had been kind of muffled, and he had only heard her at the top of the stairs with his good hearing. What else could she have said?
"Actually, I think she said a few other things. I guess you have a point, Mr. Narita. Normally, I can read people's faces and eyes, but without that, maybe I get lost in my own head."
"Then, I'll offer you this advice," Narita said with a smile, already seeing improvement in the youth's face. "Don't think. Let her explain herself. When people lock themselves up, they tend to forget about what's outside their four walls. I doubt she intended anyone to hear her, so next time you see her, don't let your thoughts run crazy and listen to her."
Kazuki gaped back at the coach. He had said those very words to his kouhai years ago. How could he have forgotten that same wisdom? A small smile grew on his lips.
"Thank you, Mr. Narita. I needed to hear something like that. You and Fujimoto must have been close."
"Well..." Narita's gaze dropped as he paused. "We were at one time."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I had assumed you were best friends by how you talked about him."
"We were, actually," the coach said with a sting of guilt in his voice. "He was always there for me, but when he needed me, I wasn't there to pull him out of his own head."
"What do you mean?" Kazuki stared back at the man, curiously. The expression in his eyes was painful. Was he talking about his death? How could he blame himself for that? "Aki-chan told me he died in the line of duty."
"He did," Narita sighed heavily, looking at some paperwork on his desk. "Fujimoto had a bit of a martyr complex. He was always taking care of people, but he never asked for help. After he helped me, I tried to reach out to him in return. It worked for a while, but when I got caught up in kendo tournaments, he got lost in his work again. When his partner called me with the news, all I could think was that I should have told him..."
"Told him what?"
"He didn't have to die to make a difference. Everyone loved him. He had touched so many lives, changing us for the better. No one knows why he and that stalker fell, whether there was a struggle or one of them jumped, but I get the feeling he was thinking of that girl's future instead of his own. It was like he had no other reason to live but to protect the peace."
The man turned his head to look at the youth. Kazuki's face was stunned. Narita managed to force a smile. Leave it to him to get caught up when was trying to pull someone out of their thoughts.
"That's why, if you have a drop of him in you, you shouldn't stay up in your own head. Talk to people, Suzuki. All living things crave connection. As your coach, I'm here to mentor you, but it sounds like this 'Aki-chan' really likes you. Talk to her."
"I will, Mr. Narita. Thanks for the talk and the coffee." The old soul stood up to bow. "See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow, Suzuki. No more long faces."
"You got it!"
The girls in class had been running their timed laps in physical education. Akiko normally tried to stay in the middle of the fray, but she couldn't muster enough energy to pull up from the rear. Instead of having free time, she asked the instructor if she could head for the locker room, complaining that she felt overheated. The teacher agreed, so she left the class early to splash her face.
Junko had been watching her closely, trying to consider the best approach. Chikako wanted answers, but that didn't mean breaking the poor girl. When Lady Yoshida made a request, the athlete always came through for her. She wasn't about to mess that up now.
Waiting to ensure the teacher wouldn't notice her slip off, Junko made her way for the locker room. Her amber-brown eyes darted around for anyone nearby. What luck that Tennin would go in completely alone?
As she crept in, she could hear the other student running water by the sink. Sure enough, she was leaning over it with her hands covering her face. Her precious scarf was draped over the shelf above to avoid getting damp.
The pervert felt this was too easy. For all her talk, Tennin sure made a simple target. Sliding her hands around her sides, the taller student embraced her from behind, leaning down to whisper in her ear.
"You're off your game today, Tennin. Something nasty happen after school?"
Akiko gaped suddenly, recalling the oni holding her from behind. She jerked to try shaking Junko off, but the athlete's strength held her in a sensual grip, pulling her closer.
"Why so jumpy? I'd never hurt a beauty like you." Junko smirked as she nestled her nose on the other's cheek. "Tell me what's got you so shaken up. Want me to make you feel better?"
Akiko's voice felt dead in her throat. Tears welled up in her eyes as she tried to push the taller student off of her back. She knew this wasn't an oni. Junko was too short for that. The contact made her want to run just as bad though. Feeling a hand on her belly beneath her shirt, all she could think of was how the bitch had no right to touch her.
"LET ME GO!" She finally found her voice, startling the assailant. Akiko used the chance to tear herself free. When Junko grabbed her closest arm, the tennyo spun around to slap her. The grip slacked, but not before Junko got a good look at her.
"What happened to your neck...?"
The question was simple, and the tone was calm. Her eyes stared back blankly, unreadable to the victim. It sent Akiko into a panic though, grasping her dark blue hair as she ran for the exit. Her head was spiraling again. She needed space. She needed to feel safe.
Junko watched her run, unsure if following was a good idea. Her eyes fell to the abandoned scarf. Tennin always wore it, so to leave it behind meant things were royally scrambled in her head. The youth picked it up, admiring the interesting colors.
"I wonder if Chikako will accept this rather than information." She folded the cloth neatly before heading back for the track.
Chikako was stretching with Emi. It looked like they were cooling down from an intense activity. When they spotted Junko walking toward them, the two paused at the serious expression on her face.
"Has something transpired, Kikuchi?"
"I went to 'talk' with Tennin about her recent mood swings, but she lost her shit and ran off. She left this behind."
Chikako glanced at the familiar cloth of their classmate's scarf in Junko's hand. Taking the cloth in both hands, she watched the sunlight strike it, shimmering like an iridescent stone. All three of them gawked at the phenomenon, realizing this was no ordinary, fashion accessory.
"There was something else, was there not, Kikuchi?" Chikako pulled the scarf close to hide it from the sunlight.
"Her neck was really scratched up," Junko said with a hint of guilt. "She was quiet when I started holding her, but she suddenly started screaming when I touched her skin. She called out for someone named Kazuki and took off like she was being chased. I didn't...!"
"I know you didn't mean to hurt her," the mature student spoke up when the other faltered. "What's done is done though. We must ensure she is well. Perhaps looking for her might ease your conscience. Tanaka, please inform the instructor that Tennin has not returned. I will hold onto this for now."
"Sure thing, Chikako." Junko turned around to start searching. Hopefully, her classmate was still on the property, or there was no telling where she'd fled. She tried not to think about the look in the girl's eyes when she gawked at her. Maybe some secrets were best kept to oneself.