Scene IV: Talk Once Again
Tokyo, Japan. 2014, February
Lungs were filled with panic, bringing Tsumi back to reality and away from her dreams. Her back arched as she shot up, eyes wide and hair clinging to her forehead in silver clumps. Heavy breaths left her lips and she lowered her head, trying to collect herself before moving. Lately, all she ever dreamed about was the night on the rooftop, of Senbo covered in blood with a body at his feet and Himitsu arriving just in time to see Senbo throw himself off the side of the roof.
Tsumi swung her legs over the side. Upon moving, the thin blanket she had been sleeping under tumbled off and proceeded to make a small pile against the floorboards. Mismatched eyes stared at the soft fabric at her bare feet as the haze of sleepiness began to ware away.
“Rida’s coming home today.” Shizuka’s voice wafted through the air, bringing Tsumi’s eyes from the floor and towards the kitchen. “You seemed exhausted, so I let you sleep in.”
Tsumi wanted to feel grateful for Rida’s return. At this point, she wanted to feel anything. Her head was solely fixed upon Yujin’s condition and her heart was ashamed to have to wear a tag on her ankle. She would have taken to sleeping under a bridge or staying at a hotel if it meant Yuugen could not track her back to Rida’s house; yet Yokubo was clear when he put the tag on, telling Tsumi to act as close to her daily routine as possible to avoid any suspicion.
Sighing to herself, Tsumi stood and ran up the stairs. She knew Rida’s plane would not get in to Japan until this evening, which gave her plenty of time to visit Yujin at the hospital and go shopping. Not an hour had passed before she came downstairs, dressed in shorts and loose shirt hidden beneath her long, black coat.
Migi and Hidari had rolled out of bed at some point while she had been upstairs. They sat on their assigned sofa facing the television as they played their video games with half-lidded eyes and hair matted from bed. Tsumi was kind enough to offer a wave and shouted the bluntest of goodbyes to Shizuka before she stepped out of the house in an old pair of all-stars; the only shoes which fit around her tag.
The air was cold, as it usually was in the early days of February. Nearly a month had gone by since Concordia and The King. She still felt bewildered, muddled from the sheer fact it had been Muzai to save her, alongside Miryoku Fumetsu of all people. She wished she could tell Yujin all about it, to see his face when she unloaded her stories and adventures onto him. She nearly laughed at the so-called evidence the Council had on her. There was nothing. She had not even known Okui had died until she was accused for it.
She could picture the way Yujin would react at this news, the way his lips would twitch into something of a smirk. He probably would have been reading a book or signing papers when Tsumi walked into his office to unload. But he would be listening closely and offer his sagely wisdom whenever it was required. He would never laugh aloud, instead he would make a soft exhale which could often be mistaken for a chuckle.
With every thought, maybe and what if, Tsumi found her stomach twist. She had paused, hand clutching the white of her shirt with fear. She never got this way about anyone. The last time she had felt pains and flutters in her tummy and chest was when she said goodbye to Rida before she left for Korea. Perhaps this is what it felt like to finally grow up and love.
Kanagawa, Yuugen. Japan. 2005, May
Yujin strolled through the long halls, counting the children scattered around the building as he moved. Orders from Dotai were clear; the less injured should be prepared to join a Coven. He had made the excuse of starting Magick potential early for the sake of stronger, future generations of Sorcerers and their Familiars. It was enough to make Yujin sick.
Yuugen’s campus was big enough to set up various infirmary sites which Yujin had visited practically all day. The last thing he wanted was to have his office crowded with noisy brats. Besides, he already had one in there, despite the fact he was unconscious. He could see his infirmary door up ahead and was filled with a wave of relief. He was ready to delve into silence just when a shout of desperation filtered the hall.
“Someone! I need help over here!”
Of all people to yell distress, it had been Neko. She stood near the fire exit and held herself against the wall as she coughed, hacking up phlegm and ash. When Yujin jogged over and tugged his stethoscope out to inspect her chest, she swatted his hand.
“Not me. Outside,” Neko wheezed, sliding to the floor to regain her composure. “Hokori and Senbo went back to the Orphanage. There were a bunch of kids trapped in the conservatory, they’re not in good shape.”
“Fine.” Yujin sighed, stepping over Neko to jog down the three-concrete-stairway to the fire evacuation point. Ironic. When Senbo appeared and handed over a bundle-wrapped child without a word of recognition, Yujin grit his teeth. “What is this supposed to be, Senbo?”
“Just-” Senbo breathed in ragged pants and pressed the child closer to Yujin’s chest. “Just take care of her. Please.”
Yujin felt the bundle shift in his arms and blinked, looking down to see a small, silver-haired girl with colourful eyes. She must have been about nine, but the bluntness to her face could have fooled him. His heart ached to be put in such a situation – and for a moment, his eyes blurred with the threat of tears.
“Would you like me to take her?” Neko’s voice appeared from over his shoulder. “It must be hard for you. I mean, after losing your family-”
“It’s fine.” Yujin cut in. One of his hands moved to cup the back of the girl’s head to shift her into his arms properly. “I’ll take her.”
Neko watched Yujin walk away. Her eyes were soft with something akin to sympathy before Hokori motioned her over and she regained her blank look of all-serious-no-kindness. Neko jogged down the small steps and over to where a young boy lay on the ground. He had burns across his face and neck, chest, and stomach. His arms looked the worst. Neko was sure the longer she stared, the more muscle and bone she could see.
“This is what Yujin should have been helping us with!” Hokori snipped, turning to watch Senbo kneel on the floor beside the burnt boy. “Where did he go? And where is Tsumi?”
“I gave her to Yujin. She’s fine.” Senbo whispered for the sake of his burning vocal cords and he moved, pressing an ear to the boy’s chest. He was hardly breathing. “Come on, Miryoku.”
It was clear the look on Hokori’s face meant he was not so quick to agree on Senbo’s decision for Tsumi’s momentary chaperone. He said nothing as he turned back to the remaining children and leant down, hoisting a particular duo into his strong arms. They were wheezing and coughing as Hokori moved to the stairway.
“I need to take Kuro and Naku inside.” He glanced back, watching the way Senbo’s shoulders trembled. “Is he going to make it?”
Neko rolled her eyes before Senbo could reply. “Honestly, why are men so dramatic?” She scoffed, moving to kneel beside the boy.
Not a moment’s hesitation crossed her face as she leant forward, lips meeting the dying boy’s mouth as she breathed out. His burnt chest rose and Neko pulled back, forcing her hands against his chest. As she began compressions, she could feel his burning skin stick to her palms and knuckles. She counted herself lucky for never being squeamish. With another kiss of life, the boy choked awake, followed by a thick cough of blood.
“There, there,” Neko soothed, helping the boy turn on his side to clear his lungs of smoke and blood. Once he was breathing steadier, she helped him sit up. “You were in a fire. Do you remember?”
Hokori and Senbo shared a look of disbelief as Neko; the stoic little girl who paid no attention to anyone, got down in the dirt and gore to revive a boy she had never met. Once Neko stood, she hoisted the boy into her arms. He was shorter than her, only by a few inches. It was enough to help him up the steps and into the academy.
“Can you tell me your name?” Neko asked. She did everything in her power to distract the boy. His bloody cheek pressed against hers, his useless arms hung over her shoulders. She could feel the scabs on his fingers getting caught on the back of her cotton shirt and his chest stuck to the front of her buttons.
“My name?” The boy gurgled, leaning his head further across Neko’s back to spit out another mouthful of blood before he could reply. “…Miryoku.”
Yujin slid into his office at a speed he had forgotten how to use. He propped Tsumi on the bed beside The Chairman’s son and she jolted, eyes opening to survey her surroundings. Yujin was sure her right eye was red earlier. Now that he stared, all he could see was flecks of green, browns and a small speck of red in the corner of her iris.
“Where?” Tsumi’s words came out in a small squeak of air when Yujin pressed his hand upon her forehead to check for any obvious temperatures. She winced, irritably grabbing his fingers with both hands. “No.”
Yujin felt his throat bob. A sense of nostalgia washed over him when he reached with his spare hand, prying Tsumi’s little wrists away. He gently cupped her knuckles, lowering her arms to her sides as she sat up, legs dangling over the edge of her new bed. He hesitated before sitting beside her. Tsumi did not shy away and stared up with wide eyes of wonder.
“It’s okay.” Yujin reassured, running his thumb over her knuckles. “I’ll take care of you. I promise.”
Kanagawa Hospital. Japan. 2014, February
Mismatched eyes stared. The beeping sounds in the room continued to drown out Tsumi’s quiet breathing. She could only watch as Yujin’s chest continued to rise and fall. It was sad to see. Hard to watch. It hurt. More than any bullet, knife, fire or fight she had ever experienced. There was no spell to make her feel better.
Even Chini was suffering and Tsumi hated that. She may have never been on the same page as him, but they shared a common interest; Yujin. Tsumi had relieved Chini when she showed up, telling him to go outside and stretch his legs. She even gave him some yen to buy something to eat from the restaurant downstairs. He looked ready to fall apart, and frankly, she needed him just as much as he needed her right now.
Swallowing thickly, Tsumi took Chini’s seat once he left. She shifted, reaching out to take one of Yujin’s hands in her own. Pale fingers rubbed along the rough, washed-beaten knuckles, and she bowed to press her head against their intertwined fingers.
“You’ll be okay,” Tsumi whispered. “I’ll take care of you. I promise.”