Note: Contains explicit and politically incorrect language (though I did try to keep it to a minimum).


When he was ten, he ran away from home.

It wasn't really a conscious decision on his part. He was sitting in his room, staring out the window, earphones plugged in, when he suddenly looked around the room and saw that it had gotten smaller somehow. The walls were leaning in at a weird angle and he could hear some strange sound from outside the door, something going doom, doom, doom.

The sound stopped after a while, but if he listened hard enough, if he listened hard enough, he could hear a softer sound, the memory of someone breathing. And he knew that the source of the breathing was just outside the door, but a door was no barrier at all, it could have been made of glass, thin and transparent.

He had ran to the door and flung it open and ran out, down the stairs, out the front door and into the dead, dusty afternoon. Music blasting in his ears, he'd run to the train station and boarded a train somewhere... For the life of him, he couldn't remember.

And so it was that he found himself in an unknown train station, in a strange place, surrounded by unfamiliar faces. But he was used to that, so he wasn't really afraid. Not really. Not while the music was still playing, over and over again.

He left the station, with its laughing vacationing families, crying babies and stern-faced guards and went out into the sun. He stood very still for a moment. The sky seemed very huge above him, and everything seemed bigger and taller. But that was only to be expected, he was just ten, after all.

He had no idea where to go. If Oniisan were here, he'd know, he thought briefly, if Oniisan were in my place, he'd know exactly what to do. If I were Oniisan, what would I do?

But try as he might, he could not be his oniisan, not even with the music in his head. So instead, he did what he himself would do. He wandered around aimlessly, not really caring where he was, until he came to a fenced-in basketball court. There was a game going on, and he stood on the other side of the fence, staring.

The ball was in the hands of a boy in a black tank top. He passed his opponents easily, casually, as if it was something he didn't have to think about, didn't care. His movements were slow and leisurely, almost sluggish.

And then he jumped. He leaped up - and up - so high he almost seemed to be flying, and slam dunked into the hoop.

The boy on the other side of the fence almost forgot to breathe.

The boy in black, who a few moments ago had seemed to be suspended in mid air on invisible wings, held on to the rim as if reluctant to let go, but he finally did, landing solidly on the ground. His team mates swarmed him with high-fives and praise, but he turned his head and looked straight at a pair of eyes watching him on the other side of the fence.

When the game was over, he went outside to the spot where he'd seen the boy, but there was nobody there. He looked around, and saw him sitting on a park bench not far away. He went over to him and sat down without being invited.

"Hi," he said.

The boy didn't even look at him.

He noticed that the kid was holding a Walkman in his hand and he had earphones in his ears. Thinking that maybe he hadn't heard him, he said, louder, "Hi!"

There was no visible reaction.

He relaxed on the bench, letting his limbs fall where they pleased. "What's your name?"


"Okay, I'll go first. I'm Kazuya. Nice to meet you. What's your name?"


"It's okay if you don't know."

If looks could freeze, he thought, I'd be a block of ice right now.


"Okay. How old are you, Kaede? Since I went first the last time, I think now it's your turn."


"Okay! Okay! I'm fourteen. Fifteen next month. How about you, Kaede?"


"It's okay if you don't know."


Kazuya mock-wiped sweat from his brow. "Whew! Now that the trial of pain is over, we can go on to other things. I was pretty impressive just now, wasn't I?"

The other boy finally looked at him. His question, when he asked it, wasn't one Kazuya expected. "What is it like to fly?"

"Eh?" Kazuya scratched his head. "No idea, man. Never been on a plane in my life. Megumi was on one when she was a kid, I think. She lives down the block. She said she threw up all over the place so it couldn't have been all that big a treat." He stopped talking because the kid was looking at him with a really weird expression on his face. "What?"

Kaede looked away, disinterested.

Kazuya took the kid home with him. He didn't really know why he did that. Maybe he wanted to see the look on his mother's face when he told her. Maybe he just wanted to get back at her. After all, she brought men home all the time without so much as a by-your-leave.

As it turned out, he needn't have bothered, because she was too drunk to care.

"You gotta sleep on the floor, kid, cuz there ain't enough space for another futon. Even if I have one." He turned to see Kaede standing at the door, taking in the condition of his room silently. The floor could have been wood, cement, marble or carpeted, but the information was fated to remain a secret forever as not an inch of it could be seen underneath piles of discarded clothing, newspapers, magazines, mangas, beer bottles and other assorted oddities. The only window was a tiny square opening cut into the cracking cement, barred by rusty green grilles. The walls were covered with posters - centerfold pin-ups, movie posters ripped off its public home, a couple of dark wall hangings depicting mutilated bodies with blood streaking in artistic patterns across bone-white skin, and occupying the place of honor, a gilt-framed painting of a church and a painted sky.

Kazuya watched for a reaction, but there was none. Weird kid, he thought. Could he be mentally retarded? He flung himself on the only futon occupying the floor and reached behind his head for a bottle of beer. Warm, but he liked it warm. "Make yourself at home, kid," he called.

Kaede walked across the room to the window, but halfway through, he stopped. A very strange expression crossed his face. "What is it?" Kazuya asked, curiously.

The expression disappeared. Kaede removed the earphones. "I need to buy new batteries," he said.

"Sure. Later. I'll take you to see the night life round these parts." Kazuya grinned. "Excitement is gah-ran-tee."

Kaede looked out the window and Kazuya rolled over on his stomach, letting the beer slip from his fingers. He buried his face in the pillow and closed his eyes. When he next opened them, he had a feeling that some time had passed. With a grunt he levered himself on his elbow and used his other hand to scratch at the small of his back. Kaede was still at the window.

"What are you looking at?" Kazuya asked, groping for another beer. He was out. Damn.

"A dumpster, a clothes-line and several cardboard boxes."

"Damn, and here I thought you must have seen paradise itself, you're looking at it for so long." He grinned, but it was lost on the other boy. "Is my face really that ugly?"

Kaede turned his head to look at him.

"It was a retical - no, retorcal - no, wait..." He scratched his head. "Well, you don't have to answer it, OK?" He looked at his watch, frowned, and flicked it a few times with his finger. "This fricking thing's died on me again. Everything dies on me. Did I tell you Kuruma died yesterday? I woke up and he was gone."


Kazuya took that as a question. "Yeah. He and I have been friends for years. OK, maybe not years, but we were pretty close. Every morning I'd go to the back of the house and pluck some of those little yellow flowers for him to eat. I'd wake up early just for that. I hate waking up early, did I ever tell you that?"

Kaede wondered if it would be tactful to ask, but he did anyway. "This Kuruma eats flowers?"

"Yeah. Weird little guy. I mean, most tortoises eat stuff like leaves and - and - whatever, right? Kuruma has this thing for flowers. Just the yellow ones, of course, and just the ones at the back of the house. Little pervert." He stopped talking because Kaede was again giving him this strange look. "Do you have the time?" Kazuya looked at Kaede's wrists and said mournfully, "No, you don't." He sighed and then yelled at the top of his lungs, "CAN SOMEBODY TELL ME THE FRICKING TIME?!"

From somewhere next door came a shout, "It's half-past six, you asshole! Now shut up!"

Kazuya grinned. "Time to get this show on the road then." He leaped up from the futon and went over to the cupboard leaning wearily against the wall. Flinging it open theatrically, he announced, "Who shall I be this time?" Not waiting for an answer (not that anyone, least of all Kaede, was going to answer him), he pulled out a black leather jacket studded with silver spikes and several expletives emblazoned across the back.

He put it on and looked at himself in a full-length mirror also leaning on the wall. The wall didn't look very steady. Kaede began to worry that it might collapse on them. Kazuya, meanwhile, was oblivious of the danger they were in and was pulling off the jacket, a look of intense concentration on his face. He pulled the tank top over his head and it went flying to join its similarly discarded comrades on the floor. Kazuya shrugged on the jacket again and this time his reflection was met with approval.

He laughed softly and flicked at the rings on his nipples and navel. There were several more hanging on his ears and one on his eyebrow. "I'm full of holes!"

He turned to Kaede and grinned. "Let's go."

From what Kaede could see, the nightlife was nothing to shout about. Kazuya led him through alleys lined with overflowing dumpsters and filled with the sickening stench of rotting rubbish, backlanes dotted with splashes of light from open back exits of seedy establishments, and an amazing number of abandoned parking lots. Kaede had a feeling cars must be seriously out of fashion at the moment.

Finally, at a similarly empty and desolate parking lot, Kazuya stopped and said, "Here we are." He gestured at a small shack almost hidden in shadows at a corner of the lot. "This is our secret headquarters, you know, where we make our dastardly plans to conquer the world." He grinned, teeth flashing white in the moonlight. He walked across the empty expanse of asphalt, and after a moment, Kaede followed.

The interior of the shack was no more impressive than the exterior. After a few moments of darkness, the tiny room was flooded with weak yellow light. Kazuya blew out the match in his hand and Kaede saw that the light came from a lantern hanging from the low ceiling. A few crates and boxes lay jumbled up in a corner together with some other strange paraphernalia. He noticed a black-haired doll lying disjointed behind the door for no apparent reason.

Kazuya sprawled in the doorway, half in and half out. "Give me a pack of cigarettes, kid," he called, "It's in that box over there."

Kaede went over to the said box and opened it. Inside were packs of cigarettes arranged neatly in stacks. He took one out and threw it at Kazuya. "Give me a beer while you're at it," Kazuya said, lighting up. Kaede saw a six-pack on the floor beside the box, took one and threw that at Kazuya. The older boy looked up to see a bottle hurtling at his head and only his quick reflexes prevented his brains from being splattered on the floor.

Gripping the neck of the bottle until his knuckles went white, he glared at Kaede and yelled, "What the hell did you do that for?!" Kaede only gazed at him impassively. Kazuya glared at him for a moment longer, then looked away, muttering. Definitely retarded, he thought, With homicidal tendencies too.

"What have you got for us, friend?"

Kazuya looked up, startled. They were here. He was a little uneasy that he hadn't noticed their approach. It's all the kid's fault, he thought irritably, glancing at him. He remembered Katsura's opening remark. The three of them were looking at the boy.

"Just some kid I picked off the streets," he said dismissively. "His name's Kaede. Hey kid, this here's Katsura, Takeshi and Yuubi."

"That's sempai to you," Katsura said to Kaede, who looked at him silently.

"Somebody cut off your tongue?" Takeshi demanded.

"Don't mind that," Kazuya said, taking a swig from his bottle. "You gotta spend whole day just getting a damn word outta him."

"You talk enough for all of us, Kazuya." This from Yuubi with a smirk.

Kazuya gave him a glare. "You better shut your trap before I make sure you never talk again."

Yuubi scowled but said nothing. Kazuya contemplated asking Kaede to pass around the beer, then thought better of it. He got Takeshi to do it instead. Katsura lounged against the door and poked at the doll idly with his foot. He took a drag on his cigarette and drawled, "So... the plans for this lovely night?"

Yuubi said, "I'm pretty short on cash right now, guys. The old woman found my secret stash and used it all to buy booze. Fucking mad when I found out. Gave her a good talking to, the old cow."

"You should have slapped her round a bit, Yuubi. Shows who's boss, ya know?" Katsura said in his slow drawl that made him sound half asleep.

Yuubi drew himself up a bit. "Hey, she knows I'm in charge and I never let her forget it for one second!" They laughed uproariously and clinked their beer together.

Personally, Kaede couldn't see the humor. He sat down on a wooden crate and started to feel sleepy.

"So. First on our agenda. Get more cash." Kazuya looked at the others. "Any suggestions, gentlemen?" They broke into a concentrated and heated discussion.

Kaede blinked drowsily and stared at Kazuya. For a moment, he had looked like someone else, with the moonlight bathing him in an ethereal glow and bleaching the color from his skin and hair. He had looked like someone who had sat in exactly the same position, perched on the windowsill of his room, the exact same expression in his eyes. So passionate. But as Kaede became more awake, he realized it wasn't his oniisan after all, of course it wasn't, it was some guy named Kazuya who had seemed to fly when he played basketball and who had taken him into his house.

"The public library?" Katsura was saying in a disgusted tone. "Kazuya, are you out of your mind?"

"They have money there."

"Chicken feed! What, you think people pay hundreds for overdue books?"

"There'll be enough for our activties tonight."

"I say we just hang around and do our usual thing."

"Oh, you mean look for a suitably wealthy old bloke and divest him of his earthly belongings?"

"Not in so many fancy words, but yeah, that's it. It's what we always do, ain't it?"

"Katsura, is dullness a disease that runs in your family?"

"What's that supposed to mean?" Katsura's voice had become low and dangerous.

Kazuya sighed melodramatically. "I mean, don't you get tired of the same old routine night after night?" He was addressing all three of his gang. "Doesn't it get boring after the first month or so? I, for one, am all set for a change."

"Well, I'm not." Katsura folded his arms across his chest.

"Let it never be said that I am not a just man. Let's put it to the vote." Kazuya looked around, eyes bright. "I advocate change. That means," this with a patient look at Yuubi, "We do something other than what we've done before. Who's with me?"

Katsura lifted his chin and looked obstinate. Yuubi and Takeshi glanced at each other. "Well?" There was a hint of steel in Kazuya's voice as he looked at each of them in the eye. Yuubi raised his hand slowly, followed by Takeshi a  few moments later.

Kazuya smiled, satisfied. "Well, that's settled. First stop - the library."

"But, Kazuya," Yuubi started, "Don't you think the library's kind of..."

"No, I don't," he replied, coldly. "Let's go." They filed out the door. He looked at Kaede and his expression softened into a smile. "What did I tell ya, kid? Excitement gah-ran-teed." He laughed and winked.

The library was a low, functional-looking building with boarded up windows and a forlorn air about it. Kazuya marched up the stone steps and peered at a sheet of paper pasted on the double glass doors. "Well, gentlemen," he announced, "Looks like we're just in time. It closes in ten minutes." With that, he pushed the door and went in.

When Kaede stepped into the area of weak white light, a strange smell assaulted him. Closed air, he thought, absently, the smell of closed air and moths and yellowing paper. He stood on the threshold and watched the others saunter in as if they owned the place.

At this time of the night, only a few people were left. The librarian, a middle-aged woman wearing thick-rimmed glasses and an overly ample bosom, looked up and frowned. Kazuya spotted her and went over, grinning. "Good evening, my good lady," he said, taking off an imaginary hat with a flourish.

There was fear in the woman's pig-like eyes but she said, "We're about to close. Please come back at a more appropriate time."

"Oh, but I think this is appropriate enough, don't you agree, gentlemen?" He appealed to his friends, who grinned and leered at everyone present. Kazuya turned back to the woman. "After all, we're just here for some fun. Won't take up too much of your time, I promise."

A man came up to them belligerently. He was also in his middle ages, balding and slightly potbellied. He held a leatherbound book in one hand. He was waving the other hand in the air. "You punks better get out of here before I call the police, you hear me?" he shouted.

"Ooh, we're shaking with fear, big man," Takeshi mocked.

"Get out of here! Gutter trash like you shouldn't be allowed in a place like this!" The man's face was purple with rage. "You contaminate the air in here with your evil influence! You should be locked up! Taxpayer's money wasted on rubbish like you--" He took a deep breath to continue but Kazuya beat him to it.

"Such shouting, old man. Don't you realize this is a library?" With a feral grin, Kazuya lunged at the man, who backed away, eyes suddenly wide with fear. But Kazuya merely snatched the book from his hand. He held it up to the light, and flipped through it. "My, my. Lookie what we have here. Reading stuff of the gaijin, hmm?" He cleared his throat loudly and started reading with suitable drama. "Did you understand this word, oh my brothers? You are shocked - are your hearts reeling? Do you see the abyss sprawling? Do you hear the hell-hound brawling? Onward! Upward! You superior men! Only now the mountain of man's future screams in labor. God died: now we want - the Superman to live."

Yuubi snickered loudly and Takeshi said, "You mean the asshole in the red underwear?"

The purple-faced man said, "Books are wasted on the likes of you."

Kazuya merely smiled serenely. He held the book up for the man to see, then took out a blade and started ripping it apart. The man took a step forward. "What do you think you're doing?!"

"Oh, I don't think, old man, I am doing it." Kazuya ripped out pages after pages, tore them into little pieces and flung them over his head, where they fluttered back down in a shower of yellow paper. The other three laughed and gave each other high-fives, then started grabbing books off the shelves and tearing them.

"You can't do this!" the librarian said in a quivering voice, eyes blinking rapidly behind the thick lenses.

Kazuya threw the mutilated book away and approached her. She shrank back in fright. "Money. All of it. Now." His voice had gone cold. She opened her mouth to protest, then shut it and opened a drawer. She took out several wads of small bills and placed them on the counter. "All of it," he repeated. She took out a small tin. The change inside rattled as she put it on the counter. "This is all," she stammered.

He gave her a hard look. "I swear! This is all we have," she said, shrinking back again.

He pocketed the money and tossed the tin at Kaede, who had been standing quietly all the while. Although the boy had not been looking at him, he caught the tin deftly in his hands. Kazuya stood for a moment looking around the place, then called, "Come on, gentlemen, I think we've outstayed our welcome."

His friends, who had been tearing apart books with glee and frightening the few patrons that were cowering at the back of the room, hooted loudly and chased each other towards the exit, overturning chairs and tables as they went.

"Gutter trash," the purple-faced man muttered as soon as they were out of earshot.

Kazuya slammed the door so hard the entire building shook. The rickety walls quivered alarmingly, but did not fall. His mother emerged from her room and scowled at him. Her hair fell in complicated tangles into her red-rimmed eyes, and she was wearing only a skimpy nightdress. "Keep it down, will you? Some people are trying to sleep here," she snapped.

"Since when do you actually sleep at night, mother?" Kazuya retorted.

"Shut your mouth, you bastard! You're just like your father, that self-righteous prick-"

"Save it. I'm not in the mood." He jerked open the fridge and grabbed a Coke. She glared at him for a moment, then withdrew and slammed the door behind her. Again the walls wobbled. Kaede wished they wouldn't slam doors so much.

Kazuya stood bathed in the light from the fridge and finished the Coke in several big gulps. He threw the can over his shoulder where it clattered to the floor and rolled noisily to rest unobstrusively in a dusty corner.

"I need new batteries," Kaede informed him.

Kazuya looked up at him in surprise as if he had forgotten he was not alone. After a moment, he dug around in his pocket and threw the money at him. As Kaede turned to leave, he said, "Wait. I'll go with you."

There was a 24-hour convenience store nearby. Kazuya waited outside while Kaede went in to buy the batteries. Kazuya leaned against a parked car and ran a hand through his hair. This had not been a good night. After they'd left the library, they'd went to count the money, and it was chicken feed, a fact constantly gloated over by Katsura. Then they'd gone to Heaven, a favorite local hangout, and tried to get thoroughly drunk. But Kazuya hadn't been able to enjoy himself. The music was too loud and the constant movement of bodies was grating on his nerves. He'd left early with Kaede, feeling irritated and oddly dissatisfied.

He placed a hand on the back of his neck and tilted his head up. He stared at the moon for a long moment until his vision blurred and he realized that it was actually the streetlamp he was looking at. Feeling slightly ridiculous, he transferred his gaze to the brightly-lit store. Kaede was at the payment counter. Even at this distance, he could see the look on the kid's face, as if he was concentrating hard on something. He always looks like that, he realized, I wonder what he's thinking.

The boy came out through the glass doors and searched for him a moment before finding him. He walked over to him and Kazuya met him halfway. "Want some ice cream?" Kazuya said lightly, smiling. "My treat."

Kaede gave him a look that said very clearly, "Don't treat me like a little kid."

Kazuya laughed and then he did a thing he never thought he would. He reached out and ruffled the kid's hair. The look in Kaede's eyes turned even colder, but Kazuya shrugged it off. Hell, his hair looks as if he's never brushed it before in his life anyway, he thought with a quiet snicker, it's not as if my messing around has done any damage.

He started humming as they walked back. Kaede had already put on the earphones and was even more oblivious to his presence than usual. Back in his room, he cleared a space for the kid on the floor and stole pillow and blanket from his mother's room for him. Kazuya stripped and lay on the futon in a pair of sweatpants. The kid was already lying down and had his eyes closed.

Kazuya reached for a bottle of warm beer from the replenished stock at the top of the futon and took a very small sip. He grabbed for something to read - the nearest was a manga about how a little girl could telepathically control minds. There were no scantily-clad babes in it. He threw it away after a minute. One could only handle so much depression in one night. He looked over at Kaede.

"Why'd you come back with me, kid?" he asked quietly.

Kaede opened his eyes and stared at him.

"You're no street rat. Where's your family? Won't they be worried about you?"

Kaede thought about it seriously for a moment. Then, he said, "Yes. I think they'll probably be very worried."

Kazuya looked at him in silence for a minute. "Did you run away from home?"

He remembered his mad dash to the station and said, "Yes. I ran."


He wondered if he should tell him, if he would understand. Probably not. "It seemed a good idea at that time."

"I bet." Kazuya let his head fall on the pillow and he stared at the tube of fluorescent light overhead. "It's beginning to seem like a good idea if I just toss her out on the street." It took Kaede a moment to figure out he was talking about his mother. "It's not like she's contributing economically here, you know. I pay the rent for this dump, I put food on the table, it's my money that she uses to get her booze. I should just..." His voice trailed away, and after a few minutes, Kaede decided he wasn't going to continue. His finger poised to press the Play button, but then he stopped. After a while he removed the earphones.

In a muffled voice, Kazuya said, "I miss Kuruma. It's a joke, the name... a private joke between us... Kaede, do you get the feeling... sometimes... that something is squeezing your chest so hard that you can't breathe?"

Kaede stared at the unfamiliar ceiling and saw that there were rust-colored streaks on it, like blood or tears. "My brother... used to ask me the same thing," he said. He was surprised at the calm in his voice. "He used to ask me really weird questions, and he always talked about things I couldn't understand." He noticed vaguely that Kazuya had sat up and was looking at him, but he kept his eyes on the ceiling. "He asked me, 'Do you know what it's like to fly, Kaede-chan?' I hated it when he called me that."

"What happened to him?"

"It was a car accident. He died in the hospital." His voice was soft and dry. Blood on pristine white sheets. In the harsh white light it looked like congealed syrup, before the doors slid shut in his face.

Kazuya flopped back on the mattress with a sigh. "Everything dies," he whispered, but it was loud enough only for his own ears. He wondered what he had done with Kuruma. Was there a proper burial, or was there just a plastic bag and a dumpster? He turned his head and glanced out the tiny square window. He could see the moon, a huge, bloated, monstrous thing, and it was staring at him like the eye of a giant child peering through the window of her dollhouse.

Shivering, he got up and pulled the window shut with a creak of protest. The dirty pane obscured everything into a haze. When he turned back to the room, he saw that Kaede had closed his eyes and appeared to be asleep. He made his way carefully back to the futon and lay down. He had not turn off the light. In the silence, he could hear the clicking sound of a lizard hidden somewhere in his room. There was a faint rustle of plastic, and a dog barking in the distance. Then a siren, coming nearer and nearer until the sound was almost unbearable before slowly fading away.

Kazuya looked over at Kaede to see if the siren had wakened him. It hadn't. He reached over and tugged the blanket up to the boy's chin, and then turned over and slept.

In the morning Kazuya decided to take Kaede out and treat him to breakfast at McDonald's. The morning air was chill on their skin as they walked down the street that was slowly coming alive with people.

The inside of McDonald's was just as fake and plastic and cheery as the outside. Kazuya told Kaede to find a seat while he ordered for both of them. When he was done, he stood holding the tray and looking around until he saw Kaede at a table, sitting quietly and looking out at the sidewalk through the glass walls.

At least he isn't wearing those damn earphones, Kazuya thought as he went over. Then, his ears caught something, a familiar voice above the din. He looked up, and then he froze. He stared for a few moments, then he continued on his way. Placing the tray on the table, he said to Kaede, "I'll be back in a second."

He walked slowly over to a couple sitting a few feet away. The girl looked up, and her eyes went wide and her smile faded.

I must have a disease or something, Kazuya thought morosely, everyone has that reaction when they see my face. He stopped right in front of them, facing the girl and rudely turning his back to the guy. "Meg-chan. What're you doing here?"

"Hi, Kazuya." She looked uncomfortable.

"Aren't you supposed to be in school?"


"Megumi, who's this?" the guy spoke.

Kazuya turned to him for the first time and looked at him from his superior height advantage. "Shouldn't I be asking that question? Who the heck are you?"

"Kazuya..." Megumi started, a little desperately.

"My name is Tomaki Yukio. Megumi's boyfriend."

Kazuya raised an eyebrow. "Oh, you are, are you?" He turned and studied Megumi. She was blushing and wouldn't meet his eyes. "Meg-chan, I want to talk to you. Alone." Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed her arm and hauled her to her feet.

The guy leaped to his feet as well. "Hey, what do you think-"

Kazuya turned around smoothly and punched him in the jaw. The force sent him toppling backwards, and the sound drew the stares of the other patrons. Kazuya ignored them all and dragged Megumi out the door. He remembered to shout over his shoulder, "Kaede, c'mon! We're having take-aways!"

Out in the pale morning sunlight, he let go of Megumi and she rubbed her arm, glaring at him sulkily. He took a deep breath. "Okay, Meg-chan, what was that all about?"

"Don't call me that."


"Don't call me by that silly nickname. I don't like it."

Kazuya stared at her in dumbfounded silence for a moment and then threw up his hands. "Fine. Fine! Would her ladyship Miss Ishikawa Megumi deign to tell her humble subject what was going on back there?"

"Stop it Kazuya!"

"What did I do this time?"

"It's what you always do!" Megumi looked away from him. "You always mock me and treat me like I'm - like I'm stupid or something!"

"I do not!"

"Shut up, Kazuya!" Megumi whirled on him, eyes blazing and he took a step back, startled. "Shut up and listen, for once in your life. Just - listen! You think I'm stupid. No, shut up and listen! You do, and I don't need you to admit it for it to be true. Kazuya, I may not be as clever as you, and I don't think about the stuff you do, but I am not stupid! And I'm not blind either, so don't tell me I'm wrong. Everytime I say something dumb you'd get this look on your face like you're asking Kami-sama what you've done in your past life to be saddled with someone like me." For a moment she looked as if she might cry, then she wiped at her eyes savagely and said, "Well, I've got a newsflash for you, Kazuya. The universe does not revolve around you. You're not the only one with feelings and I'm sick of feeling so - so horribly inadequate when I'm around you!"


"DON'T call me that!"

"All right, all right." Kazuya's voice had turned condescending. "Look, I know you're upset, but-"

"Kazuya, we're through."

"-but this is not- what?! What'd you say?"

"I said we're through, Kazuya. I'm sorry, but I've made up my mind."

"You've made up your mind?" Kazuya said disbelievingly. "So do I get a say in any of this at all?"
Vaguely, he noticed that they had attracted a crowd. Great, he thought dazedly, I'd always wanted to get dumped by my childhood sweetheart in front of the whole neighborhood.

Megumi's current boyfriend rushed up, out of breath. Tomaki Yukio, the shining knight come to rescue the damsel in distress from the villain of the piece. Kazuya eyed him morosely. Why do I always have to be the bad guy? Can't I be the good guy for once?

"Megumi, are you all right?" Lancelot asked, all chivalry. Kazuya thought he was going to defend her virtue next.

"I'm fine, Yukio," Megumi sniffled. She didn't look at Kazuya. "Yukio, let's go."

Kazuya couldn't keep quiet anymore. "You're dumping me for this coconut-haired asshole here?!"

Megumi gave him a look and turned away. Yukio looked as though he might say something, but Megumi said, "Ignore him, Yukio." They started walking away and the crowd which had formed shuffled out of their way.

Kazuya was incensed. He looked for the most hurtful thing he could say. "Well, I was right, you bitch! You are stupid! Only a dumb bitch like you would go with a geek like Mr Coconut Hair over there! You know what, you deserve each other! I don't know why I bothered with you in the first place!" His voice was getting louder and louder and people were looking at him strangely. He stood there, fists clenched, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "I hope you rot in hell together!"

After a few minutes of silence that was so loud it was deafening, he realized that people were still looking at him. He turned on them and snarled, "What the fuck are you looking at?" They broke their gaze and started to shuffle away, but not as quickly as he would have liked. For a second he dearly regretted he was in his "day clothes" and hadn't brought his blade with him.

Suddenly he remembered the kid. Where was he? Seeing as how his day was going, he wouldn't be surprised if he lost him as well. He looked around, head turning this way and that. No, there he was, standing just a little bit to the side of the lamp post, looking supremely indifferent as usual.

Kazuya slouched over to him and stood beside him for a moment, silent. Then he was tired of standing and dropped to his butt on the sidewalk there and then. He sighed. "You know what," he said, unsure whether he was talking to Kaede or to himself, "I should have slept in this morning."

Evening fell in a soft mist among the trees and painted everything in shades of gray.

Kazuya sat on the abandoned basketball court, the same one where he had met Kaede, so long ago in the park. Or was it just the day before? It seemed longer than that. It seemed as if he knew no other friend than Kaede.

He didn't like evening. It reminded him too much of decay. Sometimes he thought he could feel his own body decaying around him. He thought of Kuruma, and an unnameable horror overcame him. He squeezed his eyes shut, felt needles prick them beneath closed lids, and when he opened them again, the world seemed just a little hazier, a little blurry around the edges.

And not being able to see it so clearly, he could pretend it wasn't there. He could pretend he was in a wide open space, instead of this small white room that seemed to be his mind, this small white room in which the walls were leaning in at a weird angle and something was outside trying to get in.

"Kaede," he said desperately.


"Tell me - tell me about your brother. What was he like? Did he play basketball? Did he like getting on planes? Did he have a girlfriend? Does she miss him? Do you?"

"I don't know what he was like. I never did. He never touched a basketball in his entire life. He always slept in airplanes. If he had a girlfriend I never knew about her."

In the silence that followed, dying leaves drifted down around them and Kazuya felt the horror slowly returning."Do you know how long Meg-chan and I had been together?" he said loudly, listening to his own voice talking. "Since we were your age. We were just friends then, but even back then, I thought she was so cute. And... and she was so stupid. A cute, stupid, beautiful little doll. I loved her so much. And then we slept together and it wasn't like anything that I'd expected. She was thirteen and a virgin and I thought we'd really be together, you know, we'd be one person instead of two and so lonely. But it didn't turn out that way. And we were still two and we were still alone. But I could pretend... I could pretend it didn't matter, that she loved me and we were happy. But now..." The needles were pricking his eyes again and this time he let the tears come because it made him blind for a while. "B-But now s-s-she's left me f-for that fucking asshole and - and -"

The rest of his sentence dissolved into mumbles. Kami-sama, how embarrassing, he thought, even as he sobbed and hiccuped. I'm bawling in front of a ten-year-old kid. He didn't look at Kaede. He must be laughing at me, he thought, he must think I'm a total jerk.

"Oniisan bought me an ice-cream once," Kaede said, quietly, reflectively. "One for me and one for himself. Mine was chocolate. I hate chocolate. He gave me his. It was vanilla." He lay back and stared at the sky. It looked as if someone had spilled a bucket of dirty water over blue silk. "He didn't really die in an accident." A black dot glided across the dirty blue silk once, then flapped its wings and flew away. "I knocked on his door but he didn't answer so I opened it and went in. He was lying on his bed. I thought he was sleeping. Then I saw this thing all over the bed. I didn't know what it was. When I realized it was his blood, I started screaming. There was something shiny in his hand, a shard of glass. Otousan came and carried me away." Blood on pristine white sheets. In the harsh white light it looked like congealed syrup, before the doors slid shut in his face.

In the silence, the leaves fell one by one around them.

Kaede heard somebody say his name. He turned and looked at Kazuya. Kazuya's eyes were red and bleary from his crying. Kaede stared at him with detached interest. So passionate.

He looked back up at the blue silk and wondered if someone would come and wash it.

To be continued (when I have time)

Some terms you might wanna know:
Oniisan = older brother
Otousan = father
Kami-sama = the simple meaning is "god". But the Shinto concept of kami is kinda different from the conventional characteristics associated with the word "god". The nearest similarity I can think of is the Great Spirit of Native American belief.
Kuruma = car
Gaijin = foreigner
Yuubi = dim (If anybody caught the reference, lemme know and there might be cash prizes. Kiddin', kiddin'. Don't think Yuubi's a proper Japanese name though. Oh well.
Katsura = a kind of judas tree

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December 1998

Rukawa Kaede belongs to Takehiko Inoue, Shueisha Inc, I.T. Planning and the other powers that be. All other characters are my own creation. The lot of them and storyline (c) 1998 Amis Lee.