Chapter 17:

Rage Against the Machine Pt. III

Half-Paid Heroes

"Yuki". It meant "courage" in the language of his parents.

How ironic. Never in his life did he possess courage.

After five years learning the concepts that would become his new cover, it was almost time to come back.

It was five painful years of making amends and cutting ties.

It was at least five years too late for knowing who Nadeshiko's husband was.

Therefore, a few days before the induction party, Yuki asked Kirikagura for Nadeshiko's address and visited her...only to be greeted by Nadeshiko's child at the white iron-wrought gates. The child was wearing overalls and a black shirt that slightly hindered his movement as his pudgy fingers plucked at the iron in a way that seemed like he was struggling. (This child seemed to stare into space often, even though it was clear from how expansive the house's grounds were that he could be spoilt very easily.)

With an exasperated sigh, Yuki gave up waiting for the boy after a few seconds and, due to how thin the man's wrists were, he was able to open the gate with ease from the outside.

Alarm bells began to blare, and Nadeshiko and her husband - a tall, muscular brunette who Yuki instantly evaluated he'd have no chance against in a match of strength - rushed out, both clad in a matching set of red silk pyjamas.

"Chojabaru-san!" the woman rebuked him. "I'll forgive you because of my brother, but next time, use the intercom." She jabbed a slender finger at a white box on the side of the gate.

After she let him in, it turned out Nadeshiko's husband's name was Souta, which belied his hair colour and heavy-set appearance. The child was, of course, Kou. (Since Nadeshiko did not give up her maiden name, this meant Kou was also a Kirikagura.)

As the family hastily cleared the modern sunlit house for their visitor, a strange chirp came from one of the wall-length windows.

It was a bright green bird, similar to some of the native birds of this country, staring at him with a cocked yellow head.

One of Kirikagura's teachings from Yuki's five years of isolation was how to use a smartphone, so Yuki was able to pull out his device and search what this bird was.

"Budgerigar," the results told him. Before he could finish reading, the bird had snuck in through an open section of window and landed on his shoulder.

It was kind of cute, but more importantly, it seemed to demand something of him with that terrifyingly painful grip of its tiny claws.

He heard Kou coming back, so the bird navigated its way into his jacket and out of sight. A blue heart-shaped mark on its neck had stood out during some of its motions, so this was where Yuki had decided the name of this bird was "Valentine"...
Groggily, Yuki rose to find it was six in the morning. The streetlights outside were not yet off, so they were casting eerie elliptical shapes on to the concrete.

The mornings here were cold enough to create clouds of his breath, no matter what the season, so he slipped on a woollen jumper - not caring about the colour in the darkness - and started to place his new bottles into the fridge, his mind still lingering on the past.

After the day Yuki met Valentine, he glanced through data he and Kirikagura had gathered on the black market "company" - his previous superiors - and found out the bird was his direct predecessor in regards to skill grafting experimentation, hence its intelligence and human-like mannerisms. Even still, he'd never expected the bird to actually become a human...

Gerry Hines