The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
The Sunday where I held my first face-to-face conversation with Kentaro Hajime was wet. Wet on the sidewalks, the pavement roads, the store windows, and in the grass. The sun freshly peeking through clouds of past rain, it felt almost symbolic.
We met in front of a Mac Doland’s fast food joint, by his suggestion. It hadn’t quite occurred to me until he made the proposal, but it had been awhile since I ordered food at a Japanese restaurant. Though, where we were was really more of a food stop. There was still seating however, so we sat.
Sat in an awkward silence.
“Were you going to order something?”
“I- I’ve never ordered food at a place like this before.”
I hadn’t made my order either, so really, there was no reason to call the boy on it. The fact was, I was having a hard time reading all of the menu items. Even with the ability to read Kanji, it was useless if the words didn’t make sense. I was planning to just repeat whatever he was getting.
“You’ve never been to a restaurant?”
“No! Of course I have! I just… I’ve never eaten fast food before.”
“Because of your parents?”
He nodded, embarrassed by the fact.
“Your parents don’t allow you to?”
Of course that would be the case. Hope was never allowed to eat anything other than her scheduled meal plan growing up, as she was raised to be the successor to her family as a heavy-swordsman. Even in a different world, strict family values were bound to exist in some places.
“Are you… not supposed to be here then?”
A quick apology, with eyes shot downwards. He looked as if he had been caught with his hands in a cookie jar.
“No no! It’s okay! It’s on me, okay? What do you want?”
He still refused to make eye-contact.
“A… Sumailu Meal?”
A nod; even less prominent than the last.
“S- sure. Give me a moment.”
Walking up to the register, I asked for two “Sumailu Meals”, while looking up at the menu. And what I received were two kids’ sized food portions, complete with soggy pre-sliced apples and two, cheap little plastic toys to go with.
"Oh, Smile Meal…"
I remembered the English word, which stood in as the name of the iconic kid’s meal from this restaurant. I couldn’t help but stop for a moment and look back at the food pick-up area to see if there were any reactions from the staff at my childish order, but they didn’t seem to care.
Well, I was a nobody in this world after all, just like everybody else. Of course the workers wouldn’t care.
After returning to the table, I did my best to enjoy my measly portions, while the younger Hajime looked mesmerized at the plasticky food in front of him, as if it was a high-class foreign cuisine.
I affirmed him with a fistful of food in my mouth. Not as good as what Mom cooked at home, but not bad either. It was entirely unlike anything I tasted in Fortain, anyway. Bellum’s cuisine was more similarly cheap and processed, but their intentions were reversed compared to a modern fast-food joint. Essential nutrients over flavor; not the other way around.
Kentaro seemed to be enjoying his meal. It made me happy to see him smiling with his guard down as he was. The attitude he had when we first met was fear; he was nothing but afraid of me. It was reasonable, considering I had shown him such a desperate, unsightly side of me. But after that, just about the only interaction we had was when I lost my mind, and gravely wounded his brother.
All the kid had seen of me were some of my most horrible moments in this world. In fact, did I have any positive moments? Wasn’t “horrible” just who I was?
Why did he want to befriend me to begin with? After what I did to his brother; After what he had seen of me?
After what I had done in the other world…
Who in this world would want to befriend a murderer?
After the both of us gobbled up our meals with animalistic vigor (the behavior was typical for me, but this kid must have been pretty happy with the flavor), he said something that took me by surprise.
“Th- thank you.”
“For the meal?”
“No! I mean, yes! But also… Thank you for, you know…”
He was clearly straining himself. But it didn’t stop him, either.
“My brother; I mean, saving me.”
A saying I had heard one-thousand and one times. One that was routine to hear, as the hero of Alterra.
“Oh, it’s no big-”
It wasn’t “no big deal” at all. After all, I wasn’t the chosen hero of Alterra anymore.
And on top of that,
“I didn’t save you.”
“W- what? But you did!”
Suddenly, his timid behavior turned to insistence. I was a little taken aback.
“No… Violence didn’t solve your problem, just as it didn’t solve any of mine. It doesn’t solve anything, and yet it’s the only method I know. I’d rather you didn’t think of such a thing as a positive experience.”
The tone in my voice went stern before I could stop myself. I was sickened at my own words. I was projecting my self-hatred; at an entirely innocent child at that. And yet, the words couldn’t stop flowing. I wanted to teach him that heroes didn’t exist. That the ones who posed as good were the most selfish.
My proof was that I was standing before a child whom I refused to go out of my way for, despite my desperation to be his friend.
“I… get that. I think the same thing about Kendo. But, my parents really want me to do it anyway. They just don’t get how their stupid sport is based around murder.”
“Y- you’re right.”
So he really did hate Kendo after all.
“But, don’t you find any enjoyment in sparring just for fun?”
Even I did. Or, I did back when I could handle a blade. I was a little envious, not being able to do so anymore.
That was the end of the conversation.
Or it should have been, but something left my mouth before I could stop it.
“Are you sure there’s no way you’d be willing to join the Kendo club?”
I already knew the answer, so why did I ask such a pointless question anyway? Whatever the reason, it was one of poor taste, obviously. Kentaro’s face quickly went sour, and he closed himself back off from the leisure of the atmosphere.
I messed up.
“Of- of course not.”
His eyes refused contact with my own, as a hint of irritation pushed his words along.
“I told you I hate Kendo. It’s just violence.”
“But aren’t there times where you want to be able to protect somebody?”
What was I saying?
“I don’t have any friends. You’re starting to sound just like my parents.”
His trust in me faded with the wind. It was almost soothing in a twisted, masochistic way to see him see me as he should have from the start.
“Then I can be your friend...!”
I stood from my chair following the bang of my fist. The middle schooler before me flinched, but he didn’t seem as frightened of me. This time, he was just taken aback.
I returned to my chair, darting eyes back and forth between all of the attracted eyes around the restaurant.
“I want to be your friend.”
Silence from the other side of the table, filled in with the idle chatters of the surrounding customers. And of course, still no eye contact; his head was pointed straight down now.
“Hajime, I have no intention to force Kendo onto you, but-”
“My brother talked to you, didn’t he?”
“Yeah… He did.”
“He told you about how I quit?”
“Hideyoshi… He always does this. He always tries to control my life in every way that my parents can’t… So, what did he bribe you with?”
“Of course he did. He’s already done it with everyone else I ever made friends with. Every time somebody gets close to me in school, he’ll find out, and use them to try and manipulate me, or keep tabs on me.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“Don’t be. It’s what I get for being the failure. Everyone knows it, too. I really don’t blame you for taking it, so it’s okay.”
“Just don’t talk to me anymore. That’s all you have to do, and I’ll go back to being alone.”
I failed. I already failed.
And yet, it’s what I deserved.
As I saw Kentaro Hajime stand up from his seat and walk away, I only sat in silence, watching his every step as he left.
It wasn’t in my right to stop him. I had ulterior motives, after all. I had been dishonest from the start. That must have been the truth of the matter.
I was simply a dishonest person.
“Andrew; Destiny! Wh- wh- what is… I don’t…”
Hope’s eyes were blank; she repeated herself like a broken record, unable to properly get the words out. The situation before her was horrifying. I figured it must have been one of her worst nightmares, but to think such a thing would prove arrogant of me.
Instead of a proper reaction or words of any kind, the only expression that escaped from the frozen girl in the doorway was a raw, sobbing face without any attempt to cover or hide it. Her arms only stayed down at her sides, unsure of what to do with themselves. I had never felt worse in my lifetime, subjecting her to such a thing.
What should I have said? Three weeks before the raid on the Demon Lord’s palace, and I had been caught in the act of sex with Destiny.
It was all over, wasn’t it?
I couldn’t help but feel tears well up inside me as well, but was it right for me to bear them? Did I have any right to feel anything but disgust at myself?
I held them in.
“You know, Hope, you couldn’t possibly have expected Andrew to be waiting all this time for you. Or is that what you thought?”
There she went, fanning the flames as she always did when it came to drama within the party. And of course, it always involved her too.
My brain was too scrambled to properly speak about the situation.
The honest truth?
Nonsense. What was there to lie about? What was there that I could still hide? I had messed up everything.
I scrambled to the other corner of Destiny’s tent, which she had called me into for our usual “therapy” session not an hour before.
“A- Andrew! What ab- about our promise…? No mingling within the p- party, right? Not until we- we defeated the demon lord…”
She was forcing the words out through her tears now. It was a pitiful sight. A sight that had been caused by my filthy, worthless debauchery.
This wasn’t my first midnight meeting with Destiny either, of course. At first, they really had been no more than therapy sessions. She always did have a big-sister-attitude towards me, which never failed to calm my nerves. She was older, after all.
I’d lay in her lap, and she’d stroke my hair with her long, slender fingers. They’d push through the knots in each strand of my caramel-brown mane, kneading out all of the stress and difficulty of the day. I wanted nothing more in those moments to be under her trance.
At first, she had only begun to use her hands. She could sense that I was sexually repressed, and I simply couldn’t resist her movements. Following that single event, the acts became more and more intimate, little by little; more and more intense.
I sunk deeper, and deeper into the rabbit hole each time I entered that tent.
“There’s no feelings; no romance; no attachments. I am simply giving you a good massage, to ease the pain of your muscles.”
That’s what she said to me. But I wasn’t some young, immature kid; I knew deep down that it was wrong; that I had been waiting all that time to confess to Hope.
But Destiny and I shared that secret, after all. She knew me; understood me in a way that even the girl I was deeply in love with couldn’t.
It was a shameful intimacy. One so shameful, that I gave up on making a move; on trying to shuffle into my clothes and get up to properly face her.
“I’m sorry, Hope.”
That was all that I could say, looking into eyes that were afraid to return my gaze. The only direction she could look towards was down; as if she, too, had already given up.
I walked through the corridors of the first-year floor of our school building, still plagued by the events of the night before.
It felt as if all I knew how to do was mess up.
As if all I knew how to do was hurt other people.
I saw Hope pass by me out of the corner of my eye, making her presence near-invisible with the standard way that she wore her uniform. I didn’t respond. What would she say now, if she saw me? What would she think of a short, bony, powerless Andrew-- no, Jiro?
I kept walking, carrying myself in a similar demeaner, so that she might not notice me.
I saw… Hope?