The Hero Who Returned Remains Traumatized in the Modern World
I looked at my text log, focused on a message sent by Kentaro earlier in the morning.
“I apologize for saying some mean things yesterday. Please do not feel obligated to be my friend because of my brother.”
It was such a simple thing to refute, and yet I didn’t have the strength in my fingers to reply to it. I hadn’t for the whole day.
“It’s not very polite of you to be looking at your phone while we’re holding a conversation.”
Furukawa broke my train of thought; I looked up from the device in my hands to a faint look of disappointment in his eyes.
“Oh, I’m sorry… I was just thinking about Hajime.”
“The younger brother, Kentaro?”
“Is it related to your little episode back there, by any chance?”
“No, that was totally different… That was about Hope. Or, I guess she goes by Kaori now.”
“Are you sure the two aren’t related?”
“No… What are you getting at?”
Two different people; two different situations. Of course there was no relation between the two of them.
“Generally, when offering advice, the tried and true method is to lead the person in question to their own answer, rather than telling them up front. Otherwise, they might not properly understand it. But Todoya, what you did back there was bad. And while I plan to keep it under wraps, I hope you realize that it absolutely cannot happen again without grave consequences; suspension, expulsion, or even a criminal record in the worst case.”
“But I told you that I didn’t try to grope her! Furukawa Sensei, that was Hope! I don’t care what name she goes by now, or if she has her past memories; that was her! She came from a whole different world, and nobody even knows it but me; not even she does! It’s just sad! I want to help her!”
“Of course you didn’t. You aren’t somebody who would do such a thing.”
But Todoya, it’s not about what you know, or what you believe. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, your brain is just full of delusions, and you just sexually harassed that girl.”
But they weren’t delusions. They were reality.
That was Hope. That was the girl that saved me. Was it so wrong of me to just want to repay the favor?
Why was I being made out to be the antagonist here?
“They aren’t delusions! The people I met, the life I lived; it was-”
“Yes, yes, it’s all real. I understand that, but you need to understand that if we don’t want to cause trouble, we need to live with the limits of the society that we reside in. Can you do that? Or are you too stubborn; too moulded by your own selfish sense of justice?”
The tone in his voice changed. It was still firm, and still monotone, but somehow, I could sense frustration from his words, and from his body language. This conversation was moving towards a heated argument, rather than a constructive talk.
I knew that, but I couldn’t back down. It still bothered me, the things he was saying.
“But it was you who told me to live how I wanted to!”
‘I told you to use your past memories and experience to find a new way to live in this world. That doesn’t mean causing trouble for others; it doesn’t mean getting stuck in the past.”
“But I’m just trying to help her!”
“You just want her back, Jiro. You want to feel good, and you want to feel like you’ve saved somebody. That’s the most prominent form of validation you’ve received for the last two decades, after all.”
That’s not it at all!
“What does ‘helping’ Hope get her memories back do for her? How would she be better off than if she lived out the rest of her life without knowing? And even if it would serve as an improvement, did she ever ask you for assistance? Did Kentaro Hajime ever ask you to help him?”
“N- no. They didn’t. But that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t-”
“Have you ever considered that you coat your actions with excuses to justify the cons in your head? Was it not you who admitted to doing so in your past life?”
That was true. He was speaking the absolute truth.
I was a murderer on Alterra; just a mercenary who turned a blind eye to everything except what I thought was right.
And the result was that all of my closest family dropped dead before my eyes.
Was it even me who thought it was right? Or was it those around me; the ones encouraging me that I was doing justified; who egged me on? Even the goddess Mellifluus herself just used me as a way to defeat the demon lord.
She manipulated me.
My whole life, all I had been doing was throwing empty weights onto the scale and acting like it balanced things out. I had never been condemned for it properly. And if I did, then I certainly didn’t listen.
I had been in the wrong from the beginning.
“I’m sorry. You’re right.”
A sigh left his mouth. Just a slight one.
“As long as you understand. Having to cover up your mistakes jeopardizes my job. It’s not in my character at all to just let a situation such as this one slide. But I will make this exception, just this once. So be sure to correct yourself in the future.”
Suddenly, an awkward air filled the room. Sure, I had a lot to think about, but I wasn’t the only one who seemed to be doubting themselves. Furukawa aimed his head up into the air looking off into space, a.k.a. the ceiling. He was contemplating something, for sure.
It was a little nice, to be able to notice the smaller nuances of his character. I felt like every time we talked, we became a little more understanding of each other. Eventually, maybe we could even become something like friends, or companions. He must have felt the same, considering he was willing to do such a favor for me as keeping my outburst a secret from the other staff.
“Thank you for being here to help me, Furukawa Sensei. I’d be much worse off without you, I’m sure.”
‘Don’t be. This is my own selfish meddling, after all.”
“In this specific scenario, I’m the same as you. I helped you without your request, giving my own subjective advice about your problems, just for my own satisfaction. So you don’t have to be thankful, because I’m not doing it for your sake.”
So we were pretty similar, after all.
“Then from now on, I’ll be asking for your continued help. Am I able to thank you then?”
“Todoya, I don’t do favors for other people. Like I said, this is purely for myself.”
He gave me a blank, apathetic stare, like I was just trying to say something cool in the heat of the moment. It felt a little embarrassing, now that he wasn’t playing along with it.
“But for just a little while, feel free to continue relying on me.”
“Can I come over to your house?”
“I don’t want to rejoin the Kendo club. You can’t convince me.”
“I won’t ask you to. I just want to come over and play.”
At 4 PM on a Friday, I showed up to Kentaro Hajime’s house with the practice sword that the older brother had left with me, in hand. My leg had healed up enough to take off the cast, so of course, I came without it. He was dumbfounded, and blew his top immediately. He began to tear up, even.
“This has nothing to do with the club.”
“Then why did you bring it!?”
I shook my leg a little, and held the bundle of bamboo out in front of me.
“There’s a dojo here, right? I’d like you to teach me the basics.”
“Yeah. I have a hobby of fighting with swords, but I’ve never done Kendo before. I’m interested.”
He didn’t believe me. Obviously. However, he still seemed to be thinking about it.
“Tell you what. If you can beat me, somebody who doesn’t even know the rules, in a match; I’ll toss the sword, and we can do what you want to do. But if I beat you, you have to teach me. Thoroughly.”
A slight grin broke through the boy’s sour mood, and he looked back up at me.
He took the bait.
We set up in his studio and put on the traditional protective armor before taking our places on opposite sides of the wood flooring at the center of the room.
“Wait! Before we start, I have two questions. How long at maximum can a match last?”
“Oh, uhm… once ten minutes pass, whoever scores a point first, wins.”
“Can a player concede, in that case?”
“I… I don’t know… I guess so? I’ve never seen it happen in the middle of a match, though.”
I couldn’t swing; not without running the risk of causing harm to Kentaro. However, I spent the entirety of the previous week practicing my old defensive sword stances. So if I didn’t know the rules, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t trying to win, anyway.
I just had to make Kentaro lose.
We both walked towards each other, and then stopped to kneel at a set of indicating points on the floor. Through the grill of his mask, I could see what seemed like an entirely different person on the inside, in comparison to who I had just been talking to.\
He was entirely focused.
Kentaro yellowed out into the air, and then it began.
The moment I was on my feet, he was already up against me, sword clashing against sword. I barely had time to pull my own up to defend myself, but somehow managed.
He made several attempts to swivel his sword around mine, so I stepped back, but his intense pressure didn’t let up for a moment.
I simultaneously pushed him off me with the base of my sword, while taking a low, backwards lunge to give myself some space. I wanted so badly to duck in and retaliate before he could recover, but I worked against the natural urges of my war-trained body.
This was going to be a battle of attrition.
I wouldn’t lose myself here.
Another direct blow, quickly followed up by a feint, and then another attempted twist. I figured Kentaro to be the cautious type, but his might was nothing short of a steam train, attempting to plow me over. But it was better that way as well, considering he would be quick to wear himself out. He was small, after all.
Hit after hit, I continued to defend his blows. It was more difficult than I had expected, but I was able to last.
Minute after minute.
Second after second.
How much time had passed? How much longer would I have to defend for?
He came close to a strike that time, but I was able to duck towards the left just barely in time to push his blade out of the way. That said, I was sweating; breathing heavily; losing focus; it took all of my effort not to fade into a battle sequence in my head.
Don’t hurt him.
Don’t hurt Hajime.
Don’t hurt Your friend.
All I could do was repeat it in my mind, over and over again.
I was just defending. I had no intention to strike, so I wouldn’t hurt him. I wouldn’t hurt anybody ever again.
I would help him my own way, within the constraints of this world and this society’s customs.
I could change, Furukawa.
Just watch me.
I felt a hit, square on the top of my head.
I got hit?
I began to choke. It occurred to me that I had been holding my breath, since who knew how long. My knees were suddenly weak and brittle, and I couldn’t hold myself up.
Would it be fine to pass out here? I failed, after all. It was all just a blur, after all.
As I heard my own name; not Andrew, but Todoya; everything began to fade back in. I was still awake. My ankle did sting a bit, however. As did my head.
“Hey, are you okay!? Did I hit you too hard?”
Hajime was freaking out. The pure determination had long been swept from his face, and he now looked like he was on the verge of tears, as if I was about to draw my final breath.
“I’m… just fine. Help me up, if you would.”
I reached out my arm, my strength returning to me as I heaved for air. Hajime pulled with all his might, erecting me like a wooden pole on a rope. I threw my helmet off of me, and gasped for more air.
“That… huff, was a great match. Huff.”
“Are you okay!? Should I call a doctor?”
“No, no, I’m fine. I just need a little air.”
After removing his own helmet, he was quick to bow his head and apologize.
“I didn’t mean to hurt you!”
I couldn’t help but find it funny, and laughed to the tune of my alarmingly loud heartbeat.
“Really, that was a great match. I’m fine, so don’t sweat it.”
Suddenly, he was timid again. But less formality in his stance, and a little more embarrassment.
“It- it was. I haven’t really had that much fun with Kendo before.”
He was twiddling his fingers, as if it was some kind of gesture. I began to laugh again, but not at him, or even at myself.
“Wh- what’s so funny?”
“It’s just, it’s been so long since I’ve had that much fun. You’re a pretty good opponent. It’s too bad you can’t teach me, but I lost fair and square, so we can ditch it and do something else.”
It was a shame, really. But I was having fun with my new friend. It wouldn’t be worth it to spoil such an atmosphere with any of my stupid plans or ideas.
Right now, I didn’t care about “Andrew Salvus Erit” or even “Jiro Todoya”. The only role I wanted to play was “friend of Kentaro Hajime”.
“I can… still teach you, if you want. Since I thought it was kinda fun too… ‘n all.”
Another laugh escaped me.
“Sure! Let’s do it!”
At this pace, perhaps I could really do it. Perhaps I really would be able to protect Kentaro, and still be his friend.
By joining the Kendo club myself, that is.