Chapter 9:

Troubled Joy


Samurais and maids, if asked he would say definitively that he liked them, possibly even loved. Honestly, it was a mood thing. His enjoyment of such staples of literature culture ebbed and flowed, waxed and waned. At least, before today he felt that way.

Now, he hated them both.

Well maybe not hate, perhaps that was an over exaggeration spurred on by recency bias. One of them did just try to kill (maybe, harm yes) him. The other, he honestly didn’t even know. He certainly hadn’t read anything last night. So he could only guess what inspired the maid. And given the sliding scale of maturity, it could’ve been anything.

And he didn’t really know if he was actually ready for the extreme side of that, even if the books he read might be considered wish fulfillment depending on the day.

He groaned a little coming out of his room still reeling from the events. ‘I can’t believe that they just popped up in my sleep! How long were they there? Ayumi didn’t say anything about this! I can’t live like this…’

Sitting down at the table, his mind still worked on clearing itself and his heart trying to slow down to a normal pulse. A tug on his sleeve grabbed his attention. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ken. Did you need something?”

“It’s Jun.”

“Oh, right. Thanks!” He looked over to Jun who stared back quietly mute as ever. “I’m sorry, Jun, I woke up with a headache. Oh nothing bad, thanks for worrying.” After the one sided conversation, he stood up and walked around the table patting him on the head before going into the kitchen.

He pulled out the bread from the cabinet and put a slice into the toaster. A glance from Momoko inquired silently. “Jun, he wanted toast along with breakfast.”

“Don’t spoil him too much, Yuki.”

“I’m only giving him one. He’s looking forward to your breakfast!” He moved around Momoko stirring one of the pots as she tried to hurry and finish. Afterwards, he pulled down plates and bowls. “Ken! Jun!”

Quickly, two pairs of feet scurred with boundless energy at the summons. He bent down a little. “Mind helping set the table?”

“Yes, please! Jun you get the bowls!”

“Thanks!” He watched them mindfully walk away aware of their delicate cargo while still looking like they were jittering bouncing balls locked in a cage. Yuki straightened out his back and went back to aiding Momoko, mind and body finally feeling better. “You’re gonna need to work on your Jun reading skills. I’m not always going to be around.”

“I’ll just video chat with you. Image quality holds up over phones, right?”

“You lose that in person touch.”

“I don’t know how you manage it.”

“It’s the wrinkles in the forehead and muscle tension in the neck. Each one is a letter or word by itself.” Momoko glanced over at him, hearing him matter-of-factly deliver it straight. A wide grin shined back for her. “Honestly, no idea. I told you before, doesn’t make any sense. I just hope it’s something that he comes out of in time.”

“You and me, both…but it’s already been a year.”

Chapter 9 Troubled Joy

By the time Yuki closed the gate, a deep simmering panic started to roll in over the back of his mind. One he vocally tried to shout away, internally. ‘No maids, no robots, no brain stop it! Just stop it!’ So much mental energy fought to keep all of his errant thoughts in check. He really didn’t need a maid or something worse popping up in the middle of the street.

However, when he began to walk into the street turning towards his school there was a heavy weight on both of his arms. He looked down and jumped back in surprise to find that both Ken and Jun had followed him. Yuki knelt down looking at the two with hopeful eyes. “What are you two doing?”

Jun remained quiet as Ken stepped forward as their voice. “Jun wanted to walk with you. So we decided to go to school with you.” It’d be even more endearing if it wasn’t an obvious lie.

Yuki couldn’t help but give him a warm smile. He patted the two on the head. “I don’t mind you coming with me as far as the stop sign. But Ken, what have you told you about lying?”

“I wasn’t lying!” He looked over to Jun for assurance. A small shy nod came in return.

“Jun can’t speak.”

“Jun can answer yes or no to questions,” Ken said, looking a little too proud about the counter.

A small chuckle came out of Yuki realizing the game Ken played. “Alright, alright. Just try not to take advantage of your light brother too much, Ken.”

“So we can walk with you?” Yuki nodded and gave them both one of his hands. They bounced eagerly on the offer.

“Morning Yuki!” Saki said from behind him as they met at the usual spot in the path. When she came closer she saw his brothers with him as well. “Oh, Ken and Jun are with you today!” She bent down pulling her skirt in as she lowered herself to their eye level. Saki gave Jun a pat on the head and a warm smile. “Still as cute as ever, Jun.” A snappy turn had her facing Ken giving him a mischievous grin to match the one that was on his lips already. “Tagging along with your brother, huh?”

“Yup!” Ken raised his left arm in earnest.

“Don’t forget we’re going as far as the stop sign. You’ll be late otherwise.” The presence of Saki risked them forgetting everything. They already started to try to climb up and around her with little encouragement needed. ‘I’m relieved she still plays with them despite everything that’s happened. I feel bad they don’t get to play together anymore like before…’

They walked down looking almost like a brother and sister taking their younger siblings to the park, which honestly if Ken made the decisions it’d happen. Unfortunately for him, Yuki kept them on track despite how much fun Saki had with them. She put them both back down as they reached the stop sign.

Saki knelt down patting them. “You can walk with us again whenever you want, ya know.”

“Really? Hear that Jun?” Ken rose up both of his hands cheering and ran off down the other street with Jun running after him. They disappeared around the turn of the street leaving Yuki and Saki alone to resume the rest of their walk.

Yuki stretched a little and turned to face Saki. Keeping his usual smile painted over his face, he greeted him. “Good morning, Saki!” The moment his brothers disappeared, the panic returned twofold, noticing that he had dropped his guard.

“M-Morning. What’s wrong Yuki? You feeling alright?” The sudden voice knocked her back a step.

He waved his hand and arm together motioning off her worries. “Yup! Just worried with Ken and Jun pulling you five different directions so early in the morning.”

‘Something’s a little off. I don’t think he’s lying, but hiding something else maybe?’ Saki smiled back. If he had something else, she could wait until he was ready. “They’re fine. It’s no worse than they used to do.”

“How’s track been for you?” They began walking down the street. The focus of Saki gave him a little comfort. A mental strain still trickled through the filter of his mind.

Leaning back a little as they walked, Saki pushed out the morning conversation. They had nothing to do with Yuki. “Still getting used to it all. But I guess since I did all that self defense, it doesn’t tire me out that much. They say I have good times for a novice.”

“Going to be the star of the first years before you know it!”

“I don’t know about that. Not trying to win any medals.”

“Aw, you gotta shoot for the stars!”

“One of us is in the stars enough for both. I’m happy keeping both feet firmly planted.”

Yuki pouted to her disappointed in the lack of goals. “If you’re having fun.”

“Yeah…uh-huh…” Saki eyes grew small suddenly when she saw something next to Yuki that she could not explain. Her words were failing her at the moment as shock was overpowering anything that she was attempting to do. She could barely step back from him. “Y-Yuki… What’s that?” Her arm raised up as her finger extended to point to something behind him floating in the air.

“Huh? What’s gotten into you, Saki?” He could see that he was not going to get anymore out of her. It seemed like it was a miracle that she managed those words before she lost the ability to speak. Yuki turned around, curious to know what had gotten to her. “It’s a fairy!” he said matter-of-factly. Then a bell dinged in his head and he jumped back behind Saki in shock as well. “What is that?!”

“A fairy? But those aren’t real. It can’t be!” Saki had found her voice, but only through the disbelief in Yuki’s reaction after stating it so cheerfully. ‘He’s as freaked out as me. What’s going on?’ Confused, Saki blinked trying to figure out if it was real. “So um… Yuki?”

“Y-Yeah?” They both looked on at the blue winged tiny person hovering between them. A moment later, they exchanged questioning stares at each other. Then back and it was missing. Which only further freaked them out. “Where’d it go?”

“W-where’d what go?” a familiar voice asked from behind them. They both turned again to find an awkwardly smiling Ayumi looking lost to what had them in a panic. She leaned in and then back. “Is…is something wrong?”

“Oh Ayumi!” Saki sighed a bit in relief thinking the fairy talked to them. But now gone, she started doubting what she saw. She pressed a hand against her head in confusion.

Yuki bounced over to Ayumi’s side, happy to see her. He glanced at her trying to get a confirmation. Nothing but a quick stare that dropped the facade only in her eyes returned. It gave him some relief. “Oh sorry, we saw some odd bird for a moment! Flew right up to us and then darted away! Like it had never been there.”

“Oh? R-really? Sounds a little scary.”

“I-I guess it was, a little. Right, Saki?”

“A bird yeah, just a bird…”

Underneath his smile, Yuki grimaced internally. ‘I don’t know how much she bought it… I don’t know why I’m even hiding it from her. Though I’d like to be able to tell her on my own terms, not my stupid brain playing fast and loose with it’s imagination!’ It just relieved him that it ended. School hadn’t even started yet and his mind wanted a nap.

“C-class is going to start.”

“Wha!? We lost so much time with Ken and Jun!”

Saki snapped fully back to reality. She looked down at her watch. “We’ve still got time, just no dawdling!”

When they reached their homeroom class Yuki walked in ahead with Ayumi. Saki was coming up to the classroom entrance, but another student in the hall called out to her. “Saki!” The girl rushed to Saki out of breath. A girl from the track team stopped in front of her bent over recovering her breath. “What’s wrong, Hitomi?”

Hitomi was one of the track members that ran in the relay race. She had only barely gotten to know the girl since she came from a different middle school, but they trained together after school. The coach said that they had different running styles and hoped that they would rub off on each other to improve overall. “It’s Takako. She didn’t show up for morning practice. The coach was really angry, but her friends said that she had left already. Do you know anything?”

“Takako? No, I don’t. She’s always early to practice though.”

“Yeah. I think something happened to her.”

“She could be sick or something.”

“Maybe…” Panic built up in the girl’s eyes. More than just a flu seemed to fill her ideas. She then looked back up at Saki quickly with a panicked worry and wrinkled brow. “We need to do something!”

Saki could see how worried Hitomi was about Takako. She remembered that Hitomi and Takako hung out together once or twice she saw both of them. She had seemed a little unapproachable with the other track members. It certainly did not make any sense to her for her to miss a practice. ‘It’s probably nothing, but if it calms Hitomi I should help!’