Chapter 25:

Faded Echoes


The raw stinging and pulsing lingered long after the slap. False memories struggled with her emotional reaction. It felt so out of character for Ayumi to even be bold enough. That’s how it should be. Yet Saki knew better. Yuki’s explanation revealed the former friend’s secret.

Pulling herself out of her head, Saki looked over at Ayumi. “Ayumi… I-I…” All of the thoughts on Yuki had been shattered and she finally realized that she was in a restaurant as she looked around.

Ayumi glared back at Saki making sure that Saki was really awake this time. The change in demeanor from Ayumi had the boys at a loss for words. “Yuki’s allowed to do what he wants, Saki. You can’t be protecting him his entire life.”

Words failed her for the moment. Saki stared at the mid distance between Hiroshi and the entrance of the restaurant. Repeated memories of Yuki flipped through her mind. “I…I’m aware of that. That’s not what this is about…”

“It’s about this friend, Seiji? What’s his deal?”

“Yeah…Seiji’s got history with Yuki. He’s…problematic.”

“The guy sorta looks like a delinquent, but he’s a priest in training? What’s going on there?”

Chapter 25 - Faded Echoes

She had to think about the answer. It had been a year since the last time she even saw him and her interactions with him were limited even before. “I mostly kept my distance when Seiji’s involved. But Yuki mentioned something about Seiji’s rebelling.”

“Ah the image thing he mentioned before. It does seem a little odd to have someone our age be training to be a priest. Sounds really old fashioned. I can’t imagine too many would want that sort of life.”

“That whole thing is besides the point.”

“Right, you’ve got a beef with Seiji. What’s the issue?”

His question closed Saki back up. Her mind turned back to the school gate and Seiji. Different alternatives played out what could have been done differently. A better solution, the right answer had to be there.

Saki exhaled, noticing herself caught in the loop. The mistake already left her behind. Acceptance would be the only option now. ‘...Yuki…I thought you didn’t want anything to do with your past…’

In her return to silence, Ayumi leaned over once more. She received a cautious glance from those on the other side of the table. “Saki? What’s wrong?”

Some relief relaxed Hiroshi as he returned to his seat. “What happened back during junior high between you three?”

“Junior high?” School popped up in her thoughts. Quick flashes of Yuki and Seiji sprinted through. “That was merely the time when Seiji appeared. He didn’t even attend our school. It was all just luck. An accident.”

Hiroshi became curious already knowing some of the pieces of Yuki past first hand from Yuki, but it still left a lot of blanks in his past. He had many friends, but Yuki definitely surpassed them all for his mystery and unique situation. It honestly just made him want to ask a dozen questions. He kept to one. “What was this accident that brought them together?”

For being so near to her, it seemed such a distant memory. Saki tried to recall the day and the events. Nothing came to her. The image of Seiji just always being stuck as her answer. Then she remembered why. “He just sort of appeared one day with Yuki as though it was the most natural thing in the world. Seiji was always an aggressive guy, ready to fight, but there’s something about him that I just can’t explain. If I had to find a word for it, he knows how to fit in.”

“Fit in? That doesn’t really make a lot of sense.”

She sighed thinking more about Seiji. Her pressure increased a little. “It’s just something you have to see and then you understand it. He makes sense as much as he doesn’t.”

“Err…right. I guess you would know better than me.” He gave up trying to wrap his head around the riddle. “Let’s move past that, since it’s not as important I’m guessing to the subject matter.”

“Yea…” Saki looked around at everyone at the table. She needed the moment and to remember who sat with her. It was more than just Ayumi and Hiroshi, Tatsuya and Kazuhiro joined them as well. They were about as much of an outsider as Hiroshi in this matter. And she couldn’t forget about Ayumi either.

“I don’t think Yuki’s said anything about this past to any of you.”

“He explained a little bit of it to me.”

That bit made her pause. ‘I’m surprised he was willing…’ Part of her wanted to remain quiet as it wasn’t her right to explain, but it seemed he wasn’t keeping it a secret. “The brief explanation is, contrary to how Yuki asks now, he used to fight, a lot.”

“So all those rumors?” Tatsuya said, leaning in on the table.

“A few are accurate, the rest are blown out of proportion. Though he wasn’t always that way.”

“Ok, that was something I wanted to know, but he didn’t explain. And given the time, I didn’t feel it was right to push for a better answer.”

“You probably won't get an answer. He keeps quiet about it.”

The waitress suddenly appeared to check on them. Everyone leaned back and went quiet. For those left hanging, each second the woman interrupted them felt like an hour. Even their stomachs held their urges.

Once they left them in privacy again, Hiroshi ignored his food. “So what was it? What’s caused these changes?”

“Before junior high, Yuki fought only to protect me. Both Momo and him took lessons at a local dojo. It was something their father insisted on. But when his father died, he stopped going to the dojo. That’s when things changed. And once he reached junior high it steadily became worse until Seiji appeared.”

“His dad’s dead? I guess I didn’t see him around the house, just the two brothers.”

“His mother died as well about a year ago, which is when the Yuki you know now appeared.”

“Damn, both parents. How’d it happen?”

“His father died in a car accident and his mother to illness and overworking.”

“How is he so positive and cheerful? What caused that?”

“I don’t know. He mostly acts like his past never happened, but he remembers. And Seiji is an element of that. One best kept buried.”

“That doesn’t sound like a healthy answer, Saki.”

Saki’s fist tightened up, recalling it all. “You weren’t there! You don’t know the Yuki I do! He can’t ever go back to the child he was, but you don’t want the alternative either. None of us want that.”

“He needs help.”

“He went for a while, but he’s learned to hide it very well. He needs to be able to move forward and he needs time. That’s why Seiji’s nothing, but trouble for him. It’s a past he needs to move past if he’s going to heal.”

Hiroshi paused listening to Saki's perspective. With a better picture, her reaction made sense now. Though he didn’t know if she made the right call. ‘I’m not sure what I would have done in her shoes…’ For an after school snack, this turned out far heavier than he planned. “The two seem pretty friendly, minus the whole fist to the face greeting.”

“The type of friendship was punching other people. And before that each other.”

“Yuki fought that guy?” He recalled how small Yuki looked compared to Seiji. Picturing the two fighting each other felt impossible to imagine, like a mouse fighting a cat.

“That’s how they met. Seiji came looking for a fight and Yuki gave it to him. Despite his size, Yuki’s never lost to Seiji.”

“Now you’re joking with me.”

“Size isn’t the most important thing in a fight. Yuki knew how to use his body and people have been underestimating because of his size his whole life.”

“...right…” Just more added to the growing pile that was Yuki’s mystery. Hiroshi leaned back in the booth realizing that he hadn’t started on his food at all. Saki’s plate looked much the same. “You’ve given me a lot to think about.”

“Now you know.” Saki returned to her silence and started in on the food in front of her. A clear message that she finished recounting what she knew. It left the others to ponder what they would do with the information.

The sun lowered enough to start coming into the window by the time they were ready to leave. Awkwardness filled the air between them. It persisted as they walked out and at Hiroshi’s departure. Saki and Ayumi remained alone, first Saki reminded herself.

They began walking back home. The dead conversation carried over with Saki lost within her thoughts. Though rather than Yuki on the mind, she focused on Hiroshi and his friends. She only told them so much because Yuki seemed to trust him with it before. Yet she still wondered what he would do. ‘He didn’t seem to reject Yuki…so maybe it will work out.’

“Saki. What’s this Seiji like?”

“Huh? He’s like I said before. It’s been a year so he might have changed, but he appeared the same as I remember him. Are you wanting something more specific?”

“I don’t think this is the first time I’ve seen him.”

“What do you mean?”

“I spotted someone that looks like him several times outside the school. The most recent today from the roof during lunch.”

Saki turned to look back in the direction of the school. She tried to recall if she saw the same thing, but missed it. Seiji wasn’t someone that she could easily miss. The guy stood out clearly on height alone and his presence. No, she never saw him.

She thought back the first time they met. “He’s always had his sights on Yuki for as long as I’ve known him. I don’t really get the connection.”

“They both like to fight.”

“In the past, that’s not Yuki anymore.”

“Are you afraid of Yuki fighting? Is that why you protect him?”

“I made him a promise! We promised…” Her hands tensed up with the rising emotions. A little lean and pressure towards Ayumi reacted instinctually. Nothing happened though. Ayumi wasn’t like Hiroshi or the others. She wasn’t like that fake image of a friend that would have started crying immediately. This was a stranger.

She didn’t know this stranger. None of them knew her. She wanted Yuki. Everything he told her about the situation Ayumi confirmed, yet it was just a story. The powers, they had proof, she couldn’t reject it. The rest so far was just perspective. The assassins had an agenda. So many pieces and a puzzle that didn’t fit the way she felt it should. “Why are you here? What do you want?”