Chapter 5:

The Long Winter's Night

Their Solace

I talked. And I talked. I kept talking, and it felt like I could’ve gone on for hours. I talked about x54’s inception – with just myself and Asahi at the helm – and how at the age of fifteen, we established a local biker gang to appease my yearning for violence. I mentioned the constant disinterest that I had in life, and how fighting other delinquents served as a form of escapism; the world – which I constructed with power – excited me far more than the mundane reality of day-to-day life. I noted x54’s number three, Valentin Masahiko, a half-Scandinavian and the strongest person I’d ever fought hand-to-hand, and how his decision to accompany was rooted in similar desires to my own, coupled with his trust in the team’s continuing rapid expansion, which would eventually culminate with us as the pinnacle of Tokyo’s underworld. I brought up Tosh as well, as it was his inclusion and expertise that brought forth our revolution from a group of run-of-the-mill delinquents to a ruthless syndicate. Within a year, we’d grown from a measly two to twenty, to fifty, to one hundred, to nearly two-hundred members – and that didn’t even begin to include the nightlife customers which we’d begun to rake in. Over the next year, x54 had expanded to nearly five-hundred official members, with nightlife business booming – the average night at a single location brought in roughly 7000 USD, and by this point, our turf had expanded to the point where the number of entities under our name was well into the double digits. In the present, our structure of command follows rather simply – I’m the pinnacle, Asahi’s my second-in-command, and Val’s our number three. Tosh, and our other executive, Satou Yoshihisa, report directly to one of us three – beyond them, our divisions are each captained by someone that I’ve personally appointed. Each division holds a cardinal direction as its turf, and they’re responsible for keeping things in order; when shit hits the fan – which often happens – that’s when one of us four – not Tosh – makes an entrance.

Realizing that I’d probably been talking for way too long, I looked over at Sasaki, who was still beside me, expecting her to have fallen asleep. To my shock, she was still attentive as ever, eyes fixated on me, with her head tilted slightly, as if she was processing something. She tilted her head back to its normal position and asked me something.

‘So, I guess you guys are the pinnacle around here then?’

‘I’d say so, yeah. There’s obviously tons of other groups here and there, but we’ve made our stamp, and we’re only continuing to grow.’

‘Honestly, I’d never have guessed that you’re that prestigious of a mob boss considering both your age and how casually you waltzed into a corner store the way you did! Like, shouldn’t you have some bodyguards or something? A captain or something at least?’

‘This area’s not under my control, yeah, but it’s been uneventful here for – pretty much ever, I’d say. Those guys were oddities, but it makes sense, considering they’re not from the area anyway.’

She nodded in agreement, but she still seemed pensive about something.

‘Are you really happy, doing what you’re doing?’

Strange question. She may be absent-minded, yes, but I just explained this to her.

‘Were you really not listening? Of course –’

‘No, no, this is obviously a reprieve for you, and it seems to be way better than your monotony of life, I can even attest to that seeing how alive you became when you had to kick those dude’s asses. But realistically, are you happy now? You’ve gone from fighting all the time – which I don’t think is healthy, but it’s your form of healing, so to each their own – to being the leader of what’s essentially a Yakuza cult. Are you sure you aren’t getting too deep into this? Like, you’re only my age, right? You’ve got so much time ahead of you.’

I looked at her, almost shocked. Who wouldn’t be happy with the amount of revenue we were generating? Who wouldn’t be happy with what we were doing, and the ridiculous strides we’d taken? Who wouldn’t want to continue this lifestyle, especially if it allowed me to escape everything that I’d hated about reality itself?

And yet, I couldn’t help but feel she’d brought up something which I’d been repressing forever – this wasn’t healthy. None of it was. The violence, the shady business transactions, the grey areas of the law, everything – it was all, frankly, terrible. But I felt that I had to cling on – in fact, I know that I had to cling in, otherwise, I’d have nothing at all.

‘So, after hearing everything that I’ve told you, that’s the conclusion that you’ve come to? That I’m too deep into this? Of course I’m deep into this, but what am I supposed to do? Tell me a better solution, cause I’m all ears.’

I said it sarcastically, but my ears weren’t shut on what suggestions she was about to make.

‘Have you ever tried just, y’know, doing things with people in your life? Like, finding comfort in the little moments in life? Not everything has to be seismic for it to be memorable, right? Like, you don’t need to destroy the empire you’ve created for yourself at all – that’s not what I’m saying. But you’ve gotta find ways to detach yourself – the person that I’ve seen from you throughout tonight seems nothing like the person you’ve tried to paint yourself as.’

She paused.

‘Maybe that’s cause you’re still leering at me after all…’

‘Again with that!’

‘But am I wrong?’


‘No, not that – the first thing that I had to say!’

I thought about it for a bit – sure, I’d probably be able to find comfort in the little things in life – but up until now, I’d never even tried cause each ordeal seemed so pointless. Stargazing? Boring. Walking down a beach? Lame. Looking at cherry blossoms? Couldn’t pay me to do that. What’s the point of making the memory if it’s so trivial anyway?

Yet… maybe she had a point. Something about this absent-minded, talkative girl was still piquing my interest, cause it seemed like despite everything about the way she acted, she knew what she was talking about.

‘Sure, I guess. But what could you possibly suggest?’

She looked at me and smiled, and then stood up and ran off to a closet to retrieve something – within a moment’s notice, she’d returned holding something behind her back.

‘The hell’d you come back with? Alcohol?’

‘Please – you’re not even legal yet, you think I’m giving you alcohol?’

‘And you are?’

‘Well, no – but I can do as I please.’

‘Anyway, what do you got?’


She reached behind her back and pulled out two console controllers, tossing me one of them.

‘What’s this?’

‘What are ya, some old geezer? It’s a Wii controller, obviously!’

‘You guys have a… Wii? Here?’

‘Course we do! We’ve got a bunch of other consoles too, but I’m assuming you’re gonna be pretty garbage at most games, so lets start off easy, shall we?’

‘Huh? I’ll have you know I used to be damn good when I was younger, y’know? It’s been years since I’ve played, but I’ll kick your ass in anything that’s for sure.’

Huh? Wait a second. Isn’t this stupid? Why am I agreeing to this? This is an old, shitty console that I haven’t played in ages – and this is supposed to be a form of detachment from my ‘world’? Really? Did she seriously change topics just to be able to play some games? More than that, games that she’s sure she’d kick my ass in? Did she really not give a shit about what I just had to tell her – at all?

‘Hold on –’

She sat down beside me on the sofa and put one of her fingers to my mouth.

‘I know you’re gonna bring up some lame excuse like “Oh, this isn’t meant for me! How could this help me! You clearly know nothing!” Well – why don’t you at least give it a go first? Not like we’ve got anything else to do with the way the storm’s beating down on us.’

She had a point. We could sit in silence and do nothing. I could continue to mope about life, but realistically, where would that even get me? It’s not like she’s a therapist, after all. And it didn’t seem like she really had anything interesting going on in her life that she wanted to tell me anyway, so who was I to demand it?

‘Guess you’re right.’

‘Of course I’m right. Now, you said you’ve played on a Wii before, so, what game?’

‘You got that racing one?’


‘Y’know, the one with that stupid red-hatted guy and they’re all in cars and stuff – shit, I can’t remember the name.’


‘You know, like the dude who eats mushrooms and stuff? That guy.’

‘No way you’re referring to Mario as ‘that guy’, and no way you forgot what MarioKart is! What’s wrong with you! Seriously, and you’re supposed to be my age? Maybe I’ll give you the smokes at this rate, good grief!’

I scoffed.

‘Honestly, those smokes would be a lifesaver if you’d actually consider it.’

‘Hm. I did say tomorrow at school, but I can expedite that to tonight… maybe.’


‘One condition.’

‘Shoot. I’m all ears.’

‘Beat me in a versus. Four races. If you can manage that, I’ll expedite it.’

I cracked my knuckles and leaned forward.

‘I know damn well you think I’m gonna be garbage at this, but don’t underestimate a veteran at this game – I told you, this is my game.’

‘“This is my game” he says as he doesn’t even know the main character’s name – you’re a phony! A fraud! You’ll be so far behind me it won’t even be funny!’

We both looked at each other and laughed as the game loaded in.

‘Randomly select everything, yeah?’

‘Well, at least let us pick characters.’

‘Fine, fine.’

The menu popped up, and I looked at her in disbelief.

‘You don’t even have every character unlocked! There’s question marks on some of them! And you think you’re gonna beat me? Come on now!’

‘I only play on this console once in a blue! I’ve got everyone unlocked at home – don’t underestimate me because of how little I use this one! In fact, you should be in awe that I’ve unlocked as much as I have on this machine!’

‘Yeah, yeah, whatever, whatever. Let’s get to racing then.’

She’d picked one of the weird creatures from the menu – a small, ugly-looking thing, with some sort of red hair and a green, yellow, black, and white body. I went with the same green dinosaur thing that I’d remembered always using when I was younger, simply because its name mimicked mine – Yoshi.

‘You sure you know the controls Tsukkun? Or do you wanna check the menu?’

‘I’ve got the wheel in my hand, it’ll come back to me. It’s all muscle memory, wouldn’t you say?’

‘Well, don’t blame me if I wipe the floor with you!’

The countdown ticked down, and we were off. Yelling, screaming, and laughing, we made our way through the first map, her finishing first – as she called it – and me finishing a resounding twelfth, losing to most of the computers.

‘I thought you said you’d be good at this!’

She snickered away, but I know that I’d been good at this game before – I was just rusty, that’s all. I’d absolutely demolish her in match two, I assured myself.

‘Aw… tenth this time? Little steps, little steps!’

Not to worry. Two more matches to go. I could bring things back.


‘Aw, don’t get all riled up – you’re back down to fifteenth! And what’s that, three firsts in a row for yours truly! You can’t even catch up now!’

‘Meh. I know you’re not about a winner-takes-all, are you? Too scared for that, I reckon. No point in even – ’

‘Deal! If you win this last match, I’ll let this be a best-of-three scenario and call this series a tie.’

‘Say no more. You’ll regret that.’

I leaned forwards again, but this time, I knew I had to be serious. She wasn’t gonna mess around with a 3-0 lead hanging in the balance. Still, when the race started, she took off again – I was holding my ground in fifth, but she was still lightyears ahead in fourth. Then suddenly, I had a genius idea to mess with her.

‘Kisasa! The stove!’


Her character fell into a ditch, just before approaching the finish line. I hit a lucky boost, propelling me into third, while she finished in sixth.

‘Deals a deal, then!’

‘That’s not fair! Come on! Play fair! I didn’t cheat you out of anything like that!’

‘I will, I will – but remember, that was just me getting used to things again. Now I’m warmed up – you’ll regret giving me that deal!’

So we loaded in another head-to-head matchup, and surprisingly, the results were much closer: 1-3, 1-4, 2-1, 3-2, but on points, she’d won. The ultimate round was the third, where if she’d win, she’d officially have beaten me, so we loaded in one more time. I could feel myself getting tired, and I looked at the clock, and it was already well past midnight, nearly forty-five past the hour. She yawned next to me, and when I glanced over at her, she looked exhausted – yet, when the first match was about to get started, it seemed like there was a newfound energy in her. She dismantled me, 1-6, but I told her she wouldn’t get lucky like that again – and rightfully so, I was holding down second for the longest time. The second match ended in my favor, with my victory at 2-3, and again, the third ended the same way, except at 4-10. She may have been getting sleepy, but that wasn’t an excuse for me to put in any less effort – in fact, that was more of a reason to absolutely stick it to her in the last match.

Surprisingly though, when that last match started, she had the same eyes she did with the first, roaring and ready to go, and she took an early lead which looked insurmountable. Going into the last lap, I was still holding second, but her grasp on first was much too far for me to reach, and I was ready to admit my defeat, until I felt something on my left shoulder. Glancing over to see if she was trying to distract me – despite holding such a wide lead – I was shocked to notice that she’d fallen half-asleep, and her character had stopped moving.


She was sleep-talking? Or was she talking? Or was she delirious?

‘Yeah, Kisasa.’

‘Wasn’t… wasn’t that… wasn’t…. that… fun? Tsu... Did you… fun?’

She was completely out of it, but that’s when I realized it. It had been more than two hours of just playing this one game… but it didn’t feel like that at all. Every day that I wasn’t in my other ‘world’, time kept ticking onwards and onwards with no sense of purpose; sometimes, the seconds couldn’t go by fast enough. But this… this felt like fifteen minutes. I wanted to keep going. I wanted to win that match. I wanted to win that bet. I wanted to keep feeling the way I did. I wanted to keep laughing, and smiling, and yelling at her over this stupid game. It was so much fun, and it was something that I hadn’t felt in this reality in what seemed like an eternity.

I glanced outside, and the blizzard wasn’t stopping at all. The winds howled as the streetlights fluttered in and out. I realized that even then, I could probably trek through and get to my place in less than a half-hour. But what about this girl? Does she live anywhere nearby? Would she manage sleeping here like this? What if someone came here in the darkness like those two earlier had? It was just past one, and storms like this give great cover for shitstains like them.

I could suddenly feel my eyes closing. I looked over at her one more time, with her head still rested on my shoulder – by now, she was completely knocked out. Her glasses were falling off her face, so I gently grabbed them by their bridge, and tossed them onto the table on my right.

I yawned profusely and then quietly chuckled to myself – who did this girl really think she was, nodding off to sleep just like that, with a guy she just met, nonetheless?

I rested my head lightly onto hers, and she didn’t even react. I let go of my controller, closed my eyes, and could feel that sleep was coming fast. The winds continued to howl outside, but I could barely hear them over my own heartbeat. Maybe I was tired. Or maybe, I was just at ease.

Maybe – just maybe – I do need to start enjoying the little moments in life after all.