Chapter 33:

"The Final"

VISUAL SHOCK - sometimes you have to promise not to fall in love~

Kaori has been off since the family dinner on her birthday, but she won’t talk to me about it.

It feels like we’re moving backwards after opening up so much to each other.

Things on campus haven’t improved either, so I’m going a little stir-crazy from a lack of socialisation. Time just goes by in solitary work and study, even mealtimes are mostly silent.

I know the heat has been turned up, with finals coming up soon, but deadlines are still way out in December before the Winter break.

How do I help with family stuff, though?!.

“Dating me could be part of rebelling against your parents?”

I try a joke to test the waters while we study. Humour is my go-to cover for uncomfortable topics, after all.

“Do not trivialise the past…” well that bombed, “…or us.”

Maybe not?

She doesn’t perk up, but that’s the most positive thing I’ve gotten out of her in days. Time to step things up!

“You’re still free Monday, right?”

Kaori nods, non-committally.

“We’ll be heading out to the airport for 5PM then…”

Her nodding between writing notes continues, unfazed.

“…doors open just after 6 and things start about 7…”

Not even an acknowledgement this time.

“…so if you pack over the weekend, we can be at my parents by Tuesday afternoon…”

She sighs lackadaisically over her books.

“…they’ve already made all the arrangements. We just have to be there for the wedding. My whole extended family is flying in as well. Party’s should last all week!”

Kaori finally picks up on what I’m saying, jolted back to the present by the word…


There’s a weird blend of emotions behind her expression. Some unease and uncertainty, a bit of fear tingeing the red rings around her eyes, but also a bashfulness.

“There you are! Thought I’d lost you.”

Her vision clears for a moment before she crawls back into herself.


She’s never this meek. I really don’t know what to do.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m just being silly. Anyway, you’re definitely up for the gig, right? Don’t want to have to go on my own!”


For a moment, Kaori actually seems lost.

“Oh, the concert! Yes, I am still coming with you.”

Maybe she forgot the word. I don’t press, she’s confirmed, we can leave it at that.


By the weekend, Kaori is much the same. Still vacant, distracted. She doesn’t even get out of bed Sunday, so I cook in her room, encouraging her to shower while I finish things off.

“You nearly done? Food’s ready!”

The shower still running after half an hour.

Tapping on the door yields no response. I really don’t like how things feel.


Memories of my teenage friends - their sorrows raging and violent - pain turned upon themselves.

“I’m coming in, ok?”


Kaori steps out, still towelling her hair.

Her usual lounge wear showing no reasons for alarm, other than her skin being bright pink from standing under the hot water for so long.

“Thank fu-” I was overreacting.

I’m glad she’s stronger than my panic gave her credit for… I feel guilty, shameful even for thinking less of her, even for a second.

Her eyes are redder than their recent tired, tense tone. She must have been crying, trying to hide it.

I push it all down.

“You looking forward to the concert tomorrow?”

Keep it light. Nothing serious.

She looks herself over, a pause from picking at her plate. Something’s really wrong if she’s not at least a little excited by food.

“Can…” she shakes her head and begins to shrink again, but gets frustrated at herself, then pushes through “…can I go like this?”

I assume she means in casual clothes, rather than getting dressed up in full visual kei hair and make-up.

This is something I can work with. A way I can support her.

“Of course. I’ll dress down too. Jeans, T, and a hoody. How’s that sound?”

Kaori nods, shifting on her cushion, trying to appear smaller by bringing her knees to her chest, but gets angry with herself again. A minor stress taken away, permission to just be comfortable… she crosses her legs again and finally brings some food to her lips.

“This is terrible.”

I choke on a mouthful of omurice. I didn’t do anything different to last time. I thought some comfort food would help her feel bette-

She turns the plate towards me…

“Now I know there is something you cannot do.”

…indicating my screwed up attempt at a cute little cat face I tried to draw for her.

“Yeah, even my parents took art out the curriculum. Realised it was a complete waste of money and materials.”

Kaori forces a clipt laugh at my comment, but her face quickly reverts to numb misery. At least she tried.

There’s hope yet.


“I finally get to see You In Grey! I cannot wait!”

“Well, you have to...”

Kaori’s deadpan response, simply because there’s a queue, slays me.

I want to hit up the merch stalls while we’re in line, but taking turns would be less fun, and we’d lose our place if we went together.

I feel like I could spontaneously combust.

Every cell, every atom, vibrating with excitement. I could become a walking fusion reactor. Infinite energy from my fanboy anticipation alone.

That is, if it wasn’t all swallowed up by a black hole at my side, stealing the heat and light of the universe - OK, that’s mean, she’s really trying - I force myself to tone things down for Kaori’s sake. Usually we’re on the same page, but even with a band I know she loves as much as I do, it’s not enough to draw her out of her shell.

I strain to see what I might like to get later as we shuffle towards the entrance of Zeppelin Haneda.

I can’t even articulate to myself how I feel after the concert.

It’s a strange venue out by the airport, and it was strange being sat down in such a big space. It was strange seeing my idols after all this time, and it was strange hearing a few of their old songs in their new style.

It was fulfilling, for sure, but it was also sorrowful. Something about it rubbing me the wrong way. After a long spell shunning the pageantry, they’ve re-embraced the VK label. It’s different seeing Yoma look like Kyonai from BAM Syrup, or Kaori’s namesake entering his gothic DILF arc.

It’s not what I wanted, but it was still… good?!.

An odd disconnect.

And yet… my impulse is still to buy everything at the merch stall. I’ve never been a band T-shirt kinda person, and all the other stuff is a bit uninspired. I would spring for a CD, but they don’t have the big collectors' edition - which I’ll order online later - and it’s not like I can get anything signed.

It’s sobering to feel that all consuming need to support my first love dwindle in the face of…

Kaori tugs on my sleeve.

We were sat all night, so I couldn’t hold her like at IN-LAW FAMILY FEST. She’s not been that physical this past week either. It’s been lonely.

She gives me a hug.

“You want to buy anything?”

The only thing that catches my eye is a music box, not even from this tour. A left over on sale from a previous album, for a song I barely know, and have little attachment to.

Her vision tracks mine, and she picks it up, offering it to me. I take it in my hand and…

“I think I’m good…”

…placing it back on the stand, I take Kaori’s hand as we walk away.

I can’t just keep buying things. The same retail therapy coping mechanism as my brother. I’m barely making ends meet right now because I fell into the trap once. I need to be careful and only buy things that matter.

She suddenly stops.


Squeezing my hand, she anchors me to the spot, and points out over the airfield.

The blinking lights of those with purpose and intent - business or pleasure - twinkle in the brackish black above Haneda. Their grounded kin, in heavy floodlight on the tarmac, incessantly in motion. The boundary line beyond the bay in faint relief.

Kaori slips her fingers between mind.

It’s all the reassurance I need…

Words akin to those she once said drift to mind… you only need support a band while you need support from them; they will be grateful while they can reach you, and sorry to see you go when they no longer resonate, but that’s just how it is.

…the one thing I desperately want cannot be bought, and needs my support right now.

She slides her other arm around mine, clinging to me close, resting her head on my shoulder as we walk.


“Yeah, Kaori?”

“My sister’s dead.”

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