Chapter 18: Confession
"It's not fair that he gets to shut me out for his own well-being, when I can't talk to him to improve mine!" said Tsugumi.
Ayase nodded sympathetically from across the table. The two of them were in Ayase's kitchen, the nearest window open to allow inside any breeze that wished to come. August was far too hot, even with ice cream, which was chocolate.
Tsugumi fumed and waved her spoon around. "I have half a mind to lay in wait for him until he gets home from work, then he's going to have to talk to me."
"Are you sure that's not going to change you from an ex-girlfriend to a stalker?" said Ayase.
"I'm not really stalking him! I'm just making sure I get a chance to talk." Tsugumi looked down at her bowl of ice cream, half empty, and slowly melting in the August heat. "I want to know what he was thinking. If he really doesn't want to see me again after we talk, then I'll understand."
Ayase sighed. "My mom used to say 'When you're in a relationship with a man, you need to think about whether or not you'd be happy raising boys just like him.' She was really happy I turned out to be a girl."
Tsugumi could feel the heat rise in her cheeks. "Kids is premature!"
"I know, I know! But what I'm saying is you might not be able to force Daryl to open up to you. He is who he is, so the question becomes: Would you be happy with who he is?"
Would she be happy?
"I can tell you're not over him," said Ayase. "No matter how much ice cream you eat it's not the same as really letting go. I've told you before. People aren't programs where you can just install a patch to make everything better. What we saw back at the hotel might be who Daryl really is. It might not be a neurosis to get over at all. If that is who he is, would you still want to date him?"
"But he's not always like that," said Tsugumi. "Usually he's not."
"He's a murderer, Tsugumi, and an unrepentant one. Are you okay with dating someone like that? Seriously! I'm your friend so even if you're not willing to think about what kind of person that makes him, I am!"
There was nothing to say to that. Ayase was right. After the party, Tsugumi was able to find other members of Funeral Parlor who were able to corroborate Argo's story. Daryl had been approached by an unarmed woman pleading for her husband's life. She had not threatened him, yet he beat her bloody and then shot her dead in front of her own son.
The only insight she had that the others hadn't, was that the woman had touched Daryl's arm, and knowing him, knowing the reaction he'd had the first time she had touched him herself, she knew that the woman's death had been triggered by Daryl's own fear of infection. It didn't justify what he had done, but she at least knew why it had happened.
"I don't know," said Tsugumi, and she was honest.
On August 23rd, late in the afternoon, Tsugumi stood outside Daryl's apartment with a small plastic bag in which she carried a small bakery box. She gave the door two sharp knocks, not bothering to hide this time. If he didn't see anyone, he probably wouldn't answer. If he saw her... Well, she hoped if he noticed the bag with her he would reconsider. It was his birthday.
But the door did not open.
"Daryl!" she said. "It's Tsugumi!"
He probably wasn't home yet. It was Friday and there was still another hour and a half until sunset, but she couldn't chance that he had left early and a favorable commute had allowed him to get home faster than usual.
She leaned against the wall beside his door, bag clenched between two hands, and waited. The cake would keep. She made sure to buy a variety that did not need to be refrigerated.
Tsugumi could see the shadows lengthen as the hour passed. She hoped he was still coming home and the silence was not that he had never gone to work at all. When she had told Ayase she was going to lay in wait for him, it felt as though sheer determination would make Daryl appear, but the actual waiting was boring, and a little depressing. She played with her phone, skimming articles on hacking conferences, but never really reading anything. Tsugumi kept looking up, hoping to see Daryl coming her way, but the shadows that passed her by belonged to others.
She wasn't desperate, she told herself. She wasn't a clingy ex-girlfriend. Even if it might hurt, she just wanted to talk. It wasn't fair for him to just fall away.
When finally they saw each other, it was almost at the same time, from almost half the length of the hallway to the stairs. Daryl was dressed plainly, hands stuffed in his pockets and eyes wide with shock at seeing Tsugumi standing outside his door. Then he turned and briskly walked away.
Tsugumi fumed and yelled, "You're not getting away that easily, Daryl Yan!"
And she jogged after him, heedless of the jostling bag beside her.
"What the hell?" he shouted over his shoulder. "Don't you have something better to do?"
A couple faces peered out from windows and Tsugumi tried not to think about how stupid she must look chasing after him. But Daryl could have been much faster than her if he'd chosen to run instead of walk. He was taller, in better shape, and he wasn't lugging a cake that was getting tossed all around its box in one arm.
"It's not fair!" she shouted, almost out of breath by the time she reached the stairs. Daryl had already gone down ahead of her. "Why do you get to end things on your terms but not me?"
She ran down the stairs and up to the gate of his apartment complex and looked around for where he might have gone. Daryl hadn't had that much of a lead on her, but he was nowhere in sight. Tsugumi clenched her hands in frustration.
"What did I do wrong?" she demanded. Her small frame shook, the plastic bag rattling in her grip. "Do you hate me that much?"
Tsugumi let out a sob and rubbed her eyes. The sky was almost dark. There was no way she was going to be able to spot him at a distance now. She supposed she could go back up the stairs and wait at his door again, but what if his desire to avoid her was so bad he wouldn't even go back to his apartment?
"I don't," he said.
She turned around and saw him standing by the stairs. Now that she looked, she noticed there was a space beneath them, but in her hurry she had run straight outside, assuming that he had left the complex entirely.
"You make things difficult," said Daryl, and she could hear the frustration in his voice. He walked past her and opened the gate. "I'm not letting you in my apartment, but it's not going to be livable for either of us if you keep coming here."
Tsugumi dabbed at her eyes. "Where are you going?"
"Someplace we can talk, get mad, and no one will hear."
She wasn't sure where that was going to be, so she was surprised when Daryl led her into a karaoke box. Then it made sense. The private rooms, the soundproofing, they could yell and scream and no one would notice unless they were right against the door.
"Why here?" she asked, as he talked with the woman running the counter.
It seemed odd to be having such a serious discussion in a place where people were having fun just the next room over.
"Because it's not either of our apartments and it's cheaper than a hotel room," said Daryl. "It's neutral ground."
"I can help pay," said Tsugumi, reaching for her purse.
"Forget it. It was was my idea."
He was so blunt. Was he angry? Or did he need the anger to cover something else? She could see the tension in his body as he led her to their assigned room. Every motion was wound tight, coiled and ready to spring.
The door was heavy and thick with padding. Daryl opened it for her, letting her go inside first, as if they were still dating, but the expression on his face was terrible. He looked ready to hit someone, and she hoped it wasn't going to be her.
Tsugumi set the plastic bag with the cake on the table between the two couches. Daryl didn't even look at it as he took a seat on the sofa opposite of her.
"I already told you that I murdered that woman," he said without preamble. "There was no good reason for it and I know you don't approve. What more do you want?"
"She... touched you, didn't she."
Daryl flinched. "She did, but you and I know that doesn't make it right, not as far as you're concerned."
"Did it make it right for you?"
A brief laugh escaped before he caught himself and frowned. "At the time, it did. I was fine with it. I had no regrets. In a way I still don't. I kill people, even if I don't have to."
He said it in present tense, which meant he did not think it impossible that he would again.
"That's why I left you at the party, Tsugumi. You've been kind, but it's wasted on me."
"It's not a waste if it meant something to you!" The words tumbled out of her mouth before she was fully cognizant of saying them. "You said didn't hate me! You were the one who asked to be more than friends!"
"My mistake." He sighed. "Look, Tsugumi, it's not like the woman was the only one."
"I... am not surprised," she said. "I talked to other people in Funeral Parlor after you left. Some of them had heard of you before. They told me the suspicions I had forgotten once we became friends."
This time his laughter had an unnerving edge to it. "And you still came?"
"I did. Don't assume you know my thoughts, Daryl, because you don't."
He snorted. "I'm worse than even Funeral Parlor knows. There's a very good reason my father isn't around anymore."
"You can hardly be blamed for giving him a heart attack." She kept her voice hard like steel. If this was the way Daryl was going to fight, she would push back as hard as he did.
"That's only the official reason for his death." Daryl fixed her with a sharp look. "I killed him, in my Endlave. His blood was splattered all over the wall of the command center and you wouldn't have recognized the paste that was left. I blamed Gai Tsutsugami for that, for giving my father so much work that he didn't have time for me, but that's no real excuse, is it."
His tone was flat as if there was nothing more to say. When she did not respond, he added, "Well? No one is immune. The next person I kill could be family, or a stranger. It wouldn't matter. It could even be you."
Tsugumi stood up. "I don't believe that."
Daryl shook. "I killed my own father! How less ungrateful a person can I be?"
Something came to Tsugumi. The blaming of Gai, the rationale behind the woman's murder, even the beating of the drunk. Daryl might have killed people, but he hadn't done it indiscriminately. However inappropriate, he had a justification, one that worked for him even if it did not for anyone else.
Tsugumi walked around the table as he eyed her warily. There was a desperation behind the anger. He wanted her to hate him. Well, she wasn't going to make it that easy.
"You said you were okay with working hard to be my boyfriend. What happened to that? After everything you've been through, at the age that you are, can you say that caring about me is harder than anything you've ever done?"
He turned away, and his voice was ragged. "You don't know me."
Tsugumi sighed. "You're such a weakling. What if I did, and it didn't matter?" She sat down beside him and reached for his hand. He flinched at her touch and pulled away.
"That wouldn't be possible."
"Try me," she said. "Look at me, Daryl. Tell me about your father. Tell me what happened."
He let out a deep breath and she could see the anger leave him. His temper rose quickly, but he could not hold it. She could see that now.
"I saw my father in the elevator with a woman," said Daryl. "I had never met her before. He never talked about her. Of course, we hardly ever talked. Even on my seventeenth birthday, my first since I returned to Japan, he didn't show. I figured he was too busy.
"But then I saw him kissing this woman in the elevator, and I realized that even though he didn't have time for his own son he had time for her! For a moment I thought he was going to explain himself, but the woman pressed the button to close the door and they continued down without me. If he really wanted to, my father could have come back, but he didn't. And it's not just that!"
Daryl choked and shuddered. He glanced down at the floor and this time Tsugumi did not ask him to look at her.
"You're right, Tsugumi. I am weak. I could have warned him," he said. "I could have told him about the coup. I knew and I didn't say anything. He would have been able to escape with enough warning. I got to the command center before anyone else. You'd think that he would have been happy to see me. But he didn't know who I was. Even with my voice on broadcast, even with my birthday serving as the identification number of my Endlave. It didn't mean anything to him. He thought I was another terrorist. And then that woman, she was still with him, at a time like that." Daryl trembled. "I pointed the gun of my Endlave at her, and she cowered against him, as though he could protect her, or maybe she wanted to spend her last moments with him. She didn't run, and seeing them like that, knowing that they didn't have a clue who I was... It made me sick."
He turned back to Tsugumi, his eyes rimmed with tears. "Even then I could have left. I could have waited for someone else in the Anti-Bodies to come. It had not been my assignment to kill him, but I pulled the trigger. I wanted him to hurt, to hurt like I had been for years. I questioned why I had even thought to give him a chance. What would I have been trying to save? We had never been family at all."
After a moment's silence, Tsugumi said, "I can't pretend to understand, but I know you were hurt, and that's enough. If this is the real you, then I don't hate him."
"How can you...?"
Daryl could be petty, narcissistic, and violent, none of which commended his personality, but looking at him now, she could also see a vulnerability, that the reason for so many of his flaws came from a lack of the human connection he craved. Did that make what he had done forgivable? No. But it wasn't her place to forgive. That right belonged to the families of those he had wronged.
She said, "Daryl, do you hate who you are? Because if you do, then stop running away. Be the person who you want to be. You'll be happier with yourself."
"I don't think it's that easy."
"Most things worth doing aren't. But if you let me, I'll help." She scooted beside him. "Would you let me touch you again?"
"Okay," he breathed, and she pulled him into a hug. "But I still don't understand."
"Haven't I told you?" Tsugumi smiled. "Friendship isn't understanding why someone will be there for you. It's knowing that they will."
She could feel his breath catch in his chest. "I want to be more than friends. Tsugumi, can I hold you?"
His embrace was fierce, crushing her against him as though afraid to let go. She could feel every shudder, every sob from the feelings he had repressed for so long.
Tsugumi laid her head on his shoulder and asked, "Daryl, aren't you worried about getting infected?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," he said, his voice rough with tears. "I just want to be with you."
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. This was one of the most difficult for me to write, not just because it didn't turn out the way I originally had outlined, but because emotionally it's one of the most important. Accordingly, it's also much longer than the average chapter has been for Little Heart.
The "stalker" comment in the originally unplanned scene with Ayase was what ruined my outline, but it was too good to pass up. So I looked up what day of the week Daryl's birthday would fall on in the year 2041, because it made a difference whether or not Tsugumi could catch him coming home from work. It also affected the contents of Tsugumi's grocery bag since her original plan was to cook him dinner, but she couldn't bring anything that would spoil.
The original outline called for Daryl to refuse to answer the door again and Tsugumi was going to climb up a tree outside to get to his balcony. The sliding door to his apartment would have been open due to the heat. But with Tsugumi waiting outside, I realized Daryl was not going to be able to enter his apartment without her, which forced a change in venue.