To all those who still love reading a fanfic series that's well over a year old.
If you're going to sue me Moonscope then let me tell ya, you're not going to get a lot from my empty wallet.
Episode 15: Laughing Fit
Yumi woke from her slumber two hours before her alarm had sounded. Sleep had not come easily for her as she found herself spending more time staring blankly at her bedroom's ceiling then in actual slumber. This would mark the seventh day of her long streak of restless nights that had been plaguing her. The reason for her unrest did not lie within the confines of her social life nor anything pertaining to the world academics. No, this underlying problem was something she had faced before but was still a potent force to reckon with.
Her parents had been fighting again.
Sure they argued in the past but for some reason the current spat they were embroiled was the most heated of them all. Even behind closed doors, Yumi could hear their constant bickering while she prepared herself to go to sleep and would resort to covering her head with a pillow to drown the voices out. The peaceful tranquility that a normal family household was shattered as the entire Ishiyama household became swept with an entire torrent of ill feelings.
Already Yumi made her way downstairs as she was far too restless to go back to sleep. She figured she might as eat a quick meal and get ready for school but was shocked to see her mother over the stove preparing breakfast.
"M-mom," was all that the surprised girl managed to blurt out.
A small smile flashed her way.
"I guess I'm not the only early bird here."
The shock still had yet to subside and the Japanese girl remained quiet even when her mom placed two hot pancakes on her plate.
Yumi nodded. The ill feelings that lurked within the walls of their household slowly sunk their deep fangs into the slightly pleasant mood that Mrs. Ishiyama had established. No longer could she hold onto her tiny smile.
"I'm sorry about all of this."
The apology was heartfelt and sincere. As a mother she knew that no child should ever have to endure such a harsh time but her daughter still remained unresponsive. Although she was desperate in wanting to have Yumi to believe in her reassurance, Mrs. Ishiyama understood that she needed some personal space, just like her son.
"Should I wake up Aniki?"
It was a strange question to ask given how they were conducting their morning routine earlier than usual. Still the family was together so he should be included.
"Actually, he already left for school."
That was certainly the last answer she was expecting. A quick glance at the area where they kept all of their shoes revealed that her brother's sneakers were missing; along with the shoes of her father.
"Did dad already leave for work as well?"
The sound of additional food being prepared died down as Yumi watched her mother set aside her cooking utensils and bow her head.
"Your father won't be coming home for a few days. He's staying with a friend."
Such a reaction was on that the older women anticipated.
"I didn't have a say. He just packed his clothes and went out the door."
Warning bells rang in Yumi's mind as this was the first time her parents' arguing had escalated to the point where it was physically impossible for the adults to live under the same room. Such drastic actions were the foundations of many divorces she read about were built on. Sure their relationship was rocky at times but what she saw did not warrant full blown separation.
"And you just let him leave!?!"
Deep down inside Mrs. Ishiyama too was cursing at her own weakness. However in the realm of human interaction such things were unavoidable.
"It's not that simple Yumi."
"Does Aniki know?"
A brief pause in the conversation had occurred when Jin was brought into it a second time. This particular mourning yielded certain significance to the young man and she would do everything in her power not to add to his misery.
"It's best you don't tell him that right now."
"Don't tell Aniki?! Are you implying that he doesn't have the right to know about this?"
Something was not right about her mom. Why of all things would she request to keep such a dramatic event a secret from her brother? He was family. The entire absurdity of the situation was almost comical in a sick surreal sense.
"It's what's best for him."
"What's best for him is that he knows the truth!"
"Yumi, do you know what today is!"
The firmness that question was asked caused the young girl to be quiet out of obedience as if she was being scolded. Her mom would only use that tone of voice whenever she did something bad and it seemed like she was being reprimanded for her faulty memory. Slowly she turned her head toward the calendar posted in the kitchen which had the day's date circled in red. It was the only reminder that she needed to know of its significance.
"Today marks the third year since Aniki's accident right?"
A solemn nod came from Yumi's mother which joined her own sad expression. It was safe to say that her brother's sunny disposition would not been seen for a while.
Odd had read several stories of people who had dreams that were so realistic that they question the very fabric of reality once they wake from their slumber. Watching Ms. Hertz doubled over in laughter was one of those surreal moments that made him pinch himself multiple times to make sure he was part of the conscious collective.
Right next to him sat Jeremie who was also completely stupefied by the sight of his science teacher having a severe case of the giggles.
"Wow, look at her go. I've never seen her laugh this much."
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," he said while shaking his finger. "The real strange part is the fact we've never seen her laugh at all. Sometimes I think that the powers that be forgot to even give her a funny bone to tickle."
Any other day such snide comments would be picked up by Ms. Hertz sensitive ears but given her present condition it was almost as if she was giving the class an opportune time to make as many jokes as they want as they would not be easily heard. However there was an important lesson to be learned this day so they braced themselves for whatever information came their way.
"The substance I just inhaled was nitrogen peroxide which is better known as laughing gas…"
It was really difficult to get any sort of information from Ms. Hertz as whenever she would try to get an informative point across, a huge burst of laughter would be heard just moments later. Several students set their pencils down as they saw the futility of their efforts, Odd being one of them.
"You can see why this gas is used sometimes in hospitals to relax patients right before surgery."
Odd rolled his eyes. "Yeah because everyone needs a laughing attack right after an appendix attack."
The unorthodox lecture continued. "But let's try to stay serious here." The collective reaction of the classroom was that of uncertainty, it was quiet a perplexing command to follow. "In high the gas can be toxic. It can evoke serious changes in perception and cause severe lesions in the nervous system so it can be possible to laugh yourself to death!"
Ms. Hertz was racked again by another huge laughing attack. With that latest chuck of information Jeremie was seriously contemplating calling 9-1-1 just in case the situation became worse.
"There's only thing that can neutralize the gas, water. You only need one drop to volatilize it."
The bottle of water on her desk was immediately seized and its contents were consumed by the giggling teacher. Its effectiveness was not overhyped. Seeing how quickly his teacher was rendered a laughing mess Odd wondered what would happen if his other straight-faced acquaintances inhaled the gas. He lingered on the thought for a bit for amusement's sake. Looking for a potential candidate to be the subject for his little fantasy scenario. Just by sheer chance his eyes locked onto a certain pretty-boy Korean. Now that would be quite a sight wouldn't it? Dirk Kap Hwan, laughing himself silly. Throughout the short period time Odd had known the guy he had only seen him display two sets of emotions: moody and moody with a death glare. Heck the sight of him smiling, an actual genuine smile would….
Actually he couldn't think of a funny analogy at that would suit such a unfathomable sight. Even his own overactive imagination had trouble processing the thought of little Korean mob boss with the edges of his mouth turned in an upward fashion. It was too much to dwell on it now perhaps sometime later.
"Alright enough lecturing, time for a surprise quiz"
Odd could only roll his eyes at that request. Once again he did not study for this test and he knew he was going to bomb miserably.
Two hours had passed since her daughter had left for school and the motherly figure of the Ishiyama house hold had still yet to leave the dining room. With a cup of tea in her hand, she quietly sat at the table she would normally eat at with the rest of her family and blankly stared at the much as she wants to help her children, at this moment all she can do is just wait. The only thing in her line of sight is a steady trail of steam coming from her tea. Just staring at such a peaceful sight makes Ms. Ishiyama close her eyes and reminisce about the times where her husband was a lot less argumentative.
Her memory took her to a classroom, much different than the ones in Kadic Junior High and much earlier than her children's enrollment. With a nervous gaze and Takeo by her side, the couple prepared themselves for their conference with Ms. Kingston who was Yumi and Jin's kindergarten teacher.
Getting them enrolled in this particular school was enough of an accomplishment as is seeing how they only recently moved into this country on account the job market here was thriving compared to that of their homeland.
The move over to France was anything but haphazard. Takeo called the company that was hiring him at least fifteen times to confirm his employment status along with the real estate office for their new home in the name of preventing any last minute mishaps for their move. At the same time he also made sure that the entire family underwent language training to the point where they were both fluent in French and English, the two most common languages in the land.
Quickly the two of them snapped to attention once the teacher opened the door and took her seat. She was a middle age woman with a kind face that was perfect for putting her students at ease.
"Thank you for coming today Mr. and Mrs. Ishiyama," Ms. Kingston extended the same gentle attitude that she wielded while teaching outside of the classroom.
The Japanese parents both bowed their heads before they exchanged words.
"We should be thanking you for taking care of our children so well." Mrs. Ishiyama gave the teacher a radiant smile Her comments came straight from the heart as she could recall many nights where her twins would talk about how much fun they had in her class.
In contrast to the relatively calm women, Takeo was ratter jittery. In his life he'd seen many conferences, closed many deals and met many powerful people however that was just business, today he was discussing his children and that fact made him nervous beyond belief.
"Are they behaving well?" His question was hastily blurted out in an overly curt manner as to prevent himself from saying something outlandish. His wife had to giggle at his antics, slightly oafish nature was something she found endearing.
Ms. Kingston shared in on the laughter as well.
"Your fears are justified but just a bit misplaced. Rest assured, both Yumi and Jin are model students and get along with the rest of the children just fine."
"That's wonderful to hear."
"It's just that I have a small concern about one of them."
Hearing the word "concern" during a parent teacher conference was unsettling as it meant there was potential for trouble.
"It's their school work right? I had a feeling that they might not be doing their homework as well as they should…."
Again Takeo was quick to jumping to conclusions. Ms. Ishiyama silenced him with a rather firm squeeze of the hand so that she could hear what the teacher had to say.
"Forgive my husband, please continue."
Ignoring the outburst Ms. Kingston went on to address her lingering thought.
"First of all let me just say that both your children are doing excellent when it comes to their work. They finish all of their assignments on time and they always turn out quality material before they hand it to me. Please, take this next comment as just another random tangent from a teacher but please her me out.
The couple nodded, almost in unison.
"I get the feeling that one of them is more socially withdrawn than the other. During free time one sibling goes out and tries to make as many friends as possible while the other simply sits in the corner and reads. This behavior has been going on for quite a while and I think you both have a right to know about it. From what I understand, you all recently moved here from Japan and I think that may be the cause of the child's awkwardness."
All that the Ishiyamas could do was sit patiently and thank the heavens that their children well blessed with having such an attentive teacher.
Mrs. Ishiyama's focus returned that of her present state as she watched the lingering vision of her memory disappear within the steam of her tea. In the corner of her eye she noticed the pile of dishes left in the sink that needed to be cleaned. She noted that this was a mess that she would take care of later.
Slowly she raised her cup to her mouth and began to think.
"Yumi has been acting strange lately."
Those were the first words Ulrich said as he looked at her when Jeremie and Odd arrived. Not once did she come by even pretend that she was ok and let her downtrodden emotions come to the surface uninhibited.
"How long has she been acting like that?" While Odd was exactly the most attentive member of their group, he was far from being oblivious. He too was aware of Yumi's shift in behavior but he wasn't able to pinpoint an exact moment when the change happened.
"She's been sulking like that for the past two days but she never looked this down."
"You think she's mad at us?"
Jeremie quietly observed the figure ahead of him and tried to piece together the tiny pieces of information that came his way. Given the fact that all three of them were generally clueless to the cause of Yumi's sadness; then it can safely be deduced that the source of her problems was independent from all things Lyoko and the people who deal with it. Also given how in the previous day she actually made an attempt to act like her normal self, it can be inferred that whatever turmoil she's facing has now reached a new level making it even harder to hide.
"My guess that this could be something home related. Yumi did tell us in the past that her parents get into silly arguments sometimes. They could have had a serious fight."
The two roommates nodded in agreement. It was the only reasonable explanation they had and there was no good reason to dismiss it.
Ulrich solemnly shook his head. "We can try to figure out things ourselves but pretending to know the answer is not going to help Yumi right now."
"Well they say that laughter is the best medicine so I can give her some of my best jokes," Odd suggested while giving off one of his signature smiles.
The idea intrigued Ulrich for a brief moment. Surely if Yumi showed an expression that was remotely close to happiness it would surely take a huge burden from his shoulders but that feeling of relief would only be temporary. His instincts told him that this particular problem that his friend was facing would simply not go away after a rendition of "Who's on First" seeing how deeply rooted it was.
"I'm not saying you don't have a sense of humor Odd, but maybe I should try talking to her first."
The remaining two boys watched Ulrich leave their group with stunned looks. His moments of boldness when it comes to dealing with Yumi have been increasing yet their shock value has yet to diminish. Jeremie found this latest turn of events interesting to say the least.
"You really think he can really get Yumi to smile at least once?"
"I have a better chance of getting a date with Julia Roberts."
The punchline hung in the air for a few beats before Odd realized that there was something else that was bugging him that Yumi in a bad mood.
"C'on Einstein say something?"
"Wha? I have no idea what you're insinuating Odd."
"Dude I just set up a really obvious one-liner. You're supposed to build off of it and add to the joke."
"I apologize for not being able to play humorous hot potato with you."
"Jin would have done it if he was here," Odd said underneath his breath.
With that remark made, the other aspect of the day that was bothering him came to light.
"Isn't it strange that we had an entire conversation on how to help Yumi out and Jin is not here?"
Such an observation was beyond strange. Yumi was fortunate enough to be blessed with an older brother who would not hesitate to put his life on the line if it meant keeping his sister away from danger. For guy who was more than willing to die for her sake, it's starting to see that he was nowhere to be found when her happiness was on the line.
"Did you see him walk over together with Yumi?"
"No, I think she came alone this morning."
"Now that's double strange."
Another mystery was added to the case file of the Ishiyama family. Things were looking grimmer as the day passed on. Thus was looking to be a problem not easily fixed by fighting XANA's monsters and going back to the past.
Yumi remained motionless even as she heard Ulrich's footsteps draw near. Her entire thought process was split between the fear of her parents separating and trying to think of ways to get her now guilt consumed brother back to reality. Between these two monumental tasks ahead of her, then it was forgivable to ignore the more mundane trappings of everyday life.
His greeting was direct, just like his nature. Gone was his usual awkwardness that came with him whenever they were alone.
She answered back in the same simple manner. With downcast eyes she focused her gaze at the bench that was supporting her weight. It was at this spot about two months ago that she confided her most personal feelings to the boy behind her during Jin's blindness. The conversation they had back then was sweet, intimate and emotionally healing; three things she needed right now. However the problems she was thinking of extended beyond her and therefore extended past the point the point of Ulrich's helpfulness.
"I really don't feel like talking to anyone."
Even though she was in a poor mood, she had no reason to be mean to her friend. She was uninterested to whatever bit of console Ulrich had to offer so informing him of her reluctance to listen was the proper thing to do.
"But I want to, with you."
"If you feel like talking so much then talk to yourself!"
The Japanese girl left in a huff and left Ulrich alone.
"Oh Ulllllrich dear. Not every girl you know is like Yumi."
He buried his face into the palm of his right hand once he heard Sissi's voice as he was not looking forward to her lame attempts at winning his affection. Slowly turning around he faced his executioner striking a series of poses that would make any armature model cringe in distaste.
"Yeah isn't that a shame."
When it came to dealing with Sissi's overly clingy mannerisms, Ulrich's strategy was to say his piece and get out as quickly as possible. Just like Yumi showed him just seconds ago, it's impossible to have a meaningful conversation when only one person is involved
Of course this plan only works if the person he's trying to escape from remained stationary; nine times out of ten she didn't.
"Wait! Are you coming to the rehearsal afterschool?"
During the few moments when Sissi wasn't trying to worm her way into his heart, then talking to her wasn't as grating. He slowed down his walking speed, not slow enough for a stroll but slow enough for her to catch up.
"Yeah I'll show up, but let it be known that I'm going for Odd's sake and not yours."
"You know Ulrich dear…."
He felt a chill run down his spine; it looks like she's going to try to butter him up once more.
"The role of Romeo is still open."
That last comment was spoken more like a suggestion than a fact and with as much subtlety as a stampeding buffalo wearing a neon sign.
"And you want me to be Romeo don't you? Who's playing Juliet?"
"Why me of course, I'd say it's a case of perfect casting."
"More like a perfect reason why to not try out."
Shots to her ego from Ulrich was nothing new in her world and she was willing to put up with it in gradual amounts granted that no one was watching; she did have a reputation to uphold. Her eyes scanned her surroundings and she was relieved that no one was around to see her latest romantic exploit fail so miserably but at the same time she no longer had any leads to help her pursue her potential leading man.
What Sissi needed the most was a third party.
It was painfully obvious that her efforts alone would not be convincing enough to sway the boy of her dreams to her side but if one of his close friends were to suggest the idea to him then her plans just might succeed. If that was the potential solution that she was going to stick with then she had to decide which member of The Weirdo Bunch she should approach. Across the campus, on another park bench she saw a peculiar sight that being her father casually talking to Jin Ishiyama. Normally she would use the word conversation but that would only be correct if both people were communicating with each other. From her vantage point it seemed like her dad was giving him some sort of lecture or advice as the person receiving the information was simply nodding and saying one word responses. Her nosey nature prevailed and her feet began to move closer to the bench.
"Are you doing fine Jin?"
Mr. Delmas knew what significance today held for the Japanese boy and called him to this location for a brief talk. Outside of Jin's family, he was probably one of the few people in his life who knew of the pain he was going through.
Jin looked up at the cloudy sky and reluctantly nodded. Even now he was keeping everyone at a distance. It was with that sad gesture that the Kadic's principal got a good look at his expressionless eyes which were alarming hallow. There were a multitude of feelings that the man was expecting to see: anger, sadness maybe even slight joy but to see such an empty gaze chilled his bones to their core.
"I had a request from his family not to make a big deal about today's date nor the affair which happened three years ago. I think it's only fair I honor their wishes. They truly raised a remarkable student."
No reaction from the boy, him breathing from his slumped posture was the only indication that he was giving to even show that he was alive.
He tried to say something but the words were caught up in his throat. Mr. Delmas quickly held up his hand as to show that he didn't need to struggle but Jin ignored the offer.
"Was…was he the first student you lost?"
That question forced the older man to remember another tragic incident long ago, a tragedy that he thought he would never have to think of again.
"No, he wasn't. During my second year as the principal of Kadic Junior High I remember signing the release forms for a girl who had to be moved to the hospital for an extended stay. She never did get any better."
Things grew silent after that. The subject of death was something that they were both not comfortable talking about let alone share with others. Seeing as the end of their discussion was coming to a close, he decided to leave one last word of wisdom before they parted ways.
"It's good to mourn, but don't forget the people in your life who are still alive."
Without looking back Mr. Delmas made the long trek back to his office. On the way there he greeted his daughter who walked past him.
It didn't take Sissi long to figure out that her father was discussing something tragic that happened in the boy's life. Suddenly she felt guilty for contemplating using him in her schemes. Seeing the once energetic boy be reduced to this current state compelled her to lend an ear to his problems.
"Hey Jin," She greeted hesitantly. "Check out that sky eh? They said on the news so I might rain today or something like that." The questions just stumbled out of her mouth as she didn't know why exactly she was talking to him. Was it out of genuine care or was it because she was just nosey.
"I don't think Ulrich is too interested in playing Romeo."
"Wah," such a crude response did not suit her dignified nature but she was too shocked to care about her public image.
"No. No. No," she back peddled. "I was just curious to why my dad was talking to you. If you want me to leave that's ok too."
Never had Sissi seen anyone speak a single word with such sincerity in all her life. For a fleeting moment Jin lips curled to a very small smile before it morphed back to his empty gaze. She contemplated to ask him why he answered her question with a word of gratitude when a favor wasn't granted in his favor but she didn't want to ruin this precious moment.
Time passed long enough for the sun set and Jin used that as his signal that he should leave Kadic leaving Sissi alone to further ponder how could she get Ulrich involved in her play.
An electrical socket in Ms. Hertz's classroom sparked with activity and a black shadow of malice intent crept out to look for a means to dispose its enemies. In the past it sought guidance within giant schemes that involved humongous teaddybears and widespread gas leaks. Perhaps a bit of subtlety was required in order for victory to be achieved. Swifty the shadow seized control of the two tanks that were left alone where it laid dormant to plot its next move.
A medium sized silver trophy was in plain view for Mrs. Ishiyama. It was a rather modest looking award that was shaped like a cup and had two handles, a relic of her youthful days as a student in college. The trophy she was staring at was something award to her while she was taking martial arts, an activity which helped her on her path of self-discovery and romance.
Like a lot of stories of young love, the two met at college. Mrs. Ishiyama was at the gym going over her latest lessons by herself in the name of bettering herself. Living on her own, she saw how vital it was to be able to defend herself from any shady individuals who preyed on the weak.
With that resolve cemented she found herself signing up for Judo lessons after school. She wasn't too interested in competing in tournaments like her more aggressive classmates but her own abilities flourished underneath the tutelage of her instructor and she grew confident in herself. Mrs. Ishiyama's late night practice sessions became routine for her where she did everything from rehearsing her throws on a training dummy to minor conditioning. Her extra training was rudely interrupted by the boisterous yelling of a man in the adjacent room. He too was a frequent visitor of the gym late at night but trained under the school's Karate club and was quiet the capable student in his own right. His loud shouts were one of the main reasons why his mere presence annoyed her to no end. When she first began this routine she naively thought that such a detail could be overlooked; three months into the school year and her patience was now running its course. If she was to have any hope in retaining her sanity then she would have to confront this obnoxious problem head on and slam it to the floor face first.
Briskly she made her way to the other room and made her way to the other student.
She wanted to use more polite means of getting his attention but she just could not muster enough self-restraint to do so.
The Karate Student responded to the level of rudeness by being brash himself.
"Can you please keep your shouting down? You're not the only person in this building."
"Hey, aren't you the girl on the Judo team who had a match yesterday?"
"What of it?"
The brazen nature of this man was a sight to behold on its own. How dare he try to drum up a friendly conversation in this time and place! This person was loud, insensitive and…Kinda cute.
"No! Bad Brain!"
She thought to herself, luckily she caught herself in time before the blush on her face got any redder.
"I'll tell you what Ms. Judo. I've been meaning to test my skills on a grappler. You manage to take me down once and I promise you that I'll never train here afterhours when you're around."
Such an offer could not be refused. Although she was no superstar, she was also far from being a rookie who didn't know a wristlock from a wristwatch. Mr. Karate Kid over there was a great fighter and all but he was no invincible warrior.
Their match ended in five minutes with both combatants completely exhausted. The Judo practitioner managed to triumph over the Karate Kid as she pinned him to the floor with both of her hands still holding onto his gi and their faces just inches away from each other. The fight was an exhilarating one that caused her heart to beat rapidly but another emotion helped this response as well."Happy?"
Even after losing so quickly the brash student refused to humble himself.
"Why was I able to beat you so easily? I thought you would be a lot stronger than this."
"You want to know the real reason why I lost?"
She only had enough strength left to nod.
"I like you."
That was all she could say as her opponent gently placed his index finger on her lips to quiet her.
"I don't know exactly when but seeing you here train everyday motivated me to become stronger as well. I grew to admire your determination and persona drive and secretly wished that I had those qualities myself. Being with you like this is like a dream come true. Thank you."
Her cheeks turned bright red and all she could do was turn away to avoid feeling anymore embarrassed.
"With that said, are you still going to throw me out?"
Time passed by slowly for the two before another word was spoken. With an averted gaze and her bangs covering her eyes she spoke.
Flash forward to another time when the couple was in a blissful state. Happily married and settled into their new home and after their conference with their children's teacher. This would mark the second time Takeo would bring up the subject of martial arts once again.
"Apparently Master Fong is opening up a martial arts school nearby and I think it would be a great idea for us to enroll Yumi and Jin since one of them has confidence issues."
Mrs. Ishiyama pondered the idea for a moment, it had been a long time since she stepped foot inside a dojo and challenged someone to a match but feelings she experienced during that brief moment were some of her most cherished memories. Steadily she snaked her hand so that it intertwined with her husband's.
"I think it would be great."
The two smiled and the memory ended.
It was almost dinnertime at the Ishiyama household but the joyous feeling that usually came with the anticipation of a well cooked meal was nonexistent. Silently the motherly figure stood in the kitchen and began to prepare the food while her daughter and son rested in their rooms. She made her way to the rice dispenser when she heard the sound of footsteps walking past her and toward the door. Like any mother worth their salt she questioned the fleeing figure.
"Will you be back before I finish making dinner?"
It was Jin who called back to her. His reply though brief carried a lifeless air to it as she could imagine the downtrodden expression on his face.
"Mom, I need to go somewhere important."
On any other day she would do her best to prevent him from leaving the house at such a later hour but today was anything but ordinary. The path her son was walking down was filled with the misery of past regret. She knew that he was going to leave regardless of her words so the best she could do is offer him some old advice.
"Jin, have you ever heard of the tale of the Man of Song?"
The question reached his ears right when his hands gripped the doorknob.
"No I haven't."
"It was a story I read while I was in college and I think you should hear it."
Without missing a beat she stirred the noodles she was cooking and began to recite the Chinese fable.
"Once upon a time, there was a farmer who saw a rabbit run into a tree stump while he plowed his field. Not wanting to have another rabbit die the farmer put his plow down and sat on the stump to guard it."
Jin didn't need to have the story's underlying meaning openly explained to him. Its message pierced his heart and rendered him motionless, preventing him to take another step.
"The Man of Song was a great fool. Please don't be like him."
He didn't have the heart to answer back as the appointment he had was too important to be differed. Calmly Jin walked out of the door and toward the nearby bus stop. On his way out he saw Ulrich going the opposite direction.
"Sup?" Jin greeted.
The other boy was preoccupied with his own personal agenda regarding his task to make Yumi smile and almost ignored Jin's words.
"Oh" he stammered. "Are you heading back to Kadic?"
"Kinda," Jin said while smiling. "Just going out."
With a simple hand wave Jin continued his walk while Ulrich made his way to the Ishiyama's front door. Flower in hand; his fingers trembled against the wooden surface as doubt entered his mind. It had suddenly dawned on him that this would be the first time he ever paid a visit to Yumi's house. It was always something on his to-do list and he even got a few invites from as well but it was something he would put off later as he feared the repercussions.
"Oh please, don't do anything stupid Ulrich," he muttered under his breath. Once he knocks on the door in front of him, he will pass the point of no return so making a good first impression was going to be critical.
Three soft knocks were made and shortly after a gleeful voice from inside the house was heard.
"Oh it you darling! I said to myself that I knew that we couldn't stay angry at…"
The door opened causing the rest of the sentence to trail off and an awkward silence to come in its place.
"Oh sorry…ummm," the woman searched her memory for a name and seemed to remember meeting him before at school a while back. "Ulrich, right?"
A rocky start for their first real face-to-face encounter but he wasn't going to let this moment deter him from helping out his friend.
"Good evening Mam, is Yumi home. I'd really want to speak to her." Ulrich made no effort to hide the flower in his hand where it was quiet obvious to think of who would be receiving it. The entire gesture brought a smile to Mrs. Ishiyama's tired face: picking flowers, asking politely to see her daughter, she could easily tell that Ulrich was a kind boy.
"Please, come inside. Yumi is in her room upstairs so you can see her there."
Hesitantly, Ulrich climbed the staircase not knowing what kind of emotional state the Japanese girl will be in when he finally confronts her. The hardest part of his mission had already passed, now all that was left was to give Yumi the flower and the rest he will play by ear.
Ulrich held his breath and braced himself for whatever came his way.
That was the only thing Jin could think of as he rode the bus to his destination. Not too many people took the route he was currently on; combine that with the reports of potential bad weather meant that he was alone for this trip.
There was something oddly romantic about gloomy weather that always captivated Jin's imagination. When he was a child he would always stare listlessly through the window during rainy days or casually watch a withering tree during the fall. The small pitter-patter of rain drops that struck the concrete to pool at the surface was a sight that could captivate him for hours on end. The other kids growing up with him, his sister included, would make fun of him for liking the sight of raindrops and dead leaves so much but he didn't care. This was something that captured his imagination and was something fun to watch. However, it was three years ago where he truly learned about the true beauty that the rain carried.
It was the day that he met Ghai Tao Ren. The day his life changed forever.
Slowly his eyelids got heavier with each passing second. With thirty minutes still left in his trip, Jin allowed himself to succumb to his sleepiness.
Like all of his problems that arose on this day, his dream began with an argument.
"What do you mean I have to take him?!"
The scene was from four years ago when he was eleven years ago. That voice belonged to his sister pleading with their mother on the first day of school at Kadic.
"Now Yumi, you know full well that your older brother should be with you whenever you go out."
"But Ashley didn't invite Jin to her party after school! She doesn't even know him!"
Yumi was a different person when she was eleven years old. Back then she was a lot more outspoken, social and a bit bratty at times; compared to her more serious self now she seemed like a whole different person.
"We both know that's not true Yumi. Isn't she in the same martial arts class as the two of you?"
Despite her daughter's small tantrum, Mrs. Ishiyama could only smile as she tried to solve this conflict. Common fights like this were a regular occurrence between her two children. It was a fact of motherhood that she welcomed with arms wide open.
"Mooooom! This is no fair!"
"Are you afraid that your older brother would embarrass you?"
"No I'm not, because Jin doesn't do anything. He's the ultimate wallflower! He'll only make everyone there feel sorry for him!"
Jin sunk his head deeper and concentrated on eating breakfast. Like his sister, he too was a different person back then. Ever since his arrival at their new home, he had always been fearful of his new surroundings. He didn't know exactly why, but in the back of his mind lingered a thought that distrusted this new place which prevented him from getting used to his home where he felt more like an unwelcomed tourist than a certified resident.
Outside of his family, Jin had practically no friends compared to his sister who was a social butterfly. He was afraid of connecting with others on a personal level, they were part of the unfamiliar territory he settled in and therefore can't be trusted.
Mrs. Ishiyama's smile disappeared for she could not put up with her daughter's malice comments. By instinct Yumi's urge to complain vanished.
"Please honey," the scolding tone of her voice was gone as she didn't want to yell at her child anymore. "You're the only friend your brother has so please help us take care of him."
"Okay, I think Ashley will let him come if I ask." Yumi said reluctantly.
"One more thing Yumi, can you please stop calling your brother by just his name. He's older than you and should get the respect he deserves."
"Yeah by only three minutes and twenty-two seconds."
That request didn't sit too well with Yumi. Sure Jin was indeed "older" but he made no effort to act like an older brother to her. He was meek and soft-spoken, hardly the type of person who you can count on when you're in a pinch. To call him Nii-san would undermine all of the times in the past that she saved him from teasing classmates and bullies.
Jin's voice was barely audible as he felt rather uncomfortable butting into the conversation in such a manner.
Unable to deal with looking at his sister directly, Jin shifted his gaze toward the floor and nervously tapped his fingers against themselves. The whole thing made him look more like a defenseless animal or a lost puppy.
"Are you sure you don't want to go?" Mrs. Ishiyama asked him in a soothing voice. Her son carried with him a reclusive nature and emotional fragility that not too many boys his age had. She was willing to give up the world in order for him to develop the same amount of confidence and self assurance that Yumi had.
"I mean, it can be fun." For a brief while a cheerful glint danced off of Jin's eyes before he shook it off and resumed his usual sullen expression. "I'd just make everyone feel weird."
That cheerful glint was noticed by Yumi as well. While it was true that Ashley and Jin were not exactly friends, it wasn't like the two were outright hostile toward each other. They did have a few matches together and during the rare instances those two talked it wasn't a bad experience for either of them. Of course their conversations were not exactly the most memorable moments of their lives but the most important thing to remember was that they weren't bad.
"Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if Jin came."
"Yumi! Show your older brother some respect!" Her mom bellowed out.
To be honest the thought of being called such a former title from his younger sister did sit well with Jin either. He knew that he didn't deserve that much respect on account older brothers should protect their younger siblings but the reverse held true.
"It's not ok Jin. Like it or not you were born before your sister, being her older brother is not something you can just flat out ignore."
"Maybe sis can call me something else. How about Aniki…it means the same right?"
Yumi's eyes went wide. "Jin, do you have any idea what you're suggesting?!"
While Aniki was a word used out of respect for an older brother, the context in which it was used was completely different.
"I know Yumi, it's mainly used be delinquents and gang members as a way to address their bosses. That's why I suggested it."
"Did you hit your head on the way home today?!"
"Well, it's just that you don't see me much as an older brother but mom insists you call me something else other than my name. Since I'm not really a gang boss you can say this is our little joke."
There was nothing funny at Jin's attempt at humor but to Yumi Ishiyama the notion that her brother was event trying to crack some sort of witticism was so out of character that the one-liner was able to garner a positive reaction from shock value alone. Still smiling heavily, she walked acrossed the room and hugged Jin.
"Ok 'Aniki' let's think of a way we can get Ashely a good present."
The bus driver's booming voice woke Jin from his dream and he gathered his possessions from his seat one of those items being a set of flowers left on his doorstep this afternoon. The rain poured hard well into the afternoon and the sky was covered in gray clouds, a detail Jin didn't really care for. As the bus came to a complete stop, Jin placed his headphones over his ears, placed his hood over his head and walked outside into the storm.
He paid little attention to the raindrops that were soaking his clothes for all that matter now was the appointment he had to keep. With each sloshing footstep he drew closer to the large black gate that guarded the area where he was supposed to be. With a small push the rusty gate opened and he stepped onto the grounds with a sad smile on his face. Looking up Jin gazed at all the small stone monuments and simple crosses that line the Earth and was content that he was at the right place.
A sign that read Sacred Heart Cemetery confirmed this.
"Hey Ghai, I'm back."
END PART 1
Words from the Author
How's that for an obvious ending. I'm sorry for lack of updates but I realized that this chapter was going to be super long on account that I'm explain the backstory of the Ishiyama family as well as the general XANA plot of the episode. I really have no excuse for my lack of updates but I thought that I should give you this chapter to keep your appetites moist. I also apologize for the insane amount of drama in this chapter but given the tragic nature of the characters and the general plot, that was something that I couldn't avoid.
Thanks for reading.