Author's notes:

Shit, it's been a while. Almost half a year since I updated this thing last time. In all honesty, I didn't think I would have updated it again at all. I'm tangled down with a funky little mix of getting a degree in Computer Engineering, having a girlfriend, and writing five other fanfics and two original novels. (Maybe.)

And then I got a review on my other SR story, and then, by coincidence, as I was riding the bus back to my house for Spring Break, I read the most recent chapter of this story while listening to the title track of this chapter. (No cheating—gold star if you guess the artist). Everything changes at home when you come back. Seems a little bit scarier. Nobody's here anymore.

So, from that, I give you this. Please enjoy it, and thank you for reading.

Remember, in Japan, it's normal to slurp noodles. You try and eat them with chopsticks.

Oyako is short for oyako donburi, and is an old Japanese peasant recipe in which chicken, a sauce very similar (though not identical) to teriyaki, and egg are boiled and poured over rice. It's very easy to make, and quite delicious. Especially, I suppose, when Yakumo makes it.

Tomiko Van is the singer from the band Do as Infinity. When the band broke up, she went solo, and now enjoys a lesser, but still noteworthy, measure of success. (In fairness, DaI was wildly popular, which is hard to live up to.)

Nerima is a ward in Tokyo which is famous for producing many famous Manga-ka, including Rumiko Takahashi.

I'm trying out a chapter format similar to the one I use in Fake and It's So Cowardly. Tell me what you think. Additionally, I won't be splitting this chapter into halves.


The person who gave me this old guitar had said that Tokyo is scary.


Chapter five
Tokyo


One
In the bus that would take me to the station
I tried to send my friend an email
But something was different

Tokyo.

In a lot of ways, Tokyo was a lot like London. Size aside, they were both very old cities which had modernized in some sections more quickly than in others since they had been built. Some neighborhoods seemed to have stopped growing around the '30s, while others could nearly have been mistaken for a section of downtown New York. There was something about it which very much resembled nearly every other capital city on the planet, and yet there was something about it which was distinctly Japanese that had nothing to do with the architecture or layout.

Flying almost a mile above it, it almost seemed as though Tokyo had not changed. Could not change, really, but that couldn't be true, and maybe that was what made Tokyo so fucking scary.

Because Eri Sawachika knew that even in the short time she had been gone, Tokyo had changed. Hell, Tokyo changed every day. Construction, destruction, death, new life, new companies, new bankruptcies, new arcades, new movies, old movies, old streets, new subway cars, old musicians making a comeback, new musicians making a business; anything she had been used to could be gone at this point. The restaurant where they all used to gather and laugh and sometimes cry could have gone out of business and there was shit she could do about it. If she asked a student at her old school if she had ever heard of the woman who had been Eri's favorite singer while she had been in high school, could the student tell her? Would she just stare at her for a moment and apologize and keep walking? There was shit she could do about that too. Just go and pick up her compilation album and listen to it until she couldn't stand it anymore.

Fuck.

You're rambling again.

That was fine. As far as Eri was concerned, she could ramble all she wanted, editors be damned. (That was always their biggest qualm with her work—she rambled. She liked it. They thought it would lose interest in the common reader, and Eri always had to stop herself from saying, fuck the common reader, they're paying to listen to me talk, and that's exactly what they're going to get.)

In Tokyo, nobody would listen to her ramble.

That was scary too. If she didn't intend to write anything, and nobody was around to listen to her ramble, she might go insane.

If that's true, then why the hell did you bring the pen?

Really, she knew that she couldn't stay in Tokyo forever, or at least, she couldn't seclude herself like she wanted to.

Just came to start over like I did in London again. Find a shitty flat—er, apartment—and start writing again in poverty.

If that was true, you'd have moved to Hong Kong or Beijing orParis or Berlin. Any big city was fine. By moving to a big city with which you are intimately familiar, you have effectively copped out.

And so what if I fucking have? So what if I want to see my friends again?

So what if they don't want to see me again? After I just…flew off without saying anything to them.

You said something to him. That's when he gave you the pen.

Yeah.

And he was the one that first told me all about the fear. His fear.

He was right, too.

Tokyo is scary.

Eri's plane began its descent. Her stomach gave a little tumble.

Everything was different, wasn't it?

Eri looked out of the window, down at the little paper-drawing city that was slowly becoming three dimensional as they descended. She recognized none of it. All of it seemed utterly, unbearably alien to her.

Everything is different, isn't it?

Everyone is different.

Fuck.

Her cell phone buzzed in her pocket. She frowned, and dug it out, wondering as she did if it was another text from Him, wondering how she was doing or where she was or if they could maybe meet and talk over a cup of coffee and then fuck. He sent about one of those a week. She had yet to answer, but they had the redeeming quality of being annoying as hell as a selling point.

The phone number was one she didn't recognize. What was more, when she opened the phone up, the writing was in Japanese. Her phone was able to receive Japanese text messages (since she had purchased it in Japan—it was one of those things she'd have liked to replace, but couldn't have afforded to) but it took her brain a few seconds to adjust to seeing them. The kana seemed familiar—she knew them just fine, having lived in Japan for a number of years, but for some reason, she couldn't quite understa

(oh, yeah. That one is "ne")

It was strange how one little piece of information could start her brain working a certain way again. It was the nature of the human brain, really—it rarely forgot things; mostly it just locked them away in some compartment and then forgot where the compartment was. With a little prompting, one could remember things glimpsed even only in passing. Eri was very good at that, in fact; that had been one of the ways she got by in London. She knew where to find what for cheap, simply by paying attention to signs as she rode a bus or a bike.

The message read: Heard you were getting back in town. Come grab a cup of coffee with me tomorrow? –Akira

Eri read the message twice to make sure she hadn't made any errors, and then closed the phone and smiled, leaning back in her—coach-class (heresy for a Sawachika)—seat.

At least Akira hasn't lost her information network.

Even so, she wondered privately how much Akira might have changed. Whether or not she would even recognize the girl when she saw her; if she would have to start looking awkwardly at tall, skinny girls until one of them said, tentatively, "Eri? Is that you?"

Whether or not, when that happened, they would even have anything to talk about.

Eri herself had changed in appearance considerably. She was a little taller now, though not much, and skinnier. She had had a good figure when she left. She still liked the way she looked—as much, anyway, as any girl did, a statement which carried with it the natural afterthought of "except on those days"—but her breasts were no longer as full, her hips no longer as curvy, her face no longer as robust. She was skinny, but it was not so much from exercise as from too many nights eating just rice. There were bags under her eyes now that only went away when she slept a full night, which was rare.

What will Akira say when she sees me? Will she even recognize me?

For the first time in many years, she thought about calling her family and asking for money. All of a sudden, she didn't want to look like she did. She wanted to eat again; three square meals a day. She wanted to make her skin firmer again; wanted her breasts full; wanted muscle in her arms and stomach. (It was still there in her legs—she biked everywhere.) She hadn't thought about these things so intensely for years.

Does Tokyo make me self-conscious? Is it something about the people here? When I was with Eric, it didn't bother him when I got skinnier. Maybe he was into that. Into the eviscerated look. He certainly smoked enough that he had the look about him. Thought it made him look artsier. Pretentious fucking bastard.

Without thinking about it, Eri dug her fingernails into the seat and did her best to bear with the little voice, taunting her in her head: You're not over him yet, are you? You'd like him to just take you in the seat right now you'd do him for an hour and beg for more and stare out the window as he left instead and you'd love it and you wouldn't be able to wait until he came back. Cute little girl, still so in love, stupid cute little girl, looking in the mirror and pretending you're somebody again.

Eri bit her lip a little. It hurt, but it didn't bleed. The voice receded.

The plane began to land. Narita airport again, after forever.

Even Narita looked a little different. The parking lot seemed bigger, and she thought it looked like there was another road leading into it.

Without meaning to, Eri shivered.

Tokyo was scary.


Two
I remember you
It took about fifteen minutes to get Yakumo food that she could eat: Five to flag Kenta down and tell him what the deal was; five for him to stop laughing, and another five for him to actually make the food. Somehow, it seemed that the part in which he was laughing was much longer than that.

While the man working in the kitchen cooked, Harima apologized, bowing his head and rubbing his neck sheepishly, a move comfortingly familiar to Yakumo.

"I'm really sorry about that, imouto-san," he said. "I didn't even think about how weak you were against spicy foods, or…" he frowned, though her expression didn't change. "I mean, not to say that you're weak or anything, just that spicy foods did a lot of damage to you—hell, now look at me, I'm talking like I do at work."

Yakumo smiled, wondering how long it had been since she had heard Harima babble. In a way, it was almost comforting, a little piece of happier, easier days that had not left, only gone to ground for a while. Eventually, his apologetic rant died out on its own.

Unfortunately, this way, they ended up sitting, each facing the bar, not speaking to one another. Another piece of the good old days. After a few minutes, Kenta placed another bowl in front of Yakumo, winked at her, and placed a small bill in front of Kenji.

After it had cooled a minute, Yakumo picked up a noodle, blew on it, and, after a moment's hesitation, put it in her mouth, slurping the rest in quietly, almost delicately. Yakumo wondered if Kenji noticed. Probably he didn't.

"How is it?" Kenji asked without turning.

"It's very good." This was less than halfway true. She had had better ramen in many places. She wondered if he could tell this by listening to her.

Probably, he couldn't.

It was mildly depressing, but she refused to fault him for it. After all, he wasn't psychic.

The thought stung her more than it should have.

She picked up another bunch of noodles and guided them to her mouth. Again, almost no sound as she slurped them up. Nobody had ever had to train her to be a proper lady; it was just something that sort of…happened.

"So…how long have you been in editing now?" Kenji asked. He asked in the middle of one of her slurps, and her body pulled her two places at once: One towards being polite and answering immediately, and the other towards being polite and not dropping her food out of her mouth and back into the bowl.

Her solution was to hurry it as quickly as she could into her mouth, slurping loudly, trying desperately not to look at him or anybody else, and then chew and swallow without choking. She succeeded, but at the cost of what she saw as her dignity.

Without meaning to, Kenji smiled, strangely—but, somehow, endearingly—put at ease by her sudden loss of manners. "Sorry," he said with a smile which, underneath its earnestness, held a note of the hotshot he had once seen himself as. "But you don't have to worry about manners here."

"He's not kidding," Kenta shouted from the other side of the counter, apparently possessed with the ears of a bat, or at least a very talented teacher, startling Yakumo. "I'm pretty sure our last proper lady bolted sometime in the mid-nineties."

"Your wife?" Kenji asked.

"Her sister."

Kenji snorted, and, in spite of herself, Yakumo laughed too. It wasn't funny, of course; it was sad, since it was obvious he was being honest, and an admission like that was always a little sad. But at the same time, it was funny, and it confused Yakumo slightly to find that.

And why is it funny?

Because you heard it at Jump every day. Somebody got kicked out of his wife's house for drinking too much. Somebody got fired for sending in pissed-on pages, which of course meant that they had already quit. Because you lived a sheltered life, Yakumo Tsukamoto, and now you don't, and you haven't since the rat bastard.

The truth was, Kenji was as nervous as she was, and she knew it, and so did he. She didn't know if it was because of her or because of her
(it's a big bad sad world, big fat who gives a shit she'll be fine little Yakumo come back to bed)
(my god you son of a bitch, this isn't some American or whoever you hate this week, this is my)

sister, but he was nervous, and somehow that was comforting. He had been nervous a couple of times around her. She found that she enjoyed remembering those times.

Be careful, Yakumo. The world is scary, right? Big bad sad world, isn't that what he always said?

Big bad sad world, big fat who gives a shit. That's what he said.

Big fat who gives a shit. That was what he said whenever something bothered you. That was what he told you to say whenever something bothered you, to harden you against the big bad sad world, but I wonder if maybe the truth was, he was just saying it because that was what he had, a big fat who gives a shit, right in the middle of his brain.

"Harima?"

"Kenji."

Hesitation. "…Kenji."

"What is it, imo—Yakumo?" Was it really an old habit if he hadn't done it in years? Big fat who gives a shit. Give the man a while to adjust.

"If it's all right with you, may I have a beer?" What are you, his daughter? (Strangely enough, she told herself this in the same tone as the man who had first given her a big fat who gives a shit)"I mean…I'd like a beer, please."

All she got for a reply was a big, fat
(who gives a shit)

silence. Even the noise of the restaurant seemed to have died down, though she knew that this was her imagination having a giggle at her expense. She wondered if he had heard her, but she knew that since she'd entered into the literary world, she had picked up the ability to speak from her gut, which was more important than people gave it credit for.

Something strange passed over Kenji's face, a little wave that shook a big, strong boat for just a second. A look of fear, and then of disbelief. Is that gun real? That gun can't be real, you're fucking with me. Aren't you? Put it down, it makes me nervous. Put it down, man. PUT IT DOWN, or—

It passed. It had given her goosebumps.

"Sure," he said.

"I'm sorry to make you pay," Yakumo said a bit hesitantly.

"Don't worry about it," Kenji said. "I'm in this business for the money. Don't you make more than I do?"

"I'm not sure." Yakumo felt more than a bit embarrassed, and without meaning to, blushed just so. Is this really appropriate? Is he okay? "Do you want one too?"

"A paycheck? If only, sister."

Yakumo smiled appreciatively, and then said, "Are you going to get a beer too?"

Again, that look, only there for a second. Again, goosebumps.

"No," he said.

"Okay."

Kenta was watching the two of them, and approached cautiously when Kenji caught his eye and flagged him down.

"What do you need, Kenji?"

"Some damn courtesy, please," Kenji said, very obviously trying to hide the fact that he was forcing banter. "And a beer."

Kenta refused to yield to outright disbelief, but Kenta was a very careful man, no matter how he seemed. "For you?"

"For her."

"And for you?"

"Probably a new bill."

Kenta eyed Yakumo again, and then said, "On the house. Don't tell the other customers; they'll think I like you."

Yakumo, mildly alarmed, said, "You don't need to—"

"It's only one, and only because you're pretty," Kenta said with a grin, waving her off. A minute later, he had a large, frothy mug of beer in front of her.

"The paper for the bill probably costs more than the beer," Kenji murmured.

"How the hell would you know?" Kenta winked.

"Keep talking, barkeep," Kenji growled. "See how far it gets you."

"He calls me barkeep now."

"Don't you have a job?"

"Sometimes." But Kenta left them alone anyway.

All the while, Yakumo couldn't help but think there was something different about their banter from even ten minutes ago, and for the first time in many years, she found herself wishing that she could once again see those little thoughts, floating so neatly above peoples heads.

Not that I could ever see Harima's, anyway.

She raised the mug to her lips, and while the first sip was less than savory, it was cool on her throat and tongue. The second was easier to swallow.

Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Kenji watching her out of the corner of his. She wondered if, if she were still a virgin, she would be able to read his thoughts just now.

No. That's not the look he gave me. I know that look.

She put her mug down. She wasn't so thirsty after all.

They left shortly thereafter, and as he took her home on his motorcycle which was somehow less nostalgic than it had been on their way in, they said very little to each other. Kenji seemed tired, and while he was still friendly and even a bit nervous, even that was half-hearted. He seemed like a man who wanted nothing more than to get to bed.

Even so, he did his best to act like a gentleman, something which he was not so used to. He walked her to her door, and waited patiently as she fiddled absently with her keys, his eyes on her but his head somewhere so far off it might as well have been

(straight to the moon Alice)
(he loved old television, even American television I never understood that since he was so outspoken against)
(big fat who)

Something tasted funny in her mouth.

(Not quite that.)

Something tasted bad.

She found her key and put it into the lock. "Thank you for the ride," she said politely, but emptily.

"No problem. I'll see you tomorrow," he said in precisely the same way.

She tried not to slam the door since it would have meant slamming it in his face, but it was hard not to because as soon as she stepped through the doorway to her apartment building, a sudden, almost primal urge seemed to explode into being inside of her, a need to be in her room with the door locked, to be someplace safe, someplace where she wouldn't have to think about anything but what she would have for supper and what was on television that night.

Her exit was graceful, but only just.

He barely noticed. When she got her head put back together later that night over a bowl of oyako, she would wonder just why exactly she had gone so absent after they had left, and the best she could come up with was just what she had thought before:

I knew that look.

I knew it real damn well.

She tried to have another beer (actually technically her first of the day) and it didn't go over any better than it had at the restaurant. It left a bad taste in her mouth.


Three
We're all rowing a boat of fate.
It was hard for Karen not to feel a little reflective as she stepped off of the airplane and into Japan for the first time in over a year. This had been the big'un, the one that proved that they had talent and longevityand then they'd blown it. Or rather, she'd blown it

(and him)

in one stupid fucking night

(of fucking)

and now the odds were she would never work in music again. Sure, she had a shot at a career as a soloist, but even soloists had bands, and frankly, she thought it would probably be out as soon as next week that the reason they were no more was that she couldn't keep her panties on around talented musicians. That was how they would see it. She wondered if that was how her mother would see it.

She thought about it a lot as she walked towards the big exit. She was thinking so hard that when a semi-familiar blonde head of hair wandered through her field of vision, slightly thinner and less well-filled but certainly recognizable nonetheless, she didn't think twice, and neither did the other.

She thought that the logical thing to do would be to give it a week and see if anybody started knocking on her door asking if they could see the offending panties. As opposed to the innocent ones. She stifled a giggle. If nobody did, she could talk to her agent and see if she had a shot at being the second Tomiko Van. She doubted it, but she might have a shot at least at opening for somebody famous for a while.

But I don't really want that. It's just what seems natural to me. I'm just doing what I should be doing—singing and making as much money at it as I can. When did I stop writing my own songs so I could do just that?

She passed familiar-blonde a second time on her way out, but again, did not notice.

It wasn't that I was unsatisfied. I had a great time, and singing is great. Singing for lots of money is great too. I had a great time.

It's just that…

No. It was just that. She had had a great time in ritzy hotels, enormous venues, with talented bands and not-so-talented bands alike opening for her. She had seen the whole damn world and she had met people she had never thought she would meet.

And she hadn't made a single friend at it. She knew this because not one person had called her on her cell phone to ask if she was doing okay.

It was just that.

She thought that maybe she would get a good nights sleep, wait the next day for her luggage to arrive, and then maybe head on down to one of her old bars. Tokyo hadn't changed that much.


Four
Eri wondered quietly as her cab pulled out of the turnaround if she would even recognize her old high school. She did her best not to acknowledge the fact that it would likely not recognize her.

"Where to?" asked the driver as they pulled out of the sprawling airport campus.

She paused for a moment, sucked on her lip, and then said, "Do you know of any cheap hotels in Nerima?" She had only been to Nerima once, and the hotel had been quite expensive.

"Nope."

She said, "That's just fine. Drop me there."

If Tokyo was to be scary, let it be scary. She had already let one city beat her this year. Damned if she was going to make it two.

Tomorrow, she would buy a typewriter.


I always kind of just drop off at the end of a chapter. Usually I lose my momentum around that time.

But as always, thanks for reading! And, this time, waiting.