Chapter 1

Arigato, Akira

They say it is home to some of the finest heart specialists and has one of the top ten heart transplant programs in the country. Yet none of that seemed to reassure Takumi after his arrival at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania three days ago. With his surgery scheduled for the next day, he began having second thoughts wondering if he had made the right decision to go ahead with the procedure. After all, he did promise his sister, Mai, and his best friend, Akira, that he would have the surgery. He even made his sister promise to let him travel to America alone and to not worry about him. And yet he began to feel uneasy. He didn't want to be a burden on his sister any longer since she was the one who had raised and took care of him after their parents' death. She even took on part time jobs in addition to her schoolwork just to make ends meet. So if the surgery is a success, he promised himself he would take full responsibility and work to pay off his hospital bills no matter how long it took. Yet if the surgery failed, Mai would be saddled with the debt, and he certainly didn't want her to bear the responsibility; it wouldn't be fair. No, the only solution he thought was for him to pull through the operation. He just had to. Not only for his sake but also for Mai's as well. Of course, that's all easier said than done.

Staring up at the ceiling as he pondered all the possible scenarios, Takumi finally reached for the remote on his nightstand, changed the elevation of his bed so that he would be sitting upright, then turned on the television to try and take his mind off the weighty subject at hand. He made sure the volume wasn't turned up too high so as not to wake the elderly gentleman who was in the bed next to him. Scanning through the channels, he struggled to understand some of the dialogue. Oh sure, he studied the English language in school, but so far only enough to understand a few words and phrases. He kept a Japanese to English phrasebook and a pad and pen by his bed in case there were some things that he wished to communicate to the doctors and nurses. Fortunately he made sure to learn some of the most common medical questions and responses that he knew he might be asked. He also took along his English textbook so he could learn as much about the language as possible since he was definitely going to be there for awhile. Fortunately for him there were several doctors on staff as well as interns who were Japanese who could translate for him if need be. Such was the case that morning when he was briefed on the risks of the surgery.

As he channel surfed, he was disappointed by the lack of anime in this country. All he came across so far were old reruns of Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh, and he never cared for either no matter what language they were in. He finally just settled on a news channel, basically to hear the problems of other people in the world rather than deal with his own. Eventually, he turned the set off after a few minutes; the news, after all, was too depressing.

Getting out of bed, Takumi went over to the window and sat down in a chair beside it, staring out at the Philadelphia skyline. He was definitely feeling lonely and sorely missed his sister and his friends. But mostly, he missed Akira.

After a few minutes, the soft strains of the song 'Towa no Hana (Eternal Flower)' could be heard emanating from his nightstand. He awoke, having dozed off in the chair, to the beautiful melody and immediately recognized it as the theme song from the anime 'Ai Yori Aoshi' and the majestic voice was that of Yoko Ishida. As he turned to where the tune was coming from, he noticed that someone had placed a portable CD player on his nightstand. He looked around but saw no one. He then called over to his roommate on the opposite side of the curtain that divided the room and inquired, as best he could, if he had seen someone enter the room.

"Ah, sumimasen… er, excuse me. You see… ah, someone come in here?"

No reply. Surely, even if he were asleep, the music would have awakened him as well.

"Ojisan? Er, mister?"

Still no response. Perhaps he was a sound sleeper, Takumi thought. He took a closer look at the CD/MP3 player, which also had a pair of headphones laying next to it, hit the stop button and noticed through the player's window that the CD inside was not store bought but home made. He hit play again and advanced to the second track, then the third, the fourth, fifth, pausing in-between each track to listen to the beginning of each song. He recognized every one of the songs, all favorites of his. Who could have done this he wondered? The only people who really knew his taste in music were his sister and…

"Akira?" he said aloud as he drew back the curtain.

"Took you long enough to figure it out," came the response as the curtain revealed the young green-haired ninja girl who stood there with her arms folded.

"Akira!" he shouted with glee as he then threw his arms around her and gave her a big warm hug. "It's so good to see you again."

"Uh, good to see you too, Takumi," she replied a bit uneasy, causing her to turn red in the face as she was taken aback by his show of affection.

The elderly gentleman in the next bed couldn't help but smile as he witnessed the two in their embrace. Apparently he was in on the ruse when Takumi called over to him asking if he had seen anyone. Akira, who was there the entire time, had just put a finger up to her lips indicating to him not to respond. She knew he would figure it out eventually.

"But I thought we agreed that I was to do this on my own," Takumi said in a more serious tone as he released her from his embrace.

"Well, if you want me to leave…"

"No no, I'm… I'm actually glad you're here. I was getting kind of lonely."

"I figured you might, that's why I brought over the CD player and made a mix of your favorite songs. Idiot! You didn't even think to bring any music with you, just a few books and manga. You're going to be here for awhile so of course you're going to get bored. That's why I… that's… why I came. To keep you company."

"Akira-… chan. Thank you. I…" Takumi quickly turned away from her so she would not see his tears of joy.

"Um, Takumi? You might not want to turn your back on people while you're wearing that thing."


Takumi then realized that the hospital-issued gown that he was wearing didn't leave much to the imagination when it came to the backside of it. He quickly turned back around, a bit embarrassed, only to see Akira as well his roommate trying to contain their laughter.

"Mr. Tokiha? Time for your medicine," a young nurse was heard saying as she approached Takumi. Now back in his bed, with Akira seated in a chair beside him, the nurse handed him a small paper cup containing his medicine along with a cup of water. Afterwards she looked over to Akira and, realizing that she didn't speak any English, pointed to her watch and said, "Visiting hours are almost over."

Akira acknowledged by nodding her head, indicating that she understood, and then thanked her. After she left the room Akira began to get up from the chair.

"So, where will you be staying tonight?" Takumi inquired.

"I'll be at the Four Seasons, about two miles away, my father insisted. He didn't want me staying in any cheap hotels in a shady part of town. Humph, like I can't defend myself. Give me a break. Oh well, as long as he's paying who am I to complain."

"He's just worried about you that's all."

"I guess," she replied, nervously walking around to the foot of the bed. "Well ahh, I guess tomorrow's the big day. You ready?"

"Um, yeah, I suppose. The surgeon already briefed me on the risks involved such as bleeding, infection, or an adverse reaction to the anesthesia. Organ rejection is another major complication."

Akira just looked on in shock as he explained all the possible things that could go wrong in such a nonchalant manner.

"After the surgery, I'll be in the intensive care unit for about two to five days and remain in the hospital for about two to three weeks after that, that is of course if all goes well."

Akira now walked over to the side of his bed trying desperately to hold back her tears.

"Idiot, there you go again sounding all defeatist. What do you mean 'if' all goes well? It'll be fine. You've got some of the best heart surgeons in the country working here. You have to think more positively, otherwise…"

She was losing the battle trying to fight back her tears as she quickly turned her head off to the side and tried to shake it off. Regaining her composure, she turned back to face him again.

"Okay, now you listen to me," she said looking him sternly in the eyes. "No more negative thoughts, you got that? You're going to get through this and that's that. And stop worrying about what it's all going to cost. I promise you that it'll all be taken care of. You or Mai won't have to pay a cent."

"Please don't ask me to explain. Right now all you have to do is clear your mind of all-negative thoughts and just concentrate on staying alive. That's it. Will you do that for me?"

"Akira," Takumi uttered in bewilderment.

"Promise me!" she shouted back, wanting to be reassured.

"I promise."

"Okay then. Get a good night's sleep and… I'll see you in the morning."

As she slowly began to leave, she stopped for a moment when she reached the foot of the bed and then quickly turned back around, ran over to him and gave him a quick kiss on the forehead before dashing out of the room.

Takumi slowly reached up to feel his forehead where she so tenderly kissed him. He just smiled and felt strangely at ease. All of his worries seemed to vanish in an instant, his thoughts now being only those of Akira as he drifted off to sleep.

The next morning found Akira racing all around the hospital trying to find where they had taken Takumi. At the nurse's station she had a difficult time understanding them and they her. They finally tracked down a doctor of Japanese descent who might be able to help her and hopefully calm her down since she seemed to be in a state of panic.

"Hello, I'm Dr. Kaji. How can I help you?"

"I'm trying to find where they took my friend. He's scheduled for a heart transplant operation this morning. His name is Takumi Tokiha."

"Ah yes, he's been taken to the transplant unit which is in a different part of the building," he explained. "Right now they're prepping him for surgery where he is undergoing final blood tests and x-rays. After that he'll be taken to a pre-operative holding area where he will await for the final word from the heart harvesting team to proceed. Then he'll be given a general anesthetic by the anesthesiologist before being taken to the operating room."

He then proceeded to explain to Akira how to get to the pre-op holding area where she would be able to see him when they wheel him out and transport him to the operating room.

"If you'd like, I could…"

Before Dr. Kaji could finish his sentence, Akira had mysteriously vanished right before his eyes, hearing only the faint sound of her voice thanking him.

"…take you there myself," he trailed off the rest of his sentence, then wondered aloud, "Hmmm. Kunoichi?"

"Excuse me, Doctor?" one of the nurses asked as she overheard him.

"That girl? Who is she?" he inquired.

"I'm sorry, I don't know her name. I only know that she's here to see Mr. Tokiha, the boy receiving the heart transplant. By the way, Doctor, what was that word you just used?"

"Kunoichi. It's the Japanese term for a female ninja."

The nurse just gave him a peculiar look as he left and headed toward the elevator.

"Wait a minute, young lady," a nurse was heard saying. "You can't go in there."

Akira stopped as she tried to enter the pre-op holding area, then inquired, "Tokiha Takumi?"

"Mr. Tokiha is inside getting ready for surgery, but you need to wait outside," the nurse motioned with her hand, pointing down the hall.

Akira was able to understand enough of what she said, but at least knew that she was in the right place. Proceeding down the hall for a bit, she then stopped and just leaned up against the wall, keeping a close watch on the pre-op doors.

About fifteen minutes later, the doors swung open and Akira made a dash to the side of the gurney where Takumi laid unconscious.

"Takumi!" she cried, grabbing a hold of his hand as a group of doctors and nurses wheeled him down the hallway.

"He can't hear you, he's been given an anesthetic."

She refused to relent on her grip of his hand, ignoring the doctors and just continued to follow them until they reached the doors to the operating room. Releasing him, she just stared helplessly as they wheeled him inside. Visibly upset, she began to curse herself for not getting there sooner.

"Baka! Baka! Baka!" she could be heard screaming all the way down the hall, her back now collapsed against the wall just outside the operating room as her body slowly slid down to the ground, helplessly sobbing, while she held her head between her legs.

A few seconds later she felt a hand upon her shoulder. Looking up she saw the kindly doctor from before who appeared to be accompanied by another doctor. Slowly she began to get up, wiping the tears on her sleeve.

"Are you Akira?"


"Is your name Akira?"

She wondered how he knew that since she never told him her name before. She then acknowledged, "Yes, it is."

"This is Dr. Ackerman. He's the Chief Cardiovascular Surgeon. He'll be performing the operation on your friend. He wanted me to tell you that Takumi had a message for you."

"A… a message?"

"Yes. Just before he went under the anesthesia, the last thing he could be heard saying under his breath was, 'Arigato, Akira.'"

Hearing that really struck a nerve with Akira as she broke down crying. Grabbing a hold of Dr. Kaji and holding him, her tears were soon quickly absorbed by his scrubs. He tried to comfort her as best he could, having experienced this numerous times before by other patients' family members, yet never quite like this.

"It's okay, he's in good hands. Dr. Ackerman will take good care of him."

As she released him from her grip and once again wiped the tears on her sleeve, she heard Dr. Ackerman explain a few other things to Dr. Kaji about Takumi, not that she understood what he was saying, but only that she heard Takumi's name in the conversation. She then noticed a look of amazement on Dr. Kaji's face.

"What? What did he say?"

"He said that when he saw Takumi this morning he was in very high spirits and had a very positive attitude, unlike the previous times that he had met with him where it appeared that he didn't seem to care what happened to him. Did you happen to say something to him yesterday that may have had an effect on his outlook on life? Dr. Ackerman seems to think so, and frankly, so do I."

"Me?" Akira said in wonder, then thought back to the night before. "Well, I may have said a few things but I…"

"Well, whatever you said to him may have greatly improved his chances of pulling through this surgery."
"Really? But how can that be?"

"You see, Akira, Dr. Ackerman and others like him believe that if a patient has a positive attitude before going into surgery, they have fewer complications. But if they are depressed and have negative feelings, they'll usually have a more difficult time. I've seen some people who were so depressed about their condition that they believed they would die in the hospital. Having a bad heart and being depressed is a deadly combination. Yet, just having someone there to share the experience with can help shake that depression."

Akira was simply speechless as she stood there with her mouth agape.

"Now don't get me wrong, this is still a very complicated procedure and there can be no guarantees of survival. However, like I said, the things you may have said to him as well as just your being here for him may greatly improve his chances. And that's all that we can really ask for isn't it? A chance?"

Akira smiled as she nodded and felt somewhat reassured.

"Takumi's lucky to have a friend like you, Akira. Arigato."

Dr. Ackerman then came up to Akira and placed a comforting hand upon her shoulder, giving her a kindly smile as he too acknowledged, "Arigato, Akira."

Watching as Dr. Ackerman disappeared through the double swinging stainless steel doors into the operating room, Akira then realized at that moment that Takumi's fate rested in that man's hands.

"You okay?" Dr. Kaji inquired.

"He… he's good, right?" her eyes continuing to fixate on the shiny metal objects. "Dr. Ackerman I mean."

"One of the best."

"Then… I guess it'll be alright then," she reasoned, now gradually turning around to face him and attempting to smile.

"I promise you, Akira, we'll take good care of him."

"Yeah, I know."

"Good. Now do you think you can find the waiting room by yourself? It's just down the hall and to the right. I'd take you there myself but I need to get ready for surgery."

"You mean… "

"I'm going to be assisting Dr. Ackerman today. And afterwards I'll be in charge of Takumi's recovery. I tried to tell you earlier but you kind of disappeared rather abruptly before I had a chance to."

"Oh, yeah. I apologize for that. It was rather rude of me. I'm sorry."

"It's okay, it's perfectly understandable. Now just try and relax. Dr. Ackerman or myself will let you know as soon as Takumi is out of surgery. I'll see you in a couple of hours, okay?"

After the doors had closed behind him, Akira slowly made her way down the long corridor. Pausing after a few feet, she turned back to face the operating room and quietly uttered, "Gambatte, Takumi. Gambatte." (Good Luck)