Later that first afternoon, Otousan calls the two of us down to the kitchen. By the look on his face and the way he held his hands on the table, I can tell he'd done some serious thinking, and whatever he was going to say was really important. Looking both of us in the eyes, first Hikaru then myself, I can feel him measuring us, and when he nods I know he's found what he was looking for.
"I've decided," he says slowly, in that deep, contemplative voice people get when they're talking about something extremely grave, "what story we will use to explain Hikaru-chan." He used the affectionate honorific! That's a really good sign! "Luckily, your mother never went in for sonograms after the first one revealed that she might not survive giving birth, because she didn't want to be frightened out of having her child. After the fact, I always lamented that decision, because it might have shown a way to keep her healthy, but in this case it works to our advantage. There's no good way to prove she didn't have twins, nor would anyone have known about it.
"I passed out during the delivery, and your mother was under anesthesia, so neither of us knew she'd had twins. When I went to see Tsubasa-chan, they gave her to me and I left. Nobody mentioned we'd had twins, so I didn't ask for Hikaru. After a while, when no one came to claim her, they discovered that no one had even given her a name, so she was set up as a ward of the state. Because of the crowding, Hikaru was sent to a different part of Tokyo, and later to Hokkaido. Hikaru ran away from the orphanage shortly after getting moved, and was found by an old hermit woman who lives out it the hills. You two met while Tsubasa was hiking, and realized you must be twins. The old woman told Hikaru to go with Tsubasa, because she was very sick and wouldn't last much longer, and she wanted to die peacefully in the mountains she loved. So Hikaru has no records because she can't remember where the orphanage is, and the woman wore bandages around her face to hide her illness."
I nod. It's not very complicated, which makes it easy to remember, and it's vague enough no one will question too deeply. Discovering a long-lost twin you never knew you had sounds like a good reason for us to be so close to one another. But there's just one problem. "What about Shin-ojisan and the rest of the ranch? Won't they want to go help the old woman?"
Hikaru-chan screws up her face and gets tears in her eyes. "Obaachan said she didn't want help, she said that's why she left in the first place." I grin as she lets out a small sob. "She wanted to get by on nothing but her own strength, and now its run out."
I applaud her happily. "That was really convincing, Hikaru-chan! Just like the play we did last year."
Hikaru blushes, and says, "You were better, Tsubasa-chan. Sometimes, I forgot it was just a play!"
Otousan chuckles. "Also, we're going to have to get new papers for Hikaru-chan. If anyone says we should try and track down the orphanage, I'll just say they can go ahead and try, but I don't care what they find. For now, though, it's time for dinner. We're going to the main house so I can start getting our story set up, okay?"
We both nod, and I take Hikaru's hand. She seems really nervous, but I can understand why. This time, we've got to lie our way past the whole world, and we don't have DD's supercomputer to make the right stuff appear in the government files.
Surprisingly, the first thing out of Sakura-san's mouth upon meeting Hikaru-chan is, "I knew something funny was going on when I saw you running around this morning!" Hikaru and I both blush. After a stammered explanation that we were trying to sneak back so we wouldn't have everyone staring at us until we got a chance to talk to Otousan, she nods and settles back down. Hikaru gets a lot of sympathy hugs, but she just keeps saying she's glad she's finally back where she belongs. At one point, she mentions having dreams about me, and it strikes me that it might not be a bad idea to keep to that line of thought. The only other set of twins I ever met, back before we moved to Hokkaido, seemed like they were the same person in two bodies. Maybe some degree of mental link could be explained away by our connection? It would get past awkward questions if Hikaru or I slip up and reference something we shared.
We sit together, talking animatedly throughout dinner, swapping 'stories' about our respective pasts. Hikaru-chan has a good enough imagination to talk about life in the woods, while I relate some of our shared memories of Tokyo from before we met. Everyone else just smiles at us, seeing two girls getting to know each other for the first time and trying to share everything, when in reality we are just laying the foundations of our cover story.
Soon, it's time for us to go to bed again, and neither of us minds that we have to curl up on the same mattress. Hikaru-chan likes to sprawl out a lot, but I don't mind. A few times, I wake up in the night, panicked and worried that it was all a dream, but Hikaru-chan is right there, and I calm back down. By morning, I'm not really well rested, but I'm ready to go home. Otousan has borrowed the phone to make some calls to a doctor in Tokyo so Hikaru can get a full physical, and the legal counsel we use to handle some things around the shop. One of our customers tried to sue us when she burned her tongue on a sweet roll, but Otousan argued that he had warned her it was fresh from the oven and the filling would be very hot unless she let it cool first, so in the end it was her fault. The judge threw out the case, and that was that.
We have a short breakfast with the rest of the ranch, and I get several goodbye hugs and a lot of admonishments to come visit more often. Hikaru-chan gets a lot of condolences on the loss of her foster grandmother, and invitations to come back and visit any time. It isn't long before we're on the train again, and talking more about Tokyo. Hikaru-chan is really anxious to get to see the city for herself, and Otousan ends up promising to take us around to see some of the sights later, after Hikaru is officially 'back in the family.'
Almost the moment we get off the express train early that afternoon, we're boarding a bus headed for the small clinic Otousan and I visit when we're sick. Hikaru-chan is staring around at the sights, no doubt comparing them to my memories of Tokyo from before we met in Hokkaido. By the time we reach our stop, my twin has developed a permanent 'tourist stare' and I can't help giggling to myself. Inside, Otousan greets the receptionist, who tells us to move to the back, since we're expected and Michael-sensei isn't busy. Michael-sensei is a doctor from America, and he once told me that he used to be a medic for their Embassy. He met his wife, Chiharu-san, while he was here, and decided to stay and work in this clinic. He's a very nice, gentle person, and he also helped do the initial health inspection on Otousan's shop, which is how he became our physician.
When we reach the exam room, Hikaru-chan looks like she's finally realized where we are and what we're doing, and she looks really nervous. I take her hand in mine and smile, and she manages a tiny smile of her own in return. Otousan is explaining the situation to Sensei, who is nodding and looking at Hikaru-chan. When Otousan is done, Sensei tells Hikaru-chan that he'll need to take a little bit of blood, so they can do tests for diseases, and give her a full physical exam. Hikaru-chan pales at the second of those, and looks to me, then Otousan. Otousan laughs, and says he'll wait outside until the exam is done.
The blood work gets done quickly, while Hikaru-chan and I chat about nonsense so she doesn't look or think about the needle. When the two little vials are capped and sent off to the lab, Hikaru-chan fidgets her way through the physical exam. It's all the usual things: measurements, weight, breathing and pulse, reflexes, and ears, nose, eyes, and throat. Hikaru has some impressive reflexes, both passive and active, but we were surprised that she weights the same as me. Later, she told me that even though she mimicked a human body perfectly, the extra metal content in her cells should have made her much heavier. It wasn't something we'd ever bothered to check before her disappearance, so I just waved it off with "Nothing about you is normal or expected, why should this be different?"
We both got a laugh out of that.
Otousan gets called back in right after the exam is done, and Michael-sensei tells him that we'll need to wait for the rest of the blood work to be finished, but otherwise Hikaru-chan is one of the healthiest children he's ever examined. Then he asks to take a small sample of blood from me as well. As a favor, he's going to have both samples sent to a genetics testing lab where he knows some people. Normally they do paternity tests and such, but he thinks that comparing the two of us might help prove that we're twins. With a laugh, he says that some people might think we're clones instead, but most people will accept the logical answer. Hikaru and I manage to hide our nervousness at him guessing so close to the truth.
Now that I think about it, 'clone' is probably a pretty good description for Hikaru-chan.
He also suggests getting an appointment for Hikaru at a dentist for the next time I have to see one. He didn't see anything wrong with her teeth, but that isn't his specialty. Otousan thanks him for the advice, promises to make an appointment, and we leave with a fair-sized folder of paperwork. Otousan called his lawyer last night, and he has a free hour to meet with us coming up. The bus route doesn't take us near the office in time, and the subway doesn't have a line running in that direction at this time of day, so we're forced to walk. I don't really mind, I got used to hiking a lot when we lived in Hokkaido and I've been trying to keep doing it here in Tokyo. Hikaru-chan has twice my stamina easily, and she's too busy gawking to notice being tired. Otousan looks a bit worn, but I suspect he's putting up with it for my sake. It's not nearly as cold down here in Tokyo as it was up north, so we're dressed in lighter jackets than most of the people around us. I'm not sure Hikaru-chan can even feel the cold anyway, but she always bundled up for appearances sake before.
It's a long walk, almost half an hour, and by the end of it Otousan is pretty tired. We stroll into the lobby of a tall office building, one of the larger skyscrapers in this district, and Otousan smiles at the receptionist sitting behind the main desk. After a short conversation, and a phone call to check with the man in question, we're given visitor badges and told to go up to the twenty-second floor.
Tanaka Hiro-san greets us when we reach the floor. He's a junior member of the larger law firm, but he has his own office, and ushers us inside. Otousan shakes his hand, and smiles as he takes a seat in one of the comfy chairs nearest the desk. Hikaru-chan and I sit off to the side, further back. Otousan hands over the folder of papers, and at the bidding of Tanaka-san, relates our story to him again. Tanaka-san looks fascinated, and keeps glancing over at the two of us. When Otousan is finished--with all the embellishments and details, its half an hour to tell it all--the other man sits back in his chair, folds his hands, and looks over to me.
"Well, it's quite a story, almost unbelievable," he says. I swallow nervously, and I can feel Hikaru-chan's tension from our joined hands. "But given the physical evidence, I don't think anyone would disbelieve you. Unless you believe in aliens, or some sort of supernatural oddness, there's really no other explanation for two people looking so alike." I breathe a small sigh of relief, as does Hikaru-chan. After all, both of those are probably true, even if no one really believes it. "If the blood work comes back like you think it will, no one will argue with you at all. Until then, just make sure to bring both of them with you when you go to the Records Office. I'll do some digging in the orphanage records, but even assuming I can find something in the system, it likely won't matter. Let me make photocopies of all this to send out to the right people. I'll get the ball rolling on new identity papers from here, and give you a call when I'm ready to have you come finish signing off on it all."
Otousan nods, smiling again. I can't help but wonder what we'll do in the meantime. "What about registering Hikaru-chan for classes at school? Won't they want to see some records or something?" I don't think either of us could handle being apart for the entire school day. Even if we aren't put in the same class, at least we could see each other in the halls at lunch. Actually, missing a whole year of school might put a serious damper on Hikaru-chan's academics.
Tanaka-san nods, obviously taking my question seriously. He probably noticed my worry, and interpreted it as worry over my new sister's recent loss, not fear of her disappearing. "It would probably be best if you register her today. It isn't that late in the afternoon yet, and I'll call ahead and let them know to expect you. At your age, I doubt they'll ask too many questions. Just be sure to mention that Hikaru-san has not had any formal educating, but is well learned enough to hopefully test into the same grade as her sister. I'm sure they won't mind administering some placement testing today or tomorrow."
Otousan works out a few more trivial details, and we're on our way to the school. Otousan is still a bit winded from the other walk and all the talking he had to do, so we get on a bus again and head off to my primary school. The designers must have been pretty uninspired, or dead tied on choosing a name, because it's named 'Atago Elementary' after the nearby Atago Shrine. Then again, that's where Reiko-chan lives, so it's not all bad. The school building itself is on the outermost edge of the Shiba District, and closer to the more upscale apartment developments. The only reason I attend there instead of one of the less prestigious schools in Shiba is that it's less than two blocks from our shop/home. The rich kids have a really hard time with the fact that I'm near the top of my class, despite being 'not as good'. If they're so amazing, why are they in a big public school instead of one of the private academies in Abazu? It's barely five minutes away on the subway, if you know what lines to take.
Regardless, when we get off the bus I can see that school hasn't let out for the day yet. Otousan seems to have recovered a bit, and Hikaru is still bouncing about with her boundless energy. Maybe we should go and visit Reiko-chan once school is over. I bet Hikaru-chan would love to visit the tallest hill in Tokyo!
My plotting is interrupted by our entrance into the school building itself. Otousan makes his way to the office, the two of us trailing behind while I point out various things about the school. The new building is five floors tall so that it can be narrower and take up less space on the ground, which gives us room for our own pool and an athletic field in addition to the ridiculously large playground. First grade has smaller classes, and takes up the entire first floor. Second and Third grade share the second floor, Fourth grade is on the third floor, with Fifth and Sixth grade on the floors above those. The top two floors have science labs and other specialized areas in them, along with the computer labs and the school's reference library. Apparently, the school board didn't think we needed to have personal reading material close at hand, but the reference books filled with information that we can easily look up on the computers were somehow important. Adults are so weird.
Unlike some places, the central office of Atago Elementary is actually central in the building, up on the third floor and on the back side of the building near the middle. The teacher's lounge is right across from it, with some of the club rooms and activity areas flanking them. Supposedly, it's so that it's a shorter walk for the students on the fourth and fifth floors to get something from the office, but I can't help noticing that the view out the back windows, facing the Shrine, is one of the best in the school: high enough to see the entire grounds, but not so high you can't make out what's going on. And the only elevator in the school is right next to the principal's office.
The receptionist at the desk is a nice elderly woman I've spoken to on a few occasions. Her name is Asahina-san, according to the sign on her desk, but most of us students call her Obaachan when we're not talking to her. She seems to know the names of everyone at the school, so its no surprise she greets me with, "Back early from your trip, Shiina-chan?" Then, as Hikaru-chan steps out from behind Otousan to look around some more, I can see the old woman's mind lock up, an expression of surprise on her face. For a long moment, she doesn't say anything, until Hikaru-chan and I both giggle at each other. Otousan rolls his eyes, and steps forward. "Asahina-san, I need to register my other daughter for classes. There's some... special circumstances about her."
Asahina-san blinks rapidly, then recovers herself. "So I can see. I wasn't aware you had twins, Shiina-san?"
"Neither was I, until yesterday." Otousan's reply seems to have knocked her back off balance again. "Like I said, special circumstances. My barrister should have called you earlier to explain a bit?" His tone is questioning, and I wonder briefly if Tanaka-san forgot to call. That thought is dispelled when Asahina-san nods. "Oh yes, I recall now. It was all a bit confusing on the phone, but seeing the pair of them, it makes more sense. You found your long-lost daughter in Hokkaido?" Otousan nods, and Asahina-san continues. "I transferred the call to the Principal, Juuyo-kouchou. He will have to handle this. I'll let him know you've arrived."
Shortly, we're ushered into a separate office in the corner, where Juuyo-kouchou stands to greet Otousan. "Well, I see that Tanaka-san was telling the truth about your twin situation. Bit of bad luck, not knowing you had a second daughter out there, Shiina-san."
Otousan nods, taking a seat after Kouchou sits back down. "No one was more surprised than me, Juuyo-kouchou. Imagine coming back from a meeting to find out your daughter has found a stray, except it turns out to be a person! If they weren't so alike, I wouldn't have believed it either." He hands over the sheaf of papers in the folder, and Juuyo-kouchou flips through them. "You say you're already working to establish her identity?" Kouchou asks. At Otousan's nod, he puts down the pile and looks over at the two of us. "Well, given the circumstances, I see no reason to wait to enroll Shiina Hikaru-san. A few of the staff members are already done with their classes for the day, so I'll have one of them proctor her assessment test. This young, it's not quite so long and comprehensive as it would have to be in junior high. And Tsubasa-san's class has the only open seat in her year, so if all goes well, they should be in the same class. I would have preferred to do that anyway, I'm sure both of them will need the support of each other." I nod happily, smiling, while Hikaru-chan does the same. Being together is definitely best, especially for me. Kouchou adds, "I expect you to work hard to help get your twin caught up on her work if she is lacking, Tsubasa-san." I nod again. I don't really trust myself to say anything just yet.
"There is one more thing," he adds. "While everyone is getting used to the idea of two of Shiina-san, I would like the both of you to make an effort to make it easy for the teachers and students to tell you apart, and tell which one is which. I can see that Hikaru-san wears her hair up, but if you could, say, have one wear reds, oranges, and yellows, and the other wear greens, blues, and violets, it would be a big help to everyone. Just for the first few weeks," he adds as we both look at him as though he were insane, "until your teachers have learned the other differences in your personalities. They have enough students to confuse as it is, I'm afraid." He turns to Otousan with a slow shake of his head. "Just last week one of my staff came in and had confused one of her boys with another lad that looked nothing like him!"
Otousan laughs, and so do Hikaru and I. After all, it is pretty funny! Otousan fills out some paperwork, and Kouchou calls up one of the off-duty teachers to give Hikaru her test in one of the club rooms that's empty right now. I'm allowed to sit in the room, but not talk. The test is fairly long, and it's the end of the school day when Hikaru-chan finally finishes. Luckily, the entire test is one of those fill-in-the-bubble types, so it's easy to grade, except for one portion that tests handwriting. Hikaru's history was barely a pass, and her literature is awful, but she got a nearly perfect score on the other sections. Her handwriting is better than most typewriters, but she tells me after the test is over that she deliberately messed up some of the problems so she wouldn't stand out too much. After checking the scores, the teacher, one I haven't met before, says that the results are good enough to place in fifth-grade class, but she expects her to work to catch up on the subjects she didn't do well on. Not surprisingly, those are the two subjects I was worst at before I lost Hikaru-chan and threw myself into my class work to fill some of the empty hours. Lacking sufficient memories to draw on, and having missed nearly all of fifth grade, it's obvious she'd have trouble with the subjects that can't be done purely on logic.
I shake off that train of thought. It's a good thing I stated taking those subjects seriously, because now I can tutor Hikaru. Of course, being part-computer gives Hikaru an edge in math and science, and she's always been ahead of me there.
It'll be really nice to have her check my homework again.
Otousan finishes the paperwork to enroll Hikaru-chan a little while after the final bell rings to signal the end of classes. We walk out of the central office just in time to see a black-haired girl with brown eyes coming out of the teacher's lounge. Reiko-chan must have been on duty today, and was taking back the class logbook! She turns away without really seeing us, so I call out to her. "Reiko-chan! Are you done with your stuff?" She probably is if she took the book back, but it's just a way to grab her attention.
Amatsu Reiko's hair goes down to her waist, and she usually wears it loose unless she's doing duties at the Temple, so it swirls around her as she turns to face me. "Tsubasa-chan, welcome ba-" Oops, she spotted Hikaru-chan. This ought to be interesting. She's looking back and forth between us now, me smiling and Hikaru-chan looking more nervous, but Reiko's jaw is hanging wide open. For a moment, her mouth works as though she wants to say something, but no sound comes out. Finally, I turn to Hikaru-chan and stage whisper "I think we broke her, Hikaru-chan."
Hikaru-chan giggles, and Reiko snaps out of her confusion. "There's two of you!" she shouts. We both laugh at that, and even Otousan chuckles. I wipe a tear from my eye, I was laughing so hard, and straighten myself up. "I suppose I should introduce you two. Reiko-chan, I'd like you to meet my long lost twin sister, Hikaru-chan. I found her while I was out hiking this weekend." Hikaru-chan bows politely, and says, "It's a pleasure to meet you, Reiko-san. Tsubasa-chan has told me good things about you."
Reiko continues to stare for a moment longer, before she bows in reply. "It's nice to meet you too, Hikaru-san." Then she straightens up, and I turn to Otousan. He looks really tired, and it's been a pretty long day. "Otousan, can we go hang out with Reiko-chan for a while? We'll be back for the dinner rush." Otousan nods, and adds, "Make sure Hikaru-chan doesn't get separated from you, Tsubasa-chan." I nod, and Otousan walks down the hall to the stairs, while I grab Hikaru-chan's hand. The halls are empty now, and except for the teachers, no one else is here. I turn to Reiko-chan, and say, "You want to go sit at the Temple? I'd like to show Hikaru-chan around some today."
Reiko-chan still looks confused, but she nods. "Uh, sure! Let's go." It's a long walk to get to the steep stairs to the shrine, but almost the moment we cross the Torii gate onto the temple grounds, Reiko turns to stare at Hikaru-chan again.
"Um, I don't really want to pry, Tsubasa-chan..." she says slowly, not taking her eyes off Hikaru-chan.
I blink, and turn to look at Hikaru-chan. Does she really see something? "What's wrong, Reiko-chan?"
"There's no real easy way to put this, but..." Reiko-chan trails off again, now squinting at Hikaru-chan and moving side to side so she can look at Hikaru-chan from different directions.
"Reiko-chan, is this one of those Miko things?" I ask. "Because I can explain, probably."
Reiko doesn't take her eyes off Hikaru-chan as she replies to me. Her words stop me cold.
"Why does Hikaru-san glow like a kami?"
Kouchou: principal Sensei: a teacher, doctor, or other professional
Shiba District, Minato Ward: Shiba is a district in the Minato Special Ward of Tokyo. Tokyo has 23 'special wards,' and the Minato ward contains attractions like Tokyo Tower, several shopping districts, and is also the location of the Abazu ward, home to Takeuchi Naoko and the basis for the fictional setting of her Sailor Moon series. Check out 'Minato Ward, Tokyo' on Wikipedia for more information.
Atago Shrine: Atago shrine is famous for its ridiculous number of stairs, and for being the tallest hill/mountain in Tokyo. The shrine itself was constructed to protect the residents from fires, and it's formerly wide view (before the skyscrapers) provided an excellent lookout for fires in the rest of the city. As such, the main Shinto god worshipped here is the fire god Homusubi no Mikoto. Other gods worshipped are also Mizuhanome no Mikoto (a god of water), Ooyamazumi no Mikoto (a god of mountains) and Yamato Takeru no Mikoto (a god of military).
Part of the delay on this fic was due to research. One of my biggest pet peeves is when authors decide to do a crossover, or even just a regular fic, and completely destroy the geography of Japan. The biggest offenders are Ranma/Sailor Moon crossovers that assume Juuban and Nerima are nearby. The Nerima Ward is on the opposite end of Tokyo from the Minato Ward for crying out loud! So to avoid doing the same, I scoured Wikipedia for almost a week, picking out locations and discarding them until I found someplace that would work. Atago Shrine is a real Shinto shrine located in Shiba district, and while I can't read Japanese, Google translations will hopefully allow me to get enough information on it to work with. I couldn't find anything on elementary schools or even junior highs in the area, so I had to make that one up. And since I can't find a complete map of the entire Minato Ward in English, I'm going to have to guess on a few other things for now. As more information is uncovered, I may have to go back and make corrections to other chapters, so from this point on, all chapters are subject to change. I put a note up on my profile page when that happens.
The other part of the delay is because at the very beginning, I was throwing around ideas left and right trying to come up with a plausible excuse for Hikaru's presence. The anime got to skip that issue thanks to a silly plot device, but in the real world--such as it is in a fanfic--people can't just appear out of nowhere. I'm not sure we ever got an actual date for when Figure 17 was supposed to occur, but given the cell phone Hikaru carries, it's fairly recent. So it's likely that an electronic record might exist somewhere, but the paper trail could still be too difficult to track down. Assuming the blood work theory, (we never saw either of the twins get injured during the normal part of the series, so I'm not sure Hikaru even bleeds) that could be used to prove identity, but we still need a cover story. I have a list of thirty-some ideas that got thrown out as too implausible or too easily disproved, before I settled on this one. It's improbable, but not so unlikely as to raise a red flag. After the research was done, it took me four days to write everything that wasn't the first four paragraphs of this. The rest of the time was re-writing those first few sections.
I do enjoy writing this, and now we get to have some fun with the subplot! Yay! And now that I've got an area established, and I know vaguely what's nearby, I can do all sorts of fun things with both the dramatic over-plot and the evil-spirit fighting subplot. And when I was picking places, I pulled Atago Shrine off a list of shrines in Tokyo with full temple grounds. At the time, I didn't even realize this gave me an opportunity for a typical 'showdown at Tokyo Tower' scene. Now that I realized where I am, I feel kind of obligated, since it's somewhat of a tradition in anime to blow up the tower at least once, but I'll probably skip on that. At least since Minato Ward is popular with tourists and has a fair-sized gaijin presence, I shouldn't have any trouble finding places to use as settings. We'll just have to wait and see what develops.
I also managed to get my hands on the Figure 17 manga while writing this chapter, and it appears I may have made an error with regard to Tenmaru the dog. In the manga, it is made apparent that Tenmaru belongs to Tsubasa's family, not the ranch. I'm not going to retcon this, since having a dog living above a bakery can lead to all sorts of health-code violations. It works better if Tenmaru isn't living with the Twins, and I'm sticking strictly to the anime for this story.
I'm afraid my readers can expect a similar delay on the next chapter. My full-time job as a codemonkey is entering a critical production phase, so free time to type is going to be in flux for a while.