The worst part of college was not the homework. It was not the classes. It wasn't being far from home, or even the taste of the cafeteria food, which occasionally reminded Shuu of the pictures in his anatomy textbooks. It wasn't noisy neighbors or obnoxious roommates or the people who tried to get away with smoking cigarettes outside his dorm window. No, the worst part of school was standing in line.
Shuu sighed and looked down at the piece of paper he held in his hand. He was about to sign up for his sophomore year second semester courses, and if this was what he was going to go through for the next two years, he thought he was lucky he lived in a medical family, because he was going to get ulcers. Signing up for classes was nothing short of a catastrophe for a quiet, thoughtful boy who disliked crowds. The procedure was simple enough on paper: all he had to do was select a certain number of courses from a list of available classes that was handed out a week or so in advance. The matter was only slightly complicated by the fact that he had to take a certain allotment of different courses of studies - a few fine arts, a few writing classes, a few science courses. Add in the fact that he did want a few credits toward his major sometime soon, and he was left with a juggling act trying to get everything down into the small amount of time he had on his hands.
Even that wasn't the worst, however. The worst was having to stand at the end of a line that stretched all the way around a building, waiting to get to a registrar with a computer who could get him officially signed up. He had already been in line a half hour, his mind filled with dreadful imaginings of his classes he wanted being filled up, so that by the time he got to the front of the line, nothing he wanted would be left, and he'd be forced into taking a bunch of random and probably unsuitable courses. The idea gave him the jitters. What if he couldn't get all the credits he needed? What if he never got into any medical classes at all? What if he never got the education he wanted and got stuck in some totally inappropriate career for the rest of his life because he was stuck at the end of a line?
Very slowly, the line inched forward, and he stood on his tiptoes to see if he could spot the whiteboard that had been set up at the front of the line (where it did nobody any good, he thought bitterly) to show what classes had been filled. He cursed his poor eyesight; he'd been running late that morning and had forgotten to put on his glasses. The markings on the board were nothing but blue blurs against the white.
"I can't see," he complained to the boy in front of him. "What does it say?"
"A bunch of stuff," was the informative reply. "What classes have you got? I'll tell you if they're marked or not."
He checked his list, the five classes he desperately wanted. He didn't want to think about the complications he would get into if they weren't available.
"Quantative reasoning," he read.
"Second level Japanese History?"
"Most people aren't crazy enough to take more than one level."
"All right, all right, so I'm crazy. How about the Film class?"
"Good, I needed another fine art, and that's the only thing that looks interesting," he answered. "Just need my writing requirement... I guess Expository Writing is still open, too?"
His helper glanced at the board again. "Nope. Sorry, man, that one's filled."
"Ack!" Shuu beat his head against the wall. "What am I going to do now? I still need another writing credit!"
"What'd you take last time?"
"Some literature class. I didn't do very well. Man, I hate writing classes," Shuu sighed. "All those boring old books by dead people... All right, any idea what's still open?"
The boy checked the board again. "Looks like... Intermediate Creative Writing, Romantic Poetry, and Literature 103."
"Great," said Shuu. "I'm sooo going to flunk this semester..."
"If I were you, I'd go for Lit 103," said a girl behind him helpfully.
"But I'm no good at Literature!" Shuu protested.
"Are you good at creative writing and romantic poetry?" asked the boy.
"Then what's your other option?"
Shuu sighed. "I see your point."
"You'll like Lit 103," said the girl. "I took it last semester, and it was a blast! Professor Takenouchi's an awesome teacher. It's a fascinating subject."
"What is?" asked Shuu. "Don't tell me a bunch of moldy old novels are interesting."
"Oh, it's not moldy novels, I'll tell you that," she said.
"Then what is it?"
"Check the board," the boy answered.
Shuu looked up. While they had been having their discussion, the line had been moving steadily closer to the front of the line, close enough that he could finally see what was written on the board. He raised an eyebrow.
"Okay, that's different," he said. "Better than romantic poetry, anyway. Where'd I put my pen?"
He dug through his pockets and took out a pen. With a long black stroke, he marked out the nonfiction course, consigning it to the way of lost hopes. Then, with an uneasy feeling in his stomach, he took the plunge and wrote in the course code for Literature 103. For better or for worse, he would spend the next few months taking a course on Folklore and Mythology.
The first few days of new classes were always interesting. Shuu had taken a nice, relaxing midterm break, proudly telling his father about his grades in biology, conveniently forgetting to mention how he'd gotten trapped into a course on ghouls and goblins in his second semester. He knew his father would be scornful. He'd managed to convince his father the courses in film and photography were necessary, as his school insisted he take a few fine arts credits, but what could anyone possibly hope to learn in a class full of fairy tales? Well, he would coast through it - it was bound to be easy enough - let the grade boost his already impressive GPA, and then get back to Anatomy and Biology and all the other real studies.
Now, however, he was stuck here, looking around the classroom where he would spend every other afternoon until the end of the school year, trying to get a feel for the kind of people he'd be working with. He was not surprised to see a few school athletes, hoping for an easy "A". Neither was he surprised to see the usual allotment of nerdy-looking types, though he had never felt any scorn for them since he came so close to fitting the category himself. Standing out in the crowd were a girl all in black leather and chains, and a boy with his hair dyed a brilliant purple with a ring in his nose. Quite a few of them were looking eagerly toward the door, as if expecting something wonderful to happen at any minute.
"What's up?" asked Shuu, getting the attention of the girl next to him, a serious-looking creature with long dark hair and braces.
"Waiting for Mr. Takenouchi to show up," she answered. "I took a course with him on Greek classics last semester, and it was just wonderful. Professor Takenouchi is wonderful... he's always late, though," she added with a laugh. "He's a little absent-minded sometimes, but he's great, really... Oh, look, here he comes now!"
Through the open classroom door stepped the famed professor. Shuu, sitting near the front of the class, was treated to a good look at him. He was a middle-aged man, rather ordinary looking at first glance. There was little that was distinguished about him: medium height, not particularly fat or thin or muscular, neither especially handsome or terribly ugly. The clothes he wore were a bit less dapper than Shuu had expected from a teacher; he wore his shirt sleeves rolled up around his elbows, the knees of his pants bore the wrinkles of someone who had recently been crawling on the floor, and he wore tattered sneakers on his feet. His face was still young-looking, with only a few faint laugh lines around his mouth and eyes. His hair was uniformly gray and slightly untidy, as if he'd been thinking about other things while he'd been combing it. For all his plainness, though, Shuu thought he could see something of what everyone was talking about. There was a sparkle of intelligence in the man's eyes, and there was something in the way he moved that gave the impression of energy, latent but powerful, like the lake behind a dam.
"Good afternoon, everyone!" he greeted. "Welcome to Literature 103, formally known as Mythology and Folklore... or something like that. You don't need to remember that, anyway. Yes, we are going to talk about folklore in this class, but don't let that fool you. We're going to be talking about something much more important. We're going to be talking about the human mind. We're going to be talking about everything from religion to psychology in here, and how the stories our ancestors have passed down can teach us about these things. Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to tap into something very powerful. It is my job to teach you where that power lies... Everyone with me so far?"
Everyone was. His voice, seemingly so gentle at first, had taken on a depth of conviction that sent the words humming into everyone's brains. Shuu wasn't quite sure what this man was talking about, but he was intrigued nonetheless.
"You there," said Mr. Takenouchi. Shuu jumped as a finger was pointed at him. "I haven't seen you before. What do you think of Santa Claus?"
"Um... I guess I never thought much about him at all," Shuu confessed.
"But you know who he is, right?"
"Who is he? A real person?"
"No, he's a symbol," Shuu responded. "He represents the spirit of the holidays - generosity, goodwill... all that sort of thing."
Mr. Takenouchi laughed. "An excellent response! See, you think about things without even knowing you think them. That's the power of folklore. They get ingrained into our society and influence the way we think about everything, but so often, we discount it because we think it's only a harmless fantasy that can't possibly affect us. And what would you say if I told you that Santa Claus is a symbol of the patriarchal hierarchy?"
There were noises of disbelief from the class. Mr. Takenouchi was smiling; he had to be kidding, didn't he?
"You don't think I'm serious," he answered. "But think: why is generosity represented by a man? The provider-symbol is male. We talk about him having a wife, but how important is she? It's the man who does all the real work... even pregnancy. Ever notice he's the one with the big belly?"
A few of the people in class snickered, and Mr. Takenouchi laughed.
"All right, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit," he answered. "But you see what I'm getting at? We're going to take these 'simple' little stories and figure out just why they've survived for hundreds - sometimes thousands of years. That's a lot of staying power."
On went the lecture, skipping from ancient Babylonian myths to classic fairy tales. A ninety-minute class went by like five minutes, ending with half the class still debating over some aspect of Jungian thought, and the other half was still comparing various versions of "Little Red Riding Hood." Shuu wandered out of the classroom with his head in a whirl.
"Enjoy the class?"
He jumped; he hadn't seen Professor Takenouchi coming up behind him. The professor was lugging a briefcase that didn't seem to want to stay shut - papers peeked out at the edges, and he was wrestling vainly with the clasps.
"It was... indescribable," answered Shuu truthfully. "I really don't know what to say about it yet... do you need some help with that?"
"Hm? Oh, it's all right, I've got-"
At that moment, the briefcase finally gave up its fight and exploded, strewing papers all over the floor.
"Now do you need help?" asked Shuu innocently.
Professor Takenouchi laughed. "All right, maybe I do."
Shuu crouched down and began picking up scraps of paper, finding dissertations on Egyptian mythology, newspaper clippings on Bigfoot, and scribbled notes on UFO sightings. He stacked them all up and put them in order as best he could, and the two of them managed to wrestle the case shut.
"Thanks very much," answered the professor. "So, was this your first time in a folklore class?"
"Good. You should be," he answered. "Here's a tip for you. The point of this class is not to teach information. The point is to learn how to think - to look at things from a new light. Stretch your brain a little."
"Yes, sir. I will," he answered.
"Not a very creative answer," said Mr. Takenouchi thoughtfully. "We'll have to work on that. Well, see you next class!"
With that, he waved a cheery goodbye and turned down a corridor. Shuu made a mental note that his teacher was walking into one of the offices, presumably his own.
*I don't think I've ever been told my reply's not creative enough before,* he mused. *But I suppose he has a point. It wouldn't hurt to learn how to look at things differently, even if I am going to be a doctor. I suppose doctors have to deal with unexpected situations as much as anyone else.*
As classes were over for the day, he made his way back to his room and attempted to do the biology homework, but he found he couldn't concentrate. His brain kept getting cluttered up with ideas of archetypes and communal consciousness. Finally, he put down his book and went to have dinner, scarcely even noticing the taste of what he was eating. He came back home and realized with a start that he had no idea what he'd just eaten.
*I could have been chewing the tablecloth and never even noticing,* he thought wryly. *I take one class and already I'm obsessed. Well, he did assign homework. I can go do that and get this out of my system.*
Shouldering his backpack and his textbook, he scampered off to the library. He entered the doors with a feeling of trepidation - he hadn't spent a whole lot of time in the library over the last year and a half, only once when he'd needed a particular medical journal to supplement the paper he'd been writing. Now he realized he barely knew his way around. He walked up to the front desk.
"Excuse me," he asked the librarian. "Where do you keep the books on folklore?"
"For which class?" she replied.
"Professor Takenouchi's folklore course," he answered, as if it were a shameful secret.
"Ah! Then you'll be wanting aisle E-24," she replied. "Getting an early start, aren't you? I happen to know his first paper is never due until the end of the month."
Shuu shrugged. "It's interesting," he answered lamely.
He was glad enough to leave the librarian alone and wander off to the indicated shelf. He browsed the titles he found there with some bemusement - volumes and volumes of old stories from every country and time period imaginable. He didn't know where to begin. Finally, he closed his eyes and pointed at one at random, pulling it down from the shelf. Then, for good measure, he pulled down two more, thinking he would browse them for a while until he got tired, and then go back to his real homework.
That was at about six o'clock in the evening. At three o'clock that morning, a yawning and exhausted student shuffled out into the chilly darkness, his one regret that he couldn't manage to stay awake a bit longer, or that the librarian had gone home before he could ask to check out the books. Not since he was a very small child had his mind been allowed to wander so freely, to look seriously at flights of fantasy and be given permission to take them seriously if he pleased. After a lifetime of rules and regulations, that freedom was electrifying, intoxicating. He was enthralled. Professor Takenouchi was right - there was a power here, something deep and old and universal, and he could spend the next two years studying it and still barely scratch the surface of it... but he wanted to try anyway. He wanted to grab on to that mystery and magic the way his professor had, let him give it some of that energy. He tried his key several times in the dorm's front door before he realized he was trying to unlock it with his mailbox key, and barely stopped himself from accidentally walking into the wrong person's room instead of his own. When he fell asleep, exhausted but content, his mind was thinking fondly of the notes he'd taken and of the books he still wanted to read. The last coherent thing to go through his mind, a silly, sleep-blurred nonsensical thought, was, *I think I'm in love.*
His alarm clock did not go off the next morning. That was no surprise, considering he'd been too tired and preoccupied the night before to think about anything so trivial as setting his alarm clock. As a matter of fact, he'd had only the energy to take most of his clothes off and fall into bed before his stamina gave out entirely. However, the next morning, not setting his clock hardly looked trivial, especially when he realized that it was ten-thirty in the morning and his biology class was going on without him, and had been for a half-hour or more. He sat up in bed with a yelp.
"I don't believe it!" he cried. "I don't believe it! I slept through my class! What am I going to do?"
He looked around his room, mind whirling as it tried to get out of dream-mode and help him catch up to real life. His first thought was to throw on some clothes as fast as he could and race into the classroom with his hair uncombed, teeth unbrushed, and homework undone. Homework... he had meant to do his homework last night. Instead, he'd stayed up later than he ever had before, reading old books that he would have called a waste of time three days ago. Now he had a notion he ought to be annoyed at himself for reading them instead of doing what was really important, but... His mind drifted back to his stacks of notes, to the book he hadn't been able to finish last night because his eyelids refused to stay open any longer. It also pointed out that there was really no point in him going to a class that he had already missed a third of, which left him free for the rest of the morning and part of the afternoon as well.
*I've never skipped a class before,* he thought uneasily. *I've never even taken a sick day all year.* He paused, considering. *Then again, that's a pretty good reason for taking a day off, if I've never had one before. Doesn't everyone skip a day once in their life? And for the first time, I want a day off - not just to get out of class, but because I've got something I really want to do.* He frowned. *Did I just think that? But I have to take biology; I'm going to be a doctor.* He looked back at his backpack, with the corner of his notebook peeking enticingly through the zipper. *Oh, what the heck.*
He got up, stretched thoroughly, and wrapped his robe around him, padding down the hall to the bathroom for the shower he should have taken the night before. Once reasonably clean, he went back to his room, tossed on some comfortable clothes, grabbed a granola bar and a bottle of juice, and settled down in front of his computer, anticipating an enjoyable day.
It turned out to be one of the busiest days of his life, rivaled only by the end of last semester and his frantic cramming for exams. He stayed at his computer typing out the notes he'd taken last night and organizing his thoughts until hunger drove him out of his room to find some lunch. Once he was fed, it was off to the library for an afternoon of browsing the stacks, hardly caring that his afternoon classes were going by without him. Then it was time to eat dinner and go back to his room to type some more, his backpack loaded down with the books he'd checked out. He finally went to bed around eleven, his shoulders aching and fingers cramped. He was completely pleased with himself.
By the next day, he'd used up his initial burst of frenetic activity enough that he could tolerate going to his morning class. Film was actually rather interesting - a lot of the movies they were studying echoed the principles he'd been taught in Professor Takenouchi's class, and it gave him a funny sense of pleasure to realize he could recognize an archetypal hero when he saw one. He'd never gotten that feeling before from biology. Even so, he could hardly wait to get back to Lit 103. As soon as the class was over, he hurried out of the building and dashed for the cafeteria, bolting down his lunch as if moving quickly himself would make the time go by faster.
At last, the magic hour came, and he dropped into his seat with his notebook propped proudly in front of him, waiting eagerly for the professor to come back.
"You look impatient for something," remarked someone behind him. He turned around to see the leather-clad girl he'd noticed before. Up close, he noticed that she was wearing black lipstick and had three rings through one eyebrow.
"Just waiting for class to start," he replied.
"I know, isn't it great?" she replied. "I'm so totally into Mr. Takenouchi's classes. He's so cool! Too bad he's married."
Shuu chuckled a little. "I'm more interested in his ideas. It's so amazing to think that there's this group consciousness out there, things that each and every person in the world can relate to..."
"I don't think it's so much out there, not in the sense you mean," she answered. "We talked about it in my philosophy class. See..."
They began a discussion that lasted up until the professor's untimely arrival.
"Sorry, lost one of my books," he announced. "You wouldn't believe where I found it, either, it was on top of the - never mind, it's not important. Did you all do your reading for today? No? Yes? Good! We can start the discussion, then."
They did. Shuu had never been much for discussion before, usually preferring to sit and take notes while everyone else talked around him. Thanks to all his reading last night, though, he had plenty of things he was itching to talk about, ask about, see what everyone else thought about. The professor had little to do but moderate the discussion, asking questions to spur them on and guide their thoughts. By the end of the lesson, they'd covered the whole chapter they'd been assigned without feeling like they'd done any actual work. When it was over, the class breaking off into groups to continue the discussion as they wandered out, Shuu said goodbye to the girl he'd been talking to earlier and walked up to Mr. Takenouchi's desk.
"Hello again!" he said cheerfully. "Good class today. I can see you're enjoying this."
"Yes, sir. I mean... It really is interesting. Actually," Shuu flushed a little, "I did some outside research yesterday."
"Ah, yes," answered the professor with a knowing smile. "The librarian did say she saw one of my students trying to check out half the library."
"Um, yeah. Anyway, I was hoping that maybe you could look at some of my work. You know, tell me if I'm really doing this right? I'm really new to this, so I'm not really sure..."
"There isn't any wrong way to do this," Professor Takenouchi corrected, "as long as you're thinking carefully. But let's see this work of yours. Maybe I can give you a few pointers."
Shuu took out his notebook, with his carefully typed and double-spaced notes, and set them on the teacher's desk. The professor stared at the stack of papers, first with surprise, then with a small chuckle.
"Mr. Kido, your thesis isn't due until the end of your senior year," he said.
Shuu blushed a little. "Sorry, I guess I got carried away."
"No, don't apologize. I'm glad to see someone with so much enthusiasm. So often a professor has to deal with students who are only here to make the grade, who just want to get a job and make money. A true scholar is a rare prize."
"Oh, I'm no scholar," answered Shuu. "I'm a med student."
Professor Takenouchi laughed. "As if the two are exclusive. But I wouldn't rule out any possibilities yet. You haven't declared your major, have you?"
"Actually, yeah. I signed up almost as soon as I got here."
"That was a hasty decision," the professor commented. "So many people get here being so sure they know what they want, only to find their true calling elsewhere."
"I've always known what I was going to do. My whole family has been doctors, for generations. My brother's already graduated from med school."
"I see." The professor looked back down to the stack of papers on his desk. "Well, perhaps you'd consider taking a minor? You've obviously got the drive for it."
"I guess," answered Shuu.
"Well, think about it, anyway. It's always an option," answered the professor. "Do you mind if I keep these for a while? I'll give them back to you next class period."
"Sure. I have it all saved on my computer."
"Well, then, I wish you good luck on your work. Come by my office anytime," answered Professor Takenouchi. He put the papers into his briefcase and attempted to close it, but once again, the locks were not cooperating. "Darn briefcase!"
"You need a suitcase for all the stuff you carry around," answered Shuu. He gave the case a shove and waited while the professor shut the clasps.
"You're right. Or a pack mule," the teacher agreed. "Thanks again, Mr. Kido. See you around, eh?"
"You've got it," answered Shuu.
He walked home with more on his mind than just his paper, however.
*Could I pull of a minor in this?* he wondered.
He hadn't really given much thought to taking one on - after all, his medical studies took a lot out of him. It wasn't that he was bad at them. He was a good student, and he had managed to pull a steady succession of B's with the occasional A or C last year. On the other hand, doing that had been more difficult than he'd liked to admit, giving him more than his share of headaches and sleepless nights. This new course of study wasn't difficult, it was fun. He thought he wouldn't mind spending some of his spare time on an extra course or two... but would he have the time? Once he got the basics cleared away, his courses were going to get even more difficult. Was he really going to have time for both?
*I might not have enough time for what I'm supposed to be doing,* he thought ruefully. *Much less what I actually want to do.*
There. He'd finally let himself think it. He wasn't doing this medical thing because it was what he wanted to do. He was doing it because it was expected of him, and because, until now, he hadn't known of anything else that looked better. Now he did, and he wasn't particularly keen on giving it up.
*Well, maybe I can work it in somewhere,* he thought. He went rummaging through the heaps of papers strewn around his room, searching. He didn't think he'd done any cleaning since he'd signed up for his classes, and the odds were good he still had his catalogue around somewhere. He thought he could at least peruse it and try to figure out some way to balance out everything he needed to do.
However, looking it over made his resolve shake a little. He had looked at the class catalogue with the eye of a confirmed med major before, not even looking closely at the courses in English and other such lofty subjects. Now he did, and he was amazed by how much he had missed. He noticed that Professor Takenouchi tought several other classes, and there were several other courses on the same subject taught by other professors. The leather-clad girl who sat behind him had talked glowingly about her Philosophy courses, things he had never imagined would appeal to him before. The moldy old books he'd despised in high school, with the pages of questions his teachers assigned about whos and whys and whens, suddenly looked interesting now that he knew how to read them with an eye to symbolism and archetypes.
*I'm never going to have time for all of that,* he thought wistfully. *Something has got to give.*
He looked down at the catalogue again. It had all the dates printed on the front cover - the days all the freshmen and juniors and seniors had to sign up, make-up days for people who couldn't be there the first time, and so one. One particular date caught his eye, one marked with the words, "Last day to add/remove classes." He checked his calendar.
"That's today," he said. "Today is the last day to change my mind."
He looked down at the catalogue again. He still had a chance to take some of these classes... if he was willing to drop something else. Some of his classes were required, but his History course was only a space-filler. He could easily swap it for something else.
*And I'm only taking biology because you need it to be a med student,* he reflected. *Hm...*
And suddenly, the decision was made. The minute it was, it felt so perfectly right in his mind it felt like a bolt of lighting had gone through him, and he grinned in spite of himself. He picked up his pen and began going down the lists of classes, trying to narrow the field. Then he went to make a visit to the registrar.
About a half hour later, Professor Takenouchi was roused out of his thoughts by an urgent rapping on his door. He looked up from the book he'd been reading, trying to see who it was. He was thwarted by the rippled glass in the window, but decided he wouldn't mind very much having a distraction.
"Come in!" he called. "It's not locked."
The door swung open, and Shuu appeared, holding a piece of paper.
"Excuse me," he said. "I need you to sign this."
"Of course," answered Professor Takenouchi, "but why me? Shouldn't your advisor be the one signing your papers?"
"That's just it," answered Shuu. "I just went down to the registrar's office and changed my major. Literature with a concentration in folklore. I was hoping I could ask if... well, if you wouldn't mind, I'd like you to be my advisor. If that's okay with you."
Professor Takenouchi accepted the paper with a smile. "I don't mind at all. Congratulations. I think you'll do well."
"I think I will, too," answered Shuu happily. "Thanks, Professor! I'll see you later!"
Shuu went back to his room grinning. He took out his books for his Biology class and set them in a pile to be taken back to the bookshop in the morning. Then he took out his notebook with all his notes and his incomplete homework, ripped out all the pages he'd written on, tore them up, and dropped them in the trash.
"A whole new life," he said thoughtfully. The thought made him grin again; he could hardly wait to get started.
The passage of days only confirmed the rightness of his decision in Shuu's mind. He was pleased to see that several of his classmates from Professor Takenouchi's class were in his new ones as well. That made him feel better; if there was anything he didn't understand, he could always prevail upon one of them to make it make sense. It didn't take long for him to learn that Tori, the girl with the black leather and pierced eyebrow, was a wizard when it came to making philosophy accessible. He was also surprised to learn that Satoru, one of the musclebound athletes he'd noticed on the first day was also a Classics major, and could talk your ear off about ancient civilizations if you could earn his trust, something that Shuu was quick to see the advantages of doing. He shared his new Literature class with Kiyoko, a bespectacled, conservatively dressed girl with a quiet voice and gentle manners, a veteran of Professor Takenouchi's classes who's razor-sharp wits let her trounce anyone in debate if they took her quietness for insecurity. For Shuu's part, he made an effort to cultivate their friendship. For their part, they recognized him as one of them - as the professor said, a true scholar - and welcomed him into their circle. The four of them spent many evenings in the library or campus coffee shop, arguing theories and sharing knowledge.
A few weeks after his momentous change, the professor held him back after class.
"What's up, Professor?" he asked. "Need any help with your briefcase?" He was in a joking mood; he'd managed to score a point against Kiyoko in their latest lunchtime debate, something that happened so seldom that it was an event when it did happen, it was an event.
"I finished looking over the notes you gave me," he replied.
"And?" asked Shuu, suddenly nervous.
"Well... it's pretty clear that you didn't finish all your research - there are a few points in there that you would have found in other texts if you'd looked long enough - and there are a few definite flaws in logic that you'll need to work on..." Shuu took a breath to defend himself, but the professor held up a hand to silence him. "...but considering that you wrote it one day after your first class, it's impressive. Very impressive."
Shuu glowed, and he dropped his head to try to hide a smile. "I know it's really not much yet. It will be a lot better when I'm done with my research."
"I know it will," the professor answered. He considered. "You know, I've been meaning to talk to you. I think that if I'm to be advising you from here on in, I ought to get to know something about you. Do you have any spare time this afternoon?"
"I'm free for the rest of the day. Why?"
"How would you like to stay and chat with me in my office for a while? Come have a cup of tea, as the Zen master says."
"Sure. That would be great."
Shuu followed his advisor down the hall and into his office. At least, it was ostensibly an office, but it reminded Shuu of a smaller and more cluttered version of his dorm. There was a shelf covering the whole of one wall, the whole of it crammed with things - not only books, but sheaves of papers, maps, charts, old fossils, footprints in plaster, and all kinds of old relics. There were a couple of tattered chairs that looked like castoffs from old living rooms, much mended. A desk occupied one corner, piled with yet more papers, almost enough to obscure the computer that it supported. There was a small table with a microwave sitting on it, partially hidden by yet another shelf between it and the door.
"I'm not really allowed to have this in here," the professor explained, nodding at the microwave, "but it comes in handy. You look around, and I'll see if I can find some teacups or something."
Shuu did as he was told, poking through the oddities that the professor had piled on his shelves. Professor Takenouchi rearranged some papers and books until he unearthed a pair of coffee mugs. One was set with bits of colored glass in an Art Deco design; the other was stenciled with, "Imagination is Intelligence Having Fun." He filled them full of water from a pitcher on his desk and put them in the microwave to heat, standing and watching them spin on the platform while keeping a covert eye on Shuu's explorations. He was looking at the collection of trinkets scattered across his desk - a small jade elephant with an ink pen held in its trunk, a letter opener in the shape of a dragon, the skull of a small toothy animal, and a small doll from some distant land. There was also a photograph on the desk. He picked it up to look more closely. It showed the professor with his arm around a pretty redheaded teenaged girl.
"My daughter Sora," said Professor Takenouchi. "I don't get to go home that often, so I like to have her picture around."
"I can see why. She's cute," answered Shuu. He considered. "She looks kind of familiar, somehow. Did you say her name was Sora?"
"I think she might be one of my brother's friends. Has she mentioned him? His name is Jyou."
"Yes, yes, I think I have heard of him! She talks about him and the other - wait. Are you, um... that is, have you been entrusted with their, um..."
"Secret?" Shuu suggested. "If you mean, about the Digimon..."
"That's it exactly," answered the professor, looking relieved. "I didn't know how much of a secret it was supposed to be."
"We don't talk about it much," answered Shuu. "Not in my family, anyway. Shin's pretty good about most things, but he's gone away now, with his own medical career. Mom's easy to upset, and dad... well, he doesn't like anything out of line, and monsters from other worlds fall under that category. I like to think I'm easy to talk to, though. Jyou tells me things."
"I'm interested in Digimon," said the professor, retrieving the mugs from the microwave. He dropped a teabag into the one with the slogan and handed it to Shuu. "It's one of my peculiar hobbies. Do you think your brother would mind much if I talked to him sometime."
"I don't know. I'll ask him about it," Shuu answered. "There was a time when he'd probably have an asthma attack just thinking about it, but he's loosened up a lot since he came back from that place. He might not mind it." He accepted the cup and stirred the tea around, watching the water shift colors.
"It sounds like you come from a fairly conservative family," said the professor, dropping into a chair. "Sit down. We can't have a proper talk standing up."
Shuu did as he was told. "Thanks. And you're right. Dad likes everything in its place. He's not a bad guy, but if you go too far out of line..."
"And yet, I'm guessing this change in your major is an unscheduled departure."
"Yeah," Shuu replied, "but I'm willing to deal with that. I knew when I did it that I'd probably get chewed out for it later, but... I don't know. It was like there was nothing else I could have done. I wasn't happy studying medicine. I'm happy now. I've had this feeling for a while now that this is what I'm supposed to be doing, what I was born to do. Is that crazy?"
"No, it's not crazy at all," answered Professor Takenouchi. He sipped thoughtfully at his tea. "Shuu, do you know what a genius is, in the classical sense?"
"I didn't know there was a classical sense," answered Shuu.
"Well, it's time for another lesson, then," came the response. He struck a mock-serious attitude and began speaking in a lecturing tone. "Genius comes from an old word, genii, meaning "spirit." It's a kind of entity people imagined spoke and worked through human beings, to give them special abilities, like a gift for poetry or music. The ancient Greeks called it a muse. In Africa, they talk of a thing called a shave that does very much the same thing. It's interesting, don't you think, that two civilizations that seem so different should have such a similar idea?"
"It is interesting," answered Shuu cautiously. This was leading to something; he was waiting for the punch line.
"The truth is, a lot of people believed and still believe that there are those who are naturally gifted - even divinely inspired. Or maybe there's just something different about the way their brains are wired. You've heard about them, of course. Children who can read and write by age two, or musicians who master an instrument in a week, or people who can work out ridiculously complicated math problems in their heads. Or understand some modes of thought that some people never understand, and in just one afternoon."
Shuu blushed. "I'm no genius."
"Perhaps not in the sense you're thinking of," answered the professor, "but that was never what I meant to imply. What I'm saying is that I do believe there are some people who are born with certain abilities and predetermined affinities - that there are people who are just born to do something. I've seen that gift in you. Don't deny it. More importantly, don't let anyone else deny it. If this is what you feel you're meant to do, then you're probably right."
"Don't thank me. I think you probably already had that settled. I just wanted to give you some words to put with the feeling," answered Professor Takenouchi. "By the way, how is your research coming, anyway? Haven't gotten tired of it yet, have you?"
"No, sir. I'm having a lot of fun, actually. The only problem I've got is a shortage of time," Shuu answered. "I'm grateful to the librarian - she keeps waking me up and sending me home."
"Well, if you ever want to borrow any of my books, just ask," the professor replied. "I flatter myself to think my collection is better than any other one around."
"Thanks!" answered Shuu. "I'll take good care of them, I promise!"
"I'm sure you will," Professor Takenouchi replied. He took a long drink from his tea mug, looking thoughtful. Shuu caught the expression.
"Uh-oh, what's on your mind?" he asked.
"Oh, nothing," the professor replied. "Well, actually, it is something. I was just reflecting you've got to be the most researching student I've ever seen."
"Is that bad?"
"No, on the contrary, it's wonderful. I wish more students were like that," answered Professor Takenouchi. "I was just thinking... how long do you think this project of yours will take?"
Shuu shrugged. "I don't know. I hadn't thought about it."
"Well, far be it from me to interfere with a student's work," answered the professor, "but I was wondering... how would you like to earn a little extra spending money?"
"Huh?" said Shuu, startled. "Well, I guess that's good ... What have you got in mind?"
"In case you haven't noticed, I've got a project of my own going on - several, in fact. It's a lot for me to handle, what with still having a job and family and all. I've been wanting to hire a research assistant. Are you interested?"
Shuu considered. "What would it involve?"
"Doing about the same thing you're doing for your project, only for me. You know, hunting down information about whatever I'm working on at the moment, finding likely sources, that sort of thing. Possibly some travel involved. You're handy with cameras and things - that would be useful. I wouldn't be able to pay you much, but..."
"Why me?" asked Shuu.
"Why me? Why not somebody with more experience? You hardly even know me."
"Well, I'm not sure I can really explain that," the professor answered. "This is really sort of a spur of the moment question actually. But I think I'm a pretty good judge of character - I don't think we're going to have any major personality clashes. I know you're interested in the work. I know you have the abilities required; like I said before, you already have shown yourself capable of conducting research, and a cameraman always comes in handy. And you're already familiar with one of my topics of study - possibly more familiar with it than anyone else in this school."
"Really? What's that?"
"Digimon," answered the professor simply. "Yes, I know there are a lot of people in this city that have seen them at one point or another, but most of them refuse to believe what they've seen. They would rather tell themselves that they had a hallucination or a fever dream than admit that there was something in front of them that they couldn't understand. It makes them hard to interview, I can tell you! But you understand. You believe. I'll be able to talk to you where I couldn't talk to my own colleagues."
"I see," answered Shuu thoughtfully. "In that case... I think I'll accept."
"Don't be too quick to jump into things," Professor Takenouchi warned. "This is going to eat up a lot of time and energy. You'll probably be working some long hours - and some strange ones. I'm sure you know by now that inspiration strikes at odd times. And you're going to need your parents' permission if you're going to be traveling with me."
"What for?" asked Shuu, surprised. "I'm old enough to make my own decisions."
"For most things yes, but... I'd still feel better if your parents knew what you were up to, at least. I'm going to be traveling all over the country - possibly outside of the country. That's not quite the same as a shopping trip."
"I'll get their permission," said Shuu determinedly.
But inside, he thought of what his father would say if his son asked to leave the country to go looking for ghosts or stray Digimon, and he thought it was going to be a lot easier said than done.
Even so, Shuu pulled together his courage and took a weekend off to visit his family. He wished his older brother could have been around to talk to. Shin had already pulled off a defiance of family law by firmly declaring his intention to travel abroad as soon as he had his medical licence, to open up his own practice instead of joining the family business. Mr. Kido had not taken kindly to that, and he had made it very clear that he expected the middle son to behave better. He was not going to be happy about this latest development, and it would have been nice to have a little moral support. Shin was steady and serious, but with the same iron will his father had, and there really hadn't been much choice but to let him do his thing. Shuu took after his more easygoing mother, and planning a rebellion was a little out of his league. He decided to bounce the idea off his younger brother first.
It was late Saturday afternoon, with the orange sun glinting off the windows of Tokyo's myriad apartment buildings. Shuu had arrived home in his little yellow car, hugged his family, and dragged his luggage up to his room. Now, watching the sun going down, he decided it was time to begin his confession. He went to knock on his brother's door.
"Hey, Jyou," he called. "Got a minute?"
Jyou looked at the book he'd been halfheartedly trying to study and frowned. On the one hand, he wasn't sure he ought to give up his scholarly pursuits. On the other hand, his good- natured big brother had always been his confidant, and he hated to begrudge returning the favor.
"Sure, I guess I've got a minute," he answered.
"But not more than that?" asked Shuu, stepping into the room. "You're always so busy. Having fun with your studying?"
"Not really," answered Jyou. "So... was there something you wanted to talk about?"
"I guess." Shuu took a seat on the corner of the bed, and Jyou swivelled in his chair to face him. "Jyou... I've got a little confession to make, and I thought I'd run it by you first."
"A... confession?" Jyou repeated. Possibilities whirled through his brain, each wilder than the last. "You didn't get engaged or something, did you?"
Shuu laughed. "No, no, nothing like that. But I made a different sort of commitment. Jyou, I changed my major."
"Oh." Jyou mulled over the implications of that. "To what?"
"Literature. Concentration in folklore," answered Shuu.
There was a long pause. Then, "Why?"
"Because it was the right thing to do," Shuu replied. "Because... Okay, think of it like this. You know what it's like when you kind of accidentally wind up somewhere, with a bunch of people you think you could never possibly like, and all you want to do is get away? But then you stay there a while, and you realize that these people you're with... you've just found the kind of friends you never knew you always wanted, and you don't want to leave them. You know that what you're doing is no accident - it's just what you were always meant to do."
Jyou nodded slowly. "Yeah, I can understand that."
"That's where I am now," answered Shuu. "The thing is, though... you can be a Digidestined and still be a great doctor. I can't be a doctor when my heart wants me to be a scholar. There's just not room for both. I had to make the choice. Do you think I did the right thing?"
"Well..." said Jyou, thinking heard. "I can't really say... Dad's going to be furious. He was counting on you, you know."
"I know," answered Shuu. "But what about you?"
"Me? What about me?"
"You aren't disappointed in me, are you?"
"What? No way!" answered Jyou. "Why do you think I'd be prouder of you as a mediocre doctor when you could be out being a great... what do Folklore majors become, anyway?"
"Professors of Folklore, I guess," answered Shuu.
"Well, whatever they become, I know you'll be the best one there ever was."
"Thanks, little bro," said Shuu. "I needed to hear that. I'm glad someone will still be on my side after dad disowns me."
"Are you sure you can't just keep it under your hat until you graduate?" asked Jyou anxiously.
"No. Dad will know what classes I'm taking as soon as my report card comes in," Shuu replied. "Besides, Professor Takenouchi said I can't be his assistant without my parents' permission, or at least them knowing what's going on. I won't lie to him."
"Good luck, then," said Jyou.
"Thanks. I'll need it."
Shuu ruffled his brother's hair affectionately, knocking his glasses askew. With a final parting smile, he left the room and went to take on the last hurdle. He found his father in the living room, looking over the newspaper. Shuu cleared his throat.
"Dad?" he said. "Can we talk?"
"I suppose," said Mr. Kido, setting aside his paper. "Is there something in particular you want to talk about?"
"There is," Shuu answered. "It's... it's about school."
"How is that going? Grades staying up? If they aren't, don't be afraid to say something. Something can always be worked out."
"My grades are fine. Great, in fact. I have a new course of study that suits me better than the old one."
Mr. Kido gave his son a hard stare. "New course of study?"
Shuu nodded. "I've changed my major. I'm studying literature now."
"I see. You changed your major," answered Mr. Kido. "Well, how soon can you change it back."
Shuu got the sudden feeling he knew what a cloud felt like just before dispensing a lighting bolt, a little thrill of power that came from being able to say the word, "Never."
"I'm not changing it. I changed it because I wanted to change it, and I'm not going back to studying something I don't even like."
"Now, look here, young man. I don't know where you're getting this nonsense from, but if you don't show some obedience then you are going to seriously regret it!"
"No," said Shuu. "No, I won't regret it. I have made my choice."
"What kind of life do you think you're going to have, studying that - that - that-"
"Nonsense?" Shuu supplied blandly.
"Exactly! What kind of life are you going to have? Where are you going to get a job?"
"Actually, I've got one already. I'm going to be a research assistant to one of the professors at my school."
"And for that, you're willing to give up a good medical career?" asked Mr. Kido. He was almost beside himself with amazement.
Shuu shook his head. "I never had a chance for a good medical career."
"What do you mean? Of course you did!"
"No." That word got easier every time he said it. "Dad, what did you think when you had us? That you were making a bunch of little miniatures of yourself? A bunch of little copies that you could push around any way you wanted? Well, let me tell you, I am my own person and I am fully capable of controlling my own life."
"That's not what I thought!" he answered, but there was a look of shock on his face, the look of one who had just been shown an ugly truth. "I only wanted what's best for all of you!"
"You do? You think being a doctor is really what's best for me, even when I'd really be happier doing something else? Do you think money and prestige are more important than whether I'm happy? Dad, I hated studying medicine, and I barely even got past the beginning courses! I love what I'm doing now. Are you going to tell me what's best for me is to make myself miserable knowing I gave up what I loved to do what you wanted?"
There was a long, awkward silence. Shuu let it pass, giving his father some time to think. Then he spoke again, letting his voice lose some of its anger.
"Dad," he said. "Why did you want to be a doctor? It was to help people, wasn't it?"
That earned him a nod.
"And you think I could help people, too, don't you?"
"But how many people do you think I'm going to help if I'm spending the whole time wishing I were somewhere else? Do you think I would really be a good doctor if I hated what I was doing - if I muddled through college trying just to get by and get my degree and then going out doctoring because it was the only thing you'd let me do? Would I be a good doctor then?"
"Maybe not," came the reluctant answer, "but-"
"Let me finish," said Shuu. "There are people who can get away with being not very good at what they do. If I worked in a factory or an office or something, it wouldn't make much difference whether I was a great worker, as long as I got the job done somehow. But doctors have to be good. Lives hang on whether they're good or not. Think about that, and tell me whether you want those lives in my hands."
Dr. Kido sighed. "Well, all right, maybe not, but why...?"
"You want a logical answer to why I want to give up a big medical career to teach a roomful of college kids about fairy tales?" asked Shuu with a small smile. "I'm not sure I can give you one of those. Not one that you'd understand, anyway. All I can say is, it's important to me. It's what feels right. I'm willing to take the risk that it is right. I don't ask for you to understand, or even support me in this. I just want to ask you to accept it."
There was a moment of silence again. Shuu waited, feeling shaky. At last, Dr. Kido sighed.
"All right," he said. "I can see there's no talking you out of this... and I think you might just have enough determination to go through with it. You might even make it work. All right, then. For what it's worth, you have my permission to go through with this thing. I can't pretend I understand it, but... good luck anyway."
Shuu was stunned. "You... you mean it? Wow. Thanks!"
Dr. Kido waved a hand brusquely. "Don't act like I've done anything special. I haven't. I don't see why you couldn't have chosen something more practical, but it is your decision. Besides, you've given me something to think about. You're learning something at that school of yours, and I can't disapprove of that."
Shuu fought back a smile, comprised of equal measures of relief and triumph. He didn't quite succeed.
"That's what my classes are all about, you know," he said. "They're all about learning how to think."
"I can't disapprove of that, either," answered Dr. Kido. "All right, then. Show me some of these deep thoughts you think."
"Hm?" said Shuu, surprised.
"Believe it or not, your old man used to have a few brain cells once upon a time. A few of them might still be in working order," his father replied. "If you think you want a teaching career, you're going to have to learn how to teach. You can start with me. If I'm going to let you go through with this, I want to know what I'm sending you to. Besides, you're not likely to ever run into a student worse than me."
Shuu found himself momentarily unable to speak.
*Maybe I was wrong about a couple of things,* he thought. *I guess Dad really does care...*
"Well," he said, "where do you want to begin?"
"Where did you begin?" his father replied.
Shuu considered. "I guess it started when a favorite teacher of mine asked me a question."
The doctor looked interested. "What question was that?"
"Well, Dad," said Shuu, grinning, "what do you think of Santa Claus?"