Kouta's Birthday Gift

By Rob Morris

It had been five months since a single gunshot had saved the world, and ended a great and tragic love affair. It had been three months since the hero who fired that gun out of equal measures of love, mercy and clan vengeance had returned from the hospital. On the news, this young man and the young women who lived with him saw horrible reports of powerful young girls tearing whole armies to shreds using nothing but their minds. The people living at the Kaede Inn knew of these girls. One still lived with them. The other was dead. She had been the ultimate threat to the existence of Humans, and she had been the means by which that threat was ended. The girls in the news were leaderless and unmotivated without her, but they were still exceedingly dangerous.

The fate of Humans was still up in the air, and would be for some time. Those living at the Kaede Inn had done their part, and in fact had no desire to see another such girl ever again, including and perhaps especially the one of them who was like these girls. For the one who was dead had literally cut her to pieces, and another had tried to kill the only father she had ever known.

"Nana—what are you doing out here?"

None of these other girls had come anywhere near the Kaede Inn or the towns surrounding it. Scientists who knew of who the dead young girl had speculated that the death of their 'queen' actually drove these powerful girls away from where it happened, out of some sort of racial fear that, whatever could take her down could easily do the same to them. The surviving horned girl at the Inn-who would one day be the only such survivor anywhere-had to keep out of sight. Only the Inn's true owner, outside of those who lived there, knew who and what she was. In the current climate and the climate that would likely persist all through their lives, the girl legally called Nanette Kurama was best off staying inside the walls of the Inn's compound, and always having a small wool cap at the ready, along with an explanation of a car accident she was in when very young.

"I'm sorry, Yuka. I was just looking for something."

There were no people about on this early Sunday afternoon. Families were together, now more than ever. But talk had come about of locals having relatives stay with them during the crisis, in this area that seemed unaffected. In an event, Yuka like the others feared seeing their young friend outside of their direct protection. A mob could form so easily, and would likely be unmoved by the hardships of Nana's life. Despite her many sins, they had not wished to lose Nyu. They would not allow themselves to lose Nana as well.

"Well, hurry up and get finished. Mayu needs someone to play with Wanta while she's making supper. Kouta and I have to study for classes."

It was really an excuse to get her back inside. Nana's hair had grown in enough to hide her horns, and the wool cap wasn't questioned in an era when 'young people' had such odd clothing habits anyway. Her control over her limbs was increasing, to the point where her comical drop-offs were becoming rarer and rarer. In any event, these did not mark off a person as a Diclonius. But the fewer people who knew of Nana's existence in any way shape or form, the better these tricks and explanations and even lies ('Nanette' had a French mother) worked to keep her out of scrutiny's way. Though as Kouta had pointed out to Yuka while in the hospital, the same people, presumably the government, who had put him in the hospital and wrecked their home, still knew where they were and who Nana was.

"Darn! I found it, but it's up in the tree branch."

She was not at all a bitter girl, despite the savagery Nyu (according to Mayu, after they put up a marker for Nyu's passing) had unleashed upon her when she took her original arms and legs. Yuka almost felt that the theorized mob would, given two minutes, love Nana as much as they all did. But them giving her that two minutes was unlikely, so Yuka was still just as anxious to get her inside.

"Is it that important?"

"Yup! And I know how to get it, too. Yuka-is it weird that I almost miss Nyu?"

"She did live with us. That creates a bond, no matter what else happens."

"Rocket away!"

Deliberately doing what she often did by accident, Nana fired one of her arms and knocked the object loose. Yuka reflected on losing Nyu. She had been a rival for Kouta, no doubt, and possibly quite dangerous. While ascending the stairs to the tower that was Nyu's last stand, Yuka swore she heard Kouta say he would never forgive the death of his family. Given Nyu's powers, and having glimpsed the horrific details of Uncle and Kanae's murders (as a teen, her best friend's father had been a police detective), it seemed possible that it all connected back again, even a decade ago. Of course, she had never had the nerve to ask Kouta about all this. She wondered if she could ever bring herself to. Yet he let her live with them, and rivalry aside, Yuka found that the place a little emptier without her around.

"Got it-now I just have to get my arm back."

Yuka's mother had agreed to keep silent about Nana after helping around the house when repairs were underway. But Yuka questioned if that would last.

"Okay, Yuka—we can go back now."

"Hmm? What was so important, anyway?"

"Well, yesterday Mayu and I were walking Wanta when this woman came by. She looked mean, and Mayu said that same woman had once tried to steal Wanta from her, so we hid. Mayu had been writing in her journal, and it got blown away by a gust of wind when we stopped hiding. I'm glad I found it. She'll be really happy—except for the moisture from the tree—I guess it's morning dew."

Yuka took the journal, and shook it out.

"No problem. If we put it in front of a fan on low speed, it'll dry out in no time, probably with only a few stains. You're a good friend, to go out and find it for her like this, but don't worry us like that, okay?"

"We're more than friends—she's like my onee-chan—but she asked me not to call her that."

"She did?"

"She said it's enough to just be the best of friends."

Breathing a sigh of relief when they were back inside the Inn's compound, Yuka went in her room and set the fan on the journal while she studied. Mayu had gone grocery shopping, and always insisted on an escort—Kouta in this case-saying that her long-absent mother might, if encountered, wish to 'scold' her for something she didn't do.

In fact, a lot of Mayu's explanations and assertions seemed evasive, now that Yuka had a chance to think about it. On the other hand, Mayu's mother had seemed as distant and detached a figure as any of them had ever met, signing away effective custody of the girl almost without pausing some months back. That was nearly unheard of in most places, especially in Japan. A man had entered that cold home as they left, and the leer he had given Yuka left her shaken, very nearly putting Kouta into a fighting rage. This they had never mentioned, especially in light of Mayu's delight in being able to stay at the Inn. So any and all questions had been put well aside, seemingly a pattern in their lives.

*But there's a way to answer all that right in front of me, isn't there?*

She stopped herself immediately. It was a hateful thing to even contemplate. In fact, the light moisture the journal had picked up was surely done with by now, she reasoned, and sought to quickly remove the instance of temptation. Only the inside front cover had any moisture left at all, so Yuka set it to receive some last bit of air. To be fair to her, had a certain set of words not been very visible on another blown page, she would have been content to do the right thing. But those words were like a klaxon alarm right next to her ear.

**I Hope That I'm Not Pregnant**

Questions began to race through Yuka's mind. Had a boy at school seduced her? Had there been one of those wild kids' parties you were always hearing about, and had Mayu done something reckless? Out of care, as much as curiosity, Yuka broke a confidence she had never meant to undertake.

**I Hope That I'm Not Pregnant. The injustice of stepfather's depredations would be complete, then. How could I ask Kouta and Yuka to pay for—for an abortion, on top of everything else my presence here must cost them? They are too kind to throw me out for this, but what would they think? I know my Sex-Ed class says that over a month since he last hurt me was too long to worry, and that his preferred way of hurting me can't really cause pregnancy—but he was such a monster. What if his-stuff-is also different from other people's, along with his absent morals and decency? I think that if Mother found out, she would even attack me, once again absurdly jealous for attention I never wanted, and that I hope she is getting in full force now-no. I can't wish that, even on her. Even on someone like her. Someone who feigned a connection to her only child, when that child obviously meant nothing to her. Then came the day her bar-fly prize came down the aisle with her, his eyes on fresher, unpicked fruit all along. The pretense ended then. The best prayer I can muster for her is that she is now let alone by him. Because if he is still with her, he may still be using her house to stalk more young girls. While she may not care, that could mean prison time for aiding him in his sickness.**

Having crossed the line, Yuka read further entries that showed how Mayu's worries never even remotely panned out. But Yuka' s had only begun.

*Oh, Mayu-Chan—you poor thing. No wonder that woman seemed so very cold. To be jealous of a child who had been abused so? She makes my worst tantrums at poor Kouta seem stable and sane. I should stop—I should never have started. But this explains so much…*

A young woman who was rightfully sick of mysteries in her young life checked her bedroom door and kept on doing something she knew to be wrong.

**Nana amazes me. Her arms and legs taken by some accident, and she somehow manages to remain cheery and manipulate her artificial limbs with that weird talent of hers. Kouta and Yuka are just funny to watch-I wish she wouldn't hit him—I mean, she's just as perverted as him, if not more so. Even Nyu is a joy to deal with. I can talk to her about anything—because she can't really understand, can she? I love this place, and these people. I am safe, I am warm, and I am at peace.**

Even if she had stopped then and there, Yuka felt she still would have had to read that far, simply to see that things got better for Mayu. Just as her feelings for Kouta often made her act in a way she would regret, her concern for Mayu joined with forbidden curiosity to make her read just a bit further.

**When that horrible man came, it all began to fall apart. Bandou-San is dead, and so is that maniac who meant to molest me again. Nyu is not the person we all thought she was. When I remembered what she had done to Nana's arms and legs, she was going to kill me like I was nothing at all. Then, just as things finally calmed down, more lunatics with weapons. Kouta has been shot, Nozomi has perhaps had her golden voice taken from her. That one bishie-looking man-the one who held Nana up like a suit of clothes on a hanger—I hope he dies.**

Since none of those people had returned, it was safe to assume they were all dead—Yuka hoped, and hoped again that Kouta was wrong. At least Nozomi had fully recovered her voice.

*Mayu, forgive me. But I am horrible, and at the same time, you've been through so much that I must be sure you have no plans to harm yourself.*

Mayu indeed had plans listed, but while they were not set to cause harm to herself, they would disturb Yuka nonetheless.

**I still can't believe he did it. I mean, she was a threat, and she was in hideous pain, yet he loved her, right? Everyone knew it. I always felt like something both beautiful and horrible had passed between them and were fighting it out to win. I guess the horrible was too horrible, because it won. We all miss her, I think. Kouta killed Nyu, and this is how Nyu wanted to die. But Kouta is still alive, and he is to come home soon. We joke about his efforts to be our hero, and we chuckle when we call him our prince, but he really is that precious to us. His birthday is coming up, and I have nothing to give him—except one thing, and after my stepfather's betrayals, I don't know that I can ever yield that up. The pain of even trying to think about it can have me bursting into tears. But does he deserve any less?**

Yuka had one answer. Nowhere in the text did Mayu plan to end her life or otherwise do herself injury. But did Mayu have other plans?

**My will is firm, now. This man is nothing like my stepfather. When his hand came upon my shoulder while in the kitchen, I asked him to not do that again, and he never did. When his knock on the door to the baths was met by me saying I was in there, I found him when I emerged well away from the door. He saw that I was skittish when he sat too near, so he gave me space. Add all that in to room, board and upbringing, and I would be a horrible person not to give him this gift. The night before his birthday, I will give him the only thing of any worth I have. I hope I don't shock or offend. It is blatantly intimate, but I think he will like it.**

Yuka saw another partial entry, and realized it had been cut off when Mayu had lost the journal.

"His birthday is tomorrow."

*Mayu, you can't! He's so perverted and confused—and I haven't made it any easier for him. A girl like you making such an offer can only go badly.*

Intent on averting a household apocalypse, Yuka forced herself not to run to Kouta's room. The door was open, and Mayu stood in the doorway.

"Kouta-San—I wanted to give you your birthday gift tonight."

"Mayu, you didn't have to-"

"No, I do! You deserve nothing less. But give me a second to get ready."

Yuka panicked as she saw Mayu's hand seemingly reach for her blouse buttons, but this was only to tap at her heart.

"I have no money, so all I have to give you is my respect, spelled out in the ultimate way, given your position."

The girl smiled.

"I'm not good around guys. I don't think I ever will be. But I can't let that interfere with my respect and affection for one who has given me a home, and a place of safety. So now—"


Mayu did not seem upset to see Yuka. She saw what she was carrying.

"Oh, you found my journal?"

"Nana found it. I just used my fan to blow off some moisture. It's dry now. Here."

Yuka wondered. Could Mayu be so brazen as to still make her offer with Yuka right there in the room with them?

"I'm glad Yuka is here. It makes this easier-"

Yuka's efforts at calm were not helped by Mayu dropping to her knees.

"Happy Birthday, Kouta-San-"

Yuka prepared to either faint dead away or stop a blatant seduction.

"Happy Birthday-Kouta Oto-San. Happy Birthday, Father. Your kindness has begun to cleanse that title in my mind. I cannot bring myself to call you that very often, but your birthday from now on will always be one of those days."

A thud was heard, and the light smile between the girl and the young man broke off in concern for the fainted Yuka. For the record, upon awakening, Yuka found that she had never been so very happy to be so very wrong, and asked for a similar present from Mayu when her own birthday came. She also learned anew—always let sleeping journals lie.