Angel Beats! エンジェルビーツ!

Our Beats Incarnate

Book II: The Beachfront

Chapter 2: Cupid's Arrow?

As the bellhop unlocked the door and led the way into the room, somehow managing to carry a large luggage trunk without any problems, Yuzuru couldn't believe his eyes. The cavernous chamber, complete with fine furnishings and ornate decoration, was far more than he'd been expecting. Sure, the hotel had appeared grand from the outside, and the wide, long hallways and spacious express elevators boasted of the luxury on offer all the way from the lobby to the door of his room.

But this, inside, seemed better suited to royalty than a mere pauper such as himself. His friends must've really gone all-out to get their hands on tickets to this resort.

A large emperor-sized bed dominated the centre of the main room, the bright white and swathe of oceanic blues which governed the bedspread offering a stark contrast to the faux-terracotta tiling of the floor. To Yuzuru's right there was a half-opened door, presenting a tantalising glimpse of the almost clinically white fitments of the luxurious bathroom suite, a sizeable bathtub just visible in the hazy reflection of the stunningly white tiled wall.

Beside that door, fitted wardrobes filled the wall all the way to the window, with an alcove built in to house the sizeable flat-screen TV – not that Yuzuru envisioned himself being in the room long enough to actually watch the thing.

But the feature which drew his attention the most, pulling him into the room like a moth to a flame, were the floor-to-ceiling glass doors which looked out over the resort itself, the not-too-distant pale sandy beach down below, and the paradise of translucent turquoise ocean which lay beyond. There, through those doors, was a modest balcony complete with two deckchairs and a small drinks table.

Yuzuru didn't even try to resist the temptation, passing straight through the room and out through those doors to overlook the glorious Eden below.

"How long are you with us, Sir?" the bellhop's voice reached his ears just as he peered over the balcony's edge.

"Two weeks." Yuzuru replied absently, absorbing the view before him in wide-eyed wonderment. The basking heat of the sun high above the resort and the otherwise-stifling humidity that was legendary in this part of the world were easily forgotten in light of that glorious utopia below, the demonstration incarnate of what could be achieved when the best of man-made luxury worked in co-operation with the most astonishing fruits that nature herself had to offer.

"Ah, the activity package." The bellhop's voice drew Yuzuru once more back to the luxuriant hotel room; he'd almost forgotten in those few instances that he wasn't alone. He turned to face the uniform-clad man – it was amazing that in the sticky heat the young attendant wasn't himself caked and sodden with a heated sweat. Perhaps he was simply used to it?

"Most of our guests are here for that." He went on.

"Really?" Yuzuru's eyebrow cocked reflexively – that revelation came as a bit of a surprise. The hotel itself was most definitely renowned for its world-class facilities and boasted a nigh-unparalleled reputation throughout the globe for the activity packages it had to offer. But all of that paled in comparison to the island on which it was situated, itself sporting a literally centuries-old standing as a tropical retreat, "I would've thought on an island like this most people came for the sun, sea and sand."

The young man seemed to wave his hand almost dismissively at the idea, but the welcoming smile – no doubt well-trained and rehearsed by most of the hotel's staff – didn't falter for even a moment, "Some do. But this resort is supposed to have it 'all'."

A few brief moments of silence passed between the two, and Yuzuru wasn't entirely sure if there was some local custom that he was overlooking before the bellhop would leave. Offering the man a tip, perhaps? Or some formal means of dismissal?

But it was the bellhop who eventually broke the silence, "Do you have any plans, Sir?"

"Hmm." Yuzuru had to think for a moment. He hadn't really laid out an itinerary, a couple of cursory flips through the resort brochure on the way over from the airport to get to grips with the activities on offer notwithstanding. There were a couple of pursuits he was eager to try out, but he wanted to read into them a little bit more before committing to anything. He did realise, however, that before him was standing a local who would no doubt possess a far more intimate knowledge of what the hotel had to proffer than even the brochure could lay claim to. To not ask him would've been a wasted opportunity, so Yuzuru decided to seize it whilst he could, "Nothing set in stone. What would you recommend?"

"Well," the man seemed to frown in a moment of deep thought, his brow creasing and his eyebrows somehow closing the small gap between one-another to form a rather impressive unibrow, "if you're an early riser, I'd suggest getting the more popular activities out of the way in the morning, before they get fully booked up. Jet ski, power boating, and the like are usually big sell-outs."

Water-related activities. With his mind harking back to the spectacular view he'd taken in of the beautiful, near-crystal green and blue hues of the ocean, Yuzuru didn't find the popularity of the water sports all that surprising. But in all honesty, as fun as they sounded, he wanted something a little bit more relaxing to fill the next day or two – if only to help him get over the mild jetlag that had begun to set in.

"You know, I'm here to relax." Yuzuru offered a genuine smile, "Those don't sound very relaxing."

The man's white-gloved hand rose thoughtfully to his chin, the deep frown returning for a moment as he put some more thought – possibly much more than was actually needed, Yuzuru began to wonder - into the apparent quandary, "We do have a world famous spa here, Sir." He offered in concession.

Yuzuru chuckled lightly, imagining himself in a warm, mud-filled bath, complete with face pack and cucumber slices over each eye, eventually dozing off and sinking into the grey-brown depths never to resurface, "Maybe a bit too relaxed."

"Well, there are always other things to try." There was a brief pause as the man seemed to mull over the options, "Hiking is popular, guided or free to roam. You can't really get lost here, because you'll hit the water after a couple of miles at most. But you'd also miss most of the sights if a guide isn't there to point them out. And our shooting and archery instructors are second to none."

"Archery?" Yuzuru raised an eyebrow in curious inquisition. Archery was one of those things in life that he'd always thought it would be fun to try, but he had actually been given precious little opportunity to try. No doubt there were archery clubs and the like back home, but he'd never really looked into it.

"Yes Sir." The bellhop nodded in affirmation.

"I've always wanted to try that." Yuzuru put word to his thoughts. Presumably the resort provided all the equipment – there couldn't be that many people who came to the island with their own gear. Then again, if the sport truly was as popular here as the bellhop was suggesting, maybe there were people who did precisely that? Though it must've been a challenge to explain that on the way through customs.

Heavens help anybody who brought their own weapons for the shooting range.

"There you go then, Sir." The bellhop gave a courteous bow before turning to leave, his job done and being fairly certain that the conversation was indeed over.

Yuzuru called after him with gracious thanks, "Thank you for the suggestions."

"Any time, Sir." The door swung quietly shut behind him, closing with a gentle click.

Donning a smile, Yuzuru decided to settle into his room.

-o-O-o-

By around ten in the morning the hotel had served up a rather generous breakfast buffet. The main meal had to be ordered and held a fixed price, but any sides like toast, croissants or fruit were free to take as wanted. Even the drinks were bottomless, which was always a bonus. Afterwards, Yuzuru had taken one of the resort map pamphlets from the reception desk in the hotel lobby.

As it turned out, the resort was much larger than he'd initially thought. The company which ran the hotel not only owned the building itself, but several kilometres of pristine beachfront and a fair bit of unspoiled woodland and open grass on the inland side of the building. It gave plenty of scope for just about any activity, from hiking to horse-riding. Holiday makers could spend their time roaming the shallow waters on a jet ski, or simply sunning themselves on the pale sandy beaches.

It wasn't difficult to place why the resort was so popular.

In the end, it turned out that the archery range was actually down on the beachfront, about a five minute walk away from the main hotel beach and seafront, well out of the way of any other hubs of activity, no doubt to abate any safety risks to anybody who happened to venture by.

As Yuzuru rounded the beach, his destination cut off from view by an outcropping of the indigenous sub-tropical woodland, forming something of a miniature headland in the larger bay, he soon heard the familiar sounds of arrows slicing through the air, reaching their targets with a resounding and wooden twang.

When the range finally came directly into sight the very first thing Yuzuru noticed was that there seemed to be significantly more people watching than actually taking part, with several of the targets standing vacant. Each one had an equipment trunk besides where the archer was intended to stand, the top end of the bow and threshed end of numerous arrows visible from the open top.

The instructors were easy enough to spot, standing out with their bright yellow polo shirts and baseball caps, each embroidered with the resort's logo in a fine red stitch. Of course, the huge smile that one of them offered when they noticed Yuzuru looking around curiously didn't do much to conceal the fact either.

"Hello Sir!" the red-eyed young man greeted him, his tussled green-tinged hair setting his cap at an odd angle atop his head, greeted warmly, "Are you here to watch, or would you like to try your hand at it?"

"Erm…" Yuzuru began uncertainly, rubbing the back of his head with a nervous grin, "I'd like to try, but I've never done this before."

The instructor's eyes seemed to instantly light up, his smile spreading so wide it seemed almost maniacal, "Not to worry, Sir! We have an excellent instruction program for beginners. Just come this way!"

Before Yuzuru could so much as protest the man had him firmly by the arm, dragging him forcefully away from the range towards a small open-walled wood hut set a little back into the treeline behind the range. Yuzuru wondered how he hadn't noticed until now.

"This won't take long."

-o-O-o-

Nearly an hour later, having endured what had to have been one of the longest, driest faux-educational wastes of time he'd ever been forced to watch, Yuzuru was non-the-wiser regarding how to actually use a bow and arrow. The man in the video, obviously an actor with little to no experience – and a strangely distracting lisp to boot – had spent plenty of time on the various points of do and do not (do not aim at people. Yeah, no kidding…) but no time on the actual technical side of things.

But, the instructor obviously felt it was enough because the instant the video's credits had flashed across the screen, he'd once again grabbed Yuzuru by the arm and was dragging him intently back towards the range, over to one of the vacant targets, forcing the bow and an arrow into his hand with gusto.

Yuzuru hesitated for a moment whilst the instructor looked on expectantly. Looking at the bow in one hand and then up to the target, Yuzuru swallowed with a slow gulp, feeling an undue degree of pressure being placed on his shoulders without any real reason.

He took a moment or two to observe the other archers, trying to note how they held their bows, one arm outstretched, the other supporting the arrow between two fingers and drawing the line taut. A resounding twang, a brief flit of flight time, and the loud thunk of the arrowhead piercing the target and the whole thing was over.

It didn't look too difficult.

With a slight shrug Yuzuru lifted the bow, taking aim as he lined up his arrow. He wasn't convinced that his aim was right, having never attempted this before, and he knew that his lack of experience must be obvious when the instructor finally deigned to speak up.

"Aim a little over your target. The arrow will travel in an arc."

No kidding… Yuzuru added drily in thought.

But, he acceded to follow the advice of somebody he presumed was an expert, so he lifted the bow a little higher to give the arrow more altitude. The whole contraption was a bit heavier than he'd expected and he could feel the weight burning slowly into the bicep of his leading arm.

"Now, draw the bow back slowly…"

The taut string was much more resistant than he'd expected too, and it took considerable effort for him to pull what he considered enough tension into it so that the arrow would actually fly. After a moment of firm straining both of his arms began to shake and waver slightly.

"Now, take your time and aim carefully." The instructor went on, "Readjust your stance if need be; best foot forwards."

With a slight nod and a deep breath drawn through clenched teeth, Yuzuru moved to take a few steps backwards, allowing himself a bit more room to manoeuvre. What he didn't expect, however, was the slight depression in the sand that his trailing foot suddenly slipped into.

The sudden yelp of surprise as his foot fell further than he'd anticipated signalled his sudden loss of balance. Reflexively his arms jerked, his grip on the bow and the arrow failing in rapid succession. With a flit, the arrow was released, the aim wildly off.

In a moment of panic Yuzuru realised what he'd done – fired his arrow directly towards a group of half a dozen spectators off to the side of the range.

"Watch out!" he cried in an all-too-late warning.

Five sixths of the crowd got the message and made a near instantaneous dive for cover. But as each of them moved, parting right down the middle, a short, silvery-haired girl came into view from the back of the group. Either she wasn't aware of what was happening, or she simply didn't hear the warning.

The arrow was heading straight for her.

But she did notice the sudden reaction of the people around her, a brief flash of startled bewilderment passing through wide, auric eyes. It was a moment of hesitation that she could ill afford, and Yuzuru found himself unable to watch, clamping down his eyelids with a tight wince of dreaded anticipation.

He heard the collective gasp of everybody who had been brave – or perhaps morbid – enough to continue watching the spectacle, but the expected cry of pain never came.

With all the will he could muster, he forced his eyes to open again. He'd expected to see the poor girl laid prone on the sand, effulgent silver locks tussled in unwitting discord and torso stained with the crimson of her own blood – though vivid, Yuzuru didn't much appreciate the gruesome picture his imagination was painting.

But what he actually saw - and the clear source of the crowd's amazement - was the girl standing there with an incredibly focussed expression on her face, hands clasped tightly together in what could almost have been prayer. The fact that she was still standing was remarkable enough, but once Yuzuru finally came to notice the focal point of her intense concentration, he didn't know whether to feel astonishment or disbelief.

There between her palms, held steady two thirds of the way from the head to the fletching, was the arrow.

Yuzuru almost forced himself to do a double take – how was that even possible?

Snapping out of his amazement a fraction of a moment later – a swift but certain shake of the head dispelling the last of his distraction – he quickly stepped forwards, breaking into a quick trot as he approached the girl.

"Hey, are you okay?" Yuzuru began tentatively once he was within comfortable earshot.

The girl didn't seem to notice him as he approached her, both her intense stare and her complete attention focussed entirely upon the arrow between her palms. Her hands were shaking ever so slightly.

She was in shock.

"Hey," Yuzuru stopped short of invading her personal space, but remained close enough to be noticed, "Are you okay?"

The girl seemed to blink at last, her unmoving eyes wavering for a moment before looking up and meeting his gaze. He heard her release her breath – had she been holding it all this time? – and blinked, her expressionless countenance revealing absolutely no emotion to Yuzuru's concerned overtures.

The silence was heavy and awkward as she simply looked at him, unmoving.

Yuzuru rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, uncertain as to how he should proceed – was there a standard etiquette when interacting with somebody you'd almost shot with an arrow, "So, um…" he began with a falter, "those are some impressive reflexes you've got."

Even to his own ears that sounded lame, and he mentally scolded himself for it. Maybe he would've been better just apologising and avoiding getting into this awkward moment in the first place? Oh well, damage done now…

"It was a fluke." The girl's strangely soft and mellifluous voice barely permeated the silence.

It took Yuzuru aback momentarily, amazed that her tone was even and unwavering. Whatever emotional barrier she'd raised, it was clearly quite strong – Yuzuru wasn't at all convinced that had their situations been reversed, he would've been so level and calm. Indeed, he was absolutely certain that he would've been fuming if he'd been in her shoes.

But even so, despite her clearly visible unflappable mien, something didn't seem quite right.

Yuzuru looked her straight in the eye, those fathomless auriferous depths a complete and utter mystery. Though they sparkled, though they seemed to almost burrow down into his very soul, they remained thoroughly and irrefutably unreadable.

He gave up trying to figure her out. Instead, his attention fell back to the arrow between her palms, still held fast and unmoving, save for the gentle quiver of her hands.

"Are you okay?"

At long last she blinked, looking down at the arrow herself. A shallow frown momentarily flashed across her face, vanishing as quickly as it had arrived. Whatever was troubling her in that brief instance must have been deigned insignificant. When she looked up at him again her expression was once again unreadable.

Clasping the arrow suddenly by the shaft, Yuzuru was taken aback when the silvery-haired girl held out the projectile towards him, "This is yours." She insisted.

Filled with uncertainty, Yuzuru accepted it from her, careful not to cut his hand on the sharp-pointed head. He couldn't help but notice the bright red friction burn running all the way across her palm as she released the wooden missile into his own hand.

"I'm so sorry…" Yuzuru offered meekly.

She inclined her head slightly to one side, as if trying to size him up. The few drawn-out moments of silence dripped with a nervous tension on Yuzuru's part, still expecting her to erupt into anger or outrage at any moment.

Instead, she remained calm and collected, "It's alright."

Yuzuru simply blinked. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around just how nonchalant and dismissive she was being about the whole thing. Sure, he was pleased that she wasn't tearing him a new one – the embarrassment of being so lax in his archery skills, much less almost hitting a bystander, would be more than enough material for him to admonish himself for not being more careful.

And what made it worse was that she was clearly injured! Maybe not seriously, but it had to be painful. A little bit of outrage would have been expected, if not a welcome counsel to his guilt. But she wasn't even offering up that much in retort to his unintentional recklessness.

No, it didn't sit right with him. He had to set things right, if only insofar as making sure she received basic medical treatment for her wounds.

"No," Yuzuru insisted with firm resolve, "Let me at least escort you to first aid."

But still she chose to object to his overtures of recompense, "I'm fine."

Yuzuru's eyes once again fell upon the girl's palms, the angry red burns all but screaming out to him. It had to be throbbing now. Worse still, he was sure that there was a little blood.

There was no way that he was going to let that go untended. Reaching forwards quickly, he grabbed the girl firmly by the wrists, feeling her reflexively tense up at his sudden lunge into her personal space. She looked up at him with wide-eyed surprise, but it quickly passed when he made no further move other than to turn her hands palm-skyward, her fight or flight instincts kept in check only by whatever remarkable control she held over her emotional composure.

Yuzuru made an exaggerated point of inspecting her hands in a way that she could also see, taking grim note of the slight gash in one palm – presumably where the arrow-head had made its impact, "You're bleeding. You need to get this looked at."

In such hot and humid conditions, any such wound could easily become infected, and that was something that Yuzuru definitely didn't want on his conscience.

When he released one of her hands, she'd half expected him to put a little distance between them. But she was more than a little surprised when his firm grip moved instead to encircle her wrist and began to pull her forwards. The gesture wasn't painful, his grip loose enough to avoid too much constriction, but was enough to ensure she couldn't refuse.

So she let him lead the way, this young man who had almost shot her, and now held her captive.

It was definitely going to be an unusual day.

-o-O-o-

Chapter 2: Cupid's Arrow?