Act One: Intersections
It was May 3, 2037, and it was a beautiful day. The air was crisp and clean; the sun shone down uninterrupted by clouds on the city of Hikarizaka. A winding path, used mostly by students and faculty, led uphill to Hikarizaka Private High School. For those whom walked that sakura lined path, the scent of the trees always brought peaceful thoughts and feelings to mind.
Or at least, to most.
On it walked a young man in a student's uniform. He walked steadily as if being pulled by the chains of fate, and if anyone had been close enough to see, they would see that he wore an expression that could best be described as complex. Every now and then he would stop and stare into the distance, watching a memory of events that had not yet occurred play out.
In his memory the sky is dark with smoke. The city is burning, the school just one more building releasing smoke from fires like a death scream to pollute the air. Flashes of light, either from lightning or the artificial flashes of light from what can only be tracer fire, were reflected by the acrid smoke that blotted out even the sun. Oddly the path to the school is gone, along with the sakura trees, as if removed by a great hand. It is not the work of what has destroyed the city.
What has done that is obvious whenever light flashes to reveal the coldly ominous shape of a nearby mushroom cloud.
Something like this should have left either the burnt corpses or carbonized shadows of the unlucky majority not prepared for such an event, but there are no such remains to be seen. He didn't have to see inside the burning wreckages of buildings to know there were never any people in them when the event occurred.
As always, someone was prepared for it.
"Not long now," he said quietly in English. "Less than a year. Not long at all. I wonder if I'll be ready."
He shook his head warily and continued on. He was going to be late for class again, not that he had particular reason to care, but he still wanted to show up. He only had so long in which he could live something that resembled a normal life again, and that included going to high school. 'Best not waste it,' he reflected. He turned the corner and spotted a vaguely familiar girl in the school's uniform.
She stood as if waiting for something that would never come, her two red hairclips keeping her shoulder length auburn hair in place as a light breeze blew. He idly pulled on a strand of his short dark blue hair thoughtfully. 'Curious,' he thought as he pressed forward, glad for the excuse to take his mind off of gloomy augury even for a moment.
"Sweet bean bread!" exclaimed the girl as he moved to pass her, which caused him to pause and regard her with a raised eyebrow. Even though it was plain to see she was talking to herself, it was still a most unusual statement. He decided to wait and see what she said next.
"Do you like this school?" Her tone took on a wistful edge. "I, for one, happen to love it. However... Things always have to change. Fun things... Happy things... But eventually they will change. Even so, can you continue loving this place?"
He sighed. So easy it would have been to just ignore her and carry on walking, to let her wait for something that would never come. But there wasn't much time left. Somehow it seemed like it would have been unfair, to see her waste what little time she didn't know she had. He grunted, which caused her to jump slightly, as if she hadn't been aware she had an audience until that time. She turned and looked at him with surprised golden eyes.
"You're right," he stated, his piercing blue eyes locking onto hers. "Nothing stays the same forever. Nothing but one thing. And that is that one must always go forward." He looked down the path that she seemed reluctant to take. "You can't live in the past. You'll miss out on new fun and happy things." He began to walk down the path again. "Come. There is still time, if we set off now." He could see her blink before nodding.
"Un!" she declared, and followed.
It had been an unremarkable day from that point onward. The girl that had come with him down the school path had gone her own way to class without word, and he had sat through the day alternating between dozing and looking bored. If it weren't for the fact that he still turned in all of the assignments on time and correctly, he suspected that he would be pestered about his lethargic approach to class.
Or perhaps not, as his dubious friend, Sunohara Youhei, seemed to get away with it just fine most of the time as well, in spite of questionable grades and generally unreliable classroom habits. It was this uncertain character that he was now on his way to visit, class now being over and him without much reason to return home.
It seemed that he was not the only person after Sunohara, however. Sunohara lived in the sports dorm in spite of not being in any sports since shortly after his first year began, having been kicked out for fighting. The same could not be said for the other tenants, mainly the overly built members of the Rugby team whom were arrayed as if they intended to use the hallway to drill in. By the looks of things, Sunohara was to be used as the ball.
"Have you learned your lesson now, Sunohara?!" exclaimed one of the larger team members.
"What do you think you're doing playing your CD so loud?" another barked from within the crowd.
"But if I don't listen to it I can't focus," lamented the source of their irritation with a sheepish smile from in the arm lock the largest of the players had him in, a young man of slightly below average height and build with a baby face and a shock of yellow dyed hair. His lamentation only seemed to incite the rugby playing crowd, one of them giving out a battle cry of some sort as the largest player lifted him up and prepared to toss him like a ball.
"This again?" he asked to the even stares of the team.
"Okazaki! Stop watching and help me!" exclaimed the object of their derision in a desperate plea for help.
"And what happened to the headphones I lent you?" Okazaki asked. 'Broken, no doubt,' he reflected.
"I accidentally sat on them," Sunohara admitted as he attempted to poke his index fingers together sheepishly, but couldn't thanks to the lock the captain had him in. A tan and orange striped cat, the one that seemed to frequent the place, sidled up to Okazaki, rubbing itself on his leg in a fond fashion.
"Consider it punishment for breaking my things then," Okazaki said flatly as he reached down to pick up the tomcat and save it from potential injury.
"You heartless bastard!" Sunohara screeched as he was rolled down the line, kicked toward the back of their line, picked up by another player and kicked to the front of the line.
"Huh, good air time," said Okazaki, as Sunohara flew. The cat mewed in agreement. Sunohara was caught by another player and passed back as if he were naught but a handball, and tackled to the floor by the same player that kicked him back to the front of the line.
Whatever else they planned to do with him was interrupted by the entrance of an enraged woman. "Shut up!" screamed Sagara Misae, dorm mother. Her blue hair was in a loose bun and her gold eyes flashed with irritation as she charged toward the rowdy rugby players, spinning the mop as if it were a staff with one hand. Sunohara lay forgotten as they cowered and fled before her wrath. "Break it up already!"
"Squad broken," Okazaki quipped as he watched the fleeing troupe while petting the cat behind the ears absent-mindedly.
"Owwww," bemoaned Sunohara from his position on the floor.
"For crying out loud," said Misae as she slammed the mop head on the floor in aggravation. "I'm the one that has to deal with the complaints from the neighbors."
"It could be worse," Okazaki said. "They could ignore you outright."
"Misae san," sobbed Sunohara as he climbed up her leg from his position on the floor. "Come save me earlier, please..." he moaned.
"You're the one at fault, aren't you?" Misae replied, much of her anger gone as she gently kicked him off. "Why don't you learn your lesson?"
"Yes ma'am," groaned out Sunohara. Okazaki simply let out a deep sigh at the antics of his friend.
"Damn that rugby club," Sunohara stated warily from his position behind the table after Okazaki helped him back to his room.
"Why don't you just keep the music down?" Okazaki had to ask. It was hardly the first time this had happened, and at this rate, hardly the last either. "Or, you know, stop breaking my headphones."
"One of these days I'm going to get them back," Sunohara said, ignoring Okazaki's question. "When I do, you'll have my back, won't you?"
"I don't know, are you going to break my headphones again?" Okazaki said with a smirk.
"Some friend you are," Sunohara snorted.
"At least I'm not making things worse. In fact I'm trying to help you. If you'd quit breaking my headphones, you'd be completely safe."
"Headphones, headphones, headphones," snorted Sunohara, annoyed. "Don't you care about your poor friend Sunohara? It's not like you care about the headphones anyway, isn't that why you lent them to me?"
"Speaking of," Okazaki said, ignoring Sunohara's question as he raised his hand. In it was the headphones, or at least what may have once been a pair of headphones, but now more resembled a pile of plastic chips and bent metal dross. "How exactly did you manage to shatter these this badly? I don't buy sitting on them."
"They were under a book," Sunohara insisted. Okazaki examined the pile of ex-headphone doubtfully. The plastic was fully shattered, but the remains of the metal parts of the speakers had curved indentations on them, as if hit with a hammer.
"A hammer shaped book?" Okazaki asked with amusement, holding up one of the metal chunks with a more pronounced bend on it. Sunohara scratched the back of his head and laughed a little.
"Wow, you're good."
"No, you're just obvious," Okazaki smirked. "So why are you introducing my stuff to a hammer?"
"I wanted to see if you could fix it. Still don't know how you did it last time."
"Trade secret," Okazaki said, and stuffed the remains in his pocket. "I'll see what I can do. But seriously, stop breaking them okay? It's a pain in the ass."
"Yeah, yeah. You know, I'd be more careful if you cared."
"Well," Okazaki said, using Sunohara's bed as a backrest as he picked up one of the manga lying around the room. "I care. Sorta. Just... Don't break them."
"Sure," Sunohara said noncommittally as he turned his attention to another one of the manga on the floor. Okazaki regarded him for a few moments before sighing and thumbing through the manga. As it turned out, it was one he'd already read. He sighed again and resigned himself to reading it once more.
And so the day passed. Okazaki eventually returned home to sleep, and came to class in much the same way as he always did, lamenting a memory that had not happened yet. He was definitely late this time, for what little it mattered. First period was done, and he was showing up between first and second period in an effort to not disrupt things too much. As he went to open the door, he heard voices talking about him.
"Okazaki and Sunohara aren't here yet?" asked the voice of a young man. Okazaki paused in mild interest and listened.
"I don't get it. They're seniors, shouldn't they be worried about exams and futures?" asked another male student.
"Just forget it. We don't have time to worry about them," said the first of the talking pair. Okazaki shook his head with a smirk and entered. 'How little they know,' he thought with amusement as he noted a student warning one of the students talking of his entrance, whom merely let off a small chuckle. Okazaki let his face return to a neutral expression, indifference taking hold.
"U-um, Okazaki kun," began a shy female voice. Okazaki looked up and noted the presence of the class representative. A head shorter than he was, with blue eyes, violet hair cropped to the shoulders, and a ribbon in her hair to the left side of her face; Fujibayashi Ryou, twin sister to Fujibayashi Kyou, if only in basic appearance.
Where the elder twin was headstrong and determined, the younger twin that stood before him, paper in hand and a slight blush was submissive and demure. The term 'Shrinking Violet' sprung to mind.
"Fujibayashi san," he said, noting her presence.
"You came in late again today," she smiled.
"Um," she raised her hand to her face uncertainly, "I think you should show up to class properly every day."
Okazaki had to chuckle at that. "You're probably right. But it's unlikely to actually happen."
"Oh." A tear formed in the corner of her eye.
"Thanks for the concern though," Okazaki said with a sigh, hoping to avoid making her cry.
"Hey Okazaki, don't make the class representative cry," one of the male students from earlier said.
"Her sis is gonna come running in here," noted another male student warily.
"I'm fine," she said as she turned around. "I'm not crying."
Okazaki sighed. "I tell you what," he said earnestly. "I'll think about it. Maybe I'll be here on time tomorrow."
"Th-Then um, I'll read your fortune for tomorrow," she said with what could be viewed as either excitement or nervousness.
"Hm? Fortune telling?" he asked, interest piqued.
"Y-yes," she said as she pulled out a stack of playing cards. He blinked as she began to shuffle them.
"Playing cards?" he asked with mild confusion, just as she fumbled her shuffling and dropped the lot of them. He sighed and went to start helping her pick up the fallen cards.
"Okazaki kun... You'll be late tomorrow," she said as she stared at the cards.
"...That's your prediction?" he asked as he paused in his efforts to pick up the cards.
"Yes," she said shyly with a slightly sheepish smile. "I think that's how this sort of fortune telling works."
"Well," he said, for a moment lost for words.
"On the way to school you will have a romantic meeting with a kind girl," she said, looking first at the upturned queen of spades, then the ten of diamonds, "Forget about the passing of time," she continued, looking at the ace of hearts, "and therefore be late."
"Well. It's... Detailed."
"A-A maiden's inspiration," she replied with a blush.
"Hey!" A rude voice speared the room. "Okazaki Tomoya!"
He narrowed his eyes, time slowing down for an instant as he noted an incoming projectile, a Japanese to English dictionary he noted, doubtless thrown by the source of the voice.
His hand snapped up to catch the thrown book as his mind worked. 'Now who would throw this?' The book made contact with his hand and stopped dead in its tracks. He brought his hand down in time to see a second book, this time a calculus text.
'Gotta be Kyou,' he said to himself mentally as his other hand reached to catch the second book. As he brought it out of his viewing radius, the third thrown book, a history textbook this time, made itself known.
He dodged under it in the fraction of a second he had, and felt it graze his cheek as it passed. The memories of incidents with far more dangerous projectiles than mere books bunched up on him for a moment, the sensation of burnt, flayed skin, of shockwaves shattering bone and crumpling steel played through his mind as it passed. He suppressed a shudder as the book flew out of the open window behind him and curved into a tree in the plaza between buildings.
He turned his stare to the source of the rogue books and gazed levelly at the elder twin. The same face as her sister, almost, but with violet eyes that seem to be perpetually stuck in a slightly irritated expression, hip-length hair, and a ribbon tied to her hair on the right side of her face.
"Kyou," he said evenly.
"Older sister," Fujibayashi said, slightly awestruck.
"You've got some nerve to pick on my sister," Kyou said angrily as she approached, fists balled and posture aggressive.
Okazaki set the books down on his desk without letting his eyes off of the approaching girl.
She grabbed his tie to minimal effect. "You loser," she practically spat in his face.
He kept his expression entirely neutral, which seemed to just increase Kyou's irritation.
"H-He's not picking on me," Fujibayashi stammered as she waved her hands frantically, as if to prevent a fight.
Kyou regarded her, then Okazaki, before shrugging. "Hmm, then fine," she said as she released his tie. "Though that expression pisses me off for some reason. Hmm?" Kyou looked down, noting at last the cards on the floor. "Oh, you had Ryou read your fortune?"
"That's right," he said evenly, not yet letting his guard down. "Apparently I'm going to have some meeting with a kind girl, forget about the passing of time, and be late."
"Hehmm," Kyou said as she regarded him with a slight smirk as she rubbed her chin in mock thoughtfulness. "Well, good luck," she said exuberantly and smacked his shoulder before turning to leave, practically skipping out the door and laughing.
Okazaki raised an eyebrow. "...Right," he said as she left.
The rest of the class was uneventful, with Okazaki dutifully pretending to ignore it as usual after he helped Fujibayashi with her cards. Lunch time came soon enough, and he got up to go alone as Sunohara wasn't around. As he made his way to the cafeteria, he heard three students discussing a rumor.
"Ghost?" Said one of the three students.
Okazaki resisted snorting but listened anyway as he passed.
"I heard she appears," said a gray haired student conspiratorially. "The ghost of the girl that got in a car accident."
"Just a rumor," said a brown haired student dismissively.
'Sounds about right,' Okazaki mentally commented.
"I'm not kidding! And I heard she'd cute too," noted the first.
Okazaki shook his head, as if to dismiss what he had heard as the epitome of inanity. In truth, he wasn't entirely dismissive of ghosts; he had seen at least a few things that made him have to consider the possibility of ghosts, but he simply didn't buy high school rumors about them. Far too many ways a message could get distorted.
'Probably someone saw a girl that they thought looked like whomever had got in the car accident, and things had went on from there,' he reckoned as he turned his head to look out the window.
He noted a lone student eating bread in silence outside, sitting on the edge of a short retaining wall in the shade of a bush. The very same girl whom he had talked to on the hill yesterday. 'Huh. You think she didn't have any friends.' He sighed to himself. Again, it would be so easy to just let the situation go. 'But we promised not to do that anymore, didn't we?' He made his way outside.
"You alone?" he asked, putting his foot up on the retaining wall and using his knee as a rest for his arms. He was met by silence. "Hmm. Are you awake?"
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'm eating right now."
Okazaki let out a small chuckle and sat down on the edge of the shade to wait.
She finished in reasonably short order and folded her empty wrappers meticulously, and started drinking juice.
Okazaki continued to wait patiently as he reminded himself that he was already out there after all.
She finally finished and turned to Okazaki. "Um, how can I help you?" she asked timidly.
"You seemed lonely," he said with a shrug.
She mulled over this for a few seconds. "Do you like this school?" she asked at last, quietly.
"Hm. Well, it's a school. Each one is about the same as another really."
"I really, really love it," she said, reminding him of what she said on the hill. "I used to have friends and teachers that I got along with, but now..."
"I take it that something happened?"
"Last year I was away from school for a long time," she said. He took note of the patch on her chest, denoting her to be a senior. "So I'm..."
"Repeating," he said, earning a nod from the girl. "I'm guessing your friends have all graduated?"
"Yes," she said with a nod. "And now I don't know anyone here. I feel like Urashima Tarou." She wilted for a second before gasping. "Ah! I'm sorry. What am I saying to a person I just met..."
"Don't worry about it," he said with a small smirk. "I'm here to listen, after all. Though I will say, at least you aren't actually Urashima Tarou. It's only been a year, not three hundred."
"Ah," she said. "You're right." They sat in silence for a few seconds.
"Hm, well," he said as he thought back to a time that now seemed like ancient history to him. "If you wanted to make new friends, you could join a club I suppose."
"I did want to join the theater club," she admitted with a measure of dejection. Indeed, she seemed to sink into herself on saying so. "But I have a weak body, I don't think I could properly participate in the activities."
"Well, it's not like acting is a high impact activity," he observed wryly. "Stressful, but with the right part you won't have to go running around like a maniac." He gave her the thumbs up with a grin.
She couldn't help but smile a little in response. "Still..." she said sinking back down again.
"Well, let's get you sorted, then. We'll go drop in on them and see about getting you involved," he said, leaving no room for argument. 'And if this works, maybe I'll have had a positive impact on someone's life for once.'
"I... Okay," she relented.
They sat in silence until a faint buzzing noise reached Okazaki's ears. He stood and looked in the direction of the school's soccer field.
Seconds passed as she looked up at Okazaki in mild confusion. "What is that sound?" she asked as she finally noticed it herself.
Okazaki started to walk toward the source, followed closely by the girl whom he was talking to.
They arrived to the scene of two motorcycles doing large donuts on the soccer field. Okazaki could see Sunohara, whom was sitting on one of the blue chairs that overlooked the field as he drank juice.
"Wow, so cool, they're wheeling around!" exclaimed Sunohara.
Okazaki's expression seemed to express the exact opposite opinion, as if he thought they were trouble seeking idiots. His expression changed then, a smirk growing as if he were considering giving them the trouble they sought. He stroked his chin thoughtfully for a few seconds, as if mulling it over.
He started to walk forward, only to pause as out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone he had seen before. Silver hair down to her waist, black hairband, blue eyes. Oh yes. He'd definitely seen her before.