Author's note: Written for the x2009 community, celebrating nearly ten years since the supposed end of the world in 1999. (This rec post serves as an index to all the stories; you can see the authors' names here.) Thanks to Mith, Puel, and Aishuu for running this challenge, and to all the awesome authors who participated. Please see my disclaimer page for copyright information regarding this story.
An X Fanfic
By Natalie Baan
Ten years ago the world ended.
* * * * *
Swaying with the rhythm of the train and the beat of the music video playing on her phone, long ponytails switching from side to side with each tilt of her head, the girl mouthed silently along with the lyrics. Her phone suddenly chirped and quivered; with a moue of annoyance, she slung her arm around the metal support pole and with her now-free hand minimized the video and flicked it to the upper corner of the screen, revealing the text window.
: yuka-chaaaan~! where r u?!
: busy 2nite - sorry~!
Deft fingers finished keying her reply and sent the message on its way, then re-enlarged the video to a watchable size just in time for the slow part of the bridge and Fumikyun’s dramatic close-up. With a small, absorbed sigh of satisfaction, Yuka swung idly around the pole.
The train’s automated voice broke into the song, and with a start she turned for the door as they pulled into the station. As soon as it opened, she was out—across the platform, up the stairs, and through the turnstile, the rapid patter of her footsteps still keeping time, though her attention was already elsewhere, having darted on ahead, leaving the pleasant distractions of boy bands fading in its wake like trailing smoke. “Here we go! Go! To the end,” she sang half-consciously, under her breath, and as she came out onto the sidewalk she tugged at the cords of her earbuds, let them swing free briefly before looping them around the phone and tucking it into her school bag. The walk sign was with her, so she crossed the street hastily and then paused on the other side, lifting a hand to shade out an already-lit streetlight as she peered up at the sky. Beyond the rooflines of other, lower buildings, Tokyo Tower rose up somberly, already indistinct against the quick spring twilight.
With a fleeting grin, she bounced across the other pedestrian crossing and jog-trotted up the street, soon passing beneath the scattered cherry trees, their blooming long done. Past the bus parking lot, mostly empty now, the area around the foot of the tower relatively quiet in the lull between the daytime tourists and school groups and the nighttime romantics—she cast a darting glance about to make sure that she wasn’t being watched, then sprang for the top of the concrete base, raced lightly up the steep slope of the Tower’s leg, the orange girders ringing faintly beneath each step. As the incline grew closer to vertical, she gathered herself once more and leaped straight up, a sudden vortex of wind beneath her foot lifting her high, high, a dizzying, surging rush past the windows of the main observation deck, still unseen (she hoped), her school uniform dark against the steadily darkening sky. She landed on the deck’s roof, panting a little with the effort; then, catching her breath, she skipped girder to girder up the column of the tower’s spire, the air flowing and coiling about her, smooth and strong as a river’s current, giving her buoyancy, a support that wouldn’t let her fall.
Somewhere around the middle of the tower, amidst the array of radio antennas that jutted from its sides, she stopped and found a secure corner where she could tuck her schoolbag. Smoothing down her skirt and flipping her hair back over her shoulder, she walked out to the end of the steel beam. As she halted there, with a chorus of soft clicks and an abrupt, quiet thrumming the tower’s spotlights came up, almost as if on cue. She flinched, briefly startled, then gazed out across the city’s skyline, letting her eyes readjust. The city was already aswarm with lights like undying sparks, warm and beautiful, its blocky outlines blurring into softness as the shadows deepened, enfolding them in night. The wind, as always, was particularly strong, a steady gust muffling the noises from far below, touching her face and tugging at her hair—she brushed her bangs aside, out of her eyes. Looking out across the endless city, all the way to where the new skyscrapers of Shinjuku rose up against the haze of distance, climbing from that sea of lower stars, Yuka smiled slightly. Bowing her head, she clapped once, then pressed her hands together.
* * * * *
She dreams of two boys sealed in ice, or glass. Sometimes the younger boy’s face is sad and quiet, eyes closed as if in reverie; sometimes his wide-open stare is sharp, intense, as lambent as a stylized dragon’s gaze. The older boy only ever looks intent, dark eyes watchful through a veil of enigmatic distance, an expression that might or might not be on the verge of becoming a smile. Light glints along the facets of the tiny cleavages in their prison, gleams on the blades of the swords they wield, silvery, like the tracks of tears.
* * * * *
“Aaah, Yuka-chan! I know you don’t have a lot of time before band club starts, but could you just help me carry these back to the teachers’ room?” Yuka glanced over at the teacher and couldn’t help but smile. Segawa-sensei was young and cute and always so cheerful—she wished he was her homeroom teacher, instead of pinch-faced old Watanabe-sensei. At least social studies was probably going to be interesting this year.
“Sure!” Slinging her school bag around behind her, out of the way, she took the stack of books from him, and he tucked the unwieldy cardboard box of photos, extra and unused handouts, and assorted other visual aids into the crook of his arm so that he could get the classroom door for them both.
“Thanks for helping! It’s not too heavy? I could manage it all by myself, but it’d be kind of awkward, going in and out! I just don’t have enough hands.”
“You’d look funny if you had more, Sensei.” She grinned up at him, and he laughed.
“I guess you have a point! Anyway, it’s better if we help each other out, right?” As they walked down the main hall, Yuka lagging a step or two behind his brisk pace as they wove in and out among the other students hurrying to after-school clubs, he flipped subjects in that way he had, like a swallow on the wing. “Did you enjoy the class today?”
“Mmm.” Frowning somewhat distractedly, she glanced down at the top book on her stack, ran her thumb absently along its front cover, emblazoned with katakana that read Koran. “There’s an awful lot of different religions, aren’t there?” she murmured. “The ones you were talking about, and then there’s also the new religions like Konkokyo or Oomoto....”
“Oh, you know about those? We’re not really going to go into them—there’s just not enough time to cover everything in depth in this unit—but if you were interested, maybe you could do your report on them! Ah, here we are!” He shouldered the door to the teachers’ room aside, then stepped back to let her enter first. “Human beings believe a lot of different things,” he went on, lowering his voice slightly as they made their way between the desks to his corner seat. “Because everyone, everywhere in this world, is trying to find meaning in their lives. And everyone’s lives are different.”
Yuka plumped the books down on the edge of his desk, earning a slightly harried look from Tanikawa-sensei, two places over, who was up to her elbows in stacks of papers. “So what do you believe, Sensei?” she asked brightly. He blinked, startled silent, and she wondered out loud, “Or is that too rude to ask?”
“Oh, no!” He smiled, but there was a long, thoughtful moment before he replied. “I think...that I believe in people,” he said at last. “After all, if you look at the teachings of all the religions, aren’t they really about how we should be with each other? In the end, everything comes back to that.” For an instant he looked so uncharacteristically wistful, his usual exuberance gone still, his expression oddly reflective and soft, that she started when he turned to her abruptly, wide-eyed and intent once more.
“While you’re here—Yuka-chan, is everything okay? Some of the teachers have noticed that your grades have slipped a bit this year. Watanabe-san was going to ask you about it, but I just thought,” he dropped his voice again, confidingly, “if you wanted to stay after school and talk about anything privately....”
Her heart caught, a sudden clutch of alarm, things she didn’t really want to dwell on in her own mind, let alone discuss, and flicker-swift she went on the offensive, taking refuge in the outrageous. “Segawa-sensei!” she exclaimed with a teasing grin, cocking one hand on her hip. “Is that a proposition?”
“Huh? Oh—no! No, really! My motives are totally pure!” he protested, urgent and genuine, although there was a note of laughter in it too—they understood each other, she thought, and felt a tiny lift of relief, a leaf-stirring zephyr, the flutter of butterfly wings. Apparently oblivious to the scandalized glare Tanikawa-sensei was shooting them, he went on blithely, “No, but if you ever feel like you need to talk to someone, you know I’m here, or any of the other teachers, right?”
“Yeah.” She shrugged, letting the playfulness drop. “It’s okay. Things have just been a little, mmm, distracting at home. But it’s still only the beginning of the year—I’ll pull them up again, no problem.” She smiled up at him. “You’ll see!”
He beamed back at her, like the mirror of a spotlight reflecting and amplifying her own show of enthusiasm. “I’m glad to hear that! Considering you’re a scholarship student, your grades are really important, so I was kind of worried for you. Do your best, Yuka-chan!”
“I will!” More quietly, she added, “Thank you, Sensei. It’s really kind of you to be so concerned.”
“A good teacher has to look out for his students!” Automatically she moved her hand as he reached for the stack of books; turning from her, he began returning them to their places on the shelf behind his desk. “But besides that,” he added, and his brisk movements slowed as his hand lingered on the book that he’d just reshelved, as he glanced back at her with an unexpectedly gentle smile, “Yuka-chan is...special.”
For what seemed like an eternity, she just stared at him, the fluorescent-lit clutter of the teachers’ room on all sides suddenly surreal, too bright and unnatural. With a start, he seemed to come back to himself—his eyes widened in almost theatrical shock. “Oh! That came out perverted again, didn’t it?”
She couldn’t help it—she started to laugh, and then he was laughing too, and Tanikawa-sensei came popping up from behind her desk, bristling like an angry cartoon character.
* * * * *
He doesn’t know why he comes to the tower. He has no particular memories associated with it—it’s just a place, a slightly dated though still fun tourist site that he’d visited once or twice when he was younger, starting with the first obligatory class trip long ago, in what almost seems like another world. It’s not anything special, right?
Yet somehow, since then, every so often he feels called there, a pull that he can’t name but that he follows—not quite reluctantly but slowly, as if drawn with the disjointed, out-of-focus inevitability of a dream. And when he finds himself on the observation deck, gazing out across the city—the signs of destruction and then of rebuilding always hidden by the night, so that only the new configurations of lights tell him when the city has become whole at last, or nearly so—he feels a connection, no less inexplicable, a painful, stinging sweetness as he thinks of the people who once called this place home. The sense of closeness, the lingering grief, are both so sharp that they’re almost enough to distract him from the dread of earthquakes that still makes him anxious, so high above the ground.
Resting his hand on the cool glass, he thinks sadly, as he does each time, I shouldn’t come here. There’s no point to dwelling on the past, after all—there’s only the present, and the future yet to come. And as he starts to turn away, a flicker of motion at the edge of sight draws his eye back.
A girl, falling from above.
Too horrified to cry out, he lunges forward to lean against the glass, momentarily forgetting his fear of the height, and so he sees her land, light as a dancer, on the leg of the tower, then leap again, crossing the street in a single arcing bound to disappear among the branches of the trees on the other side. Even after she’s gone, he stands there for a long time with his mouth open, staring at nothing, that fleeting glimpse fixed in his mind: sober, dark school uniform; long ponytails flying; the melancholy and inward expression on an unexpectedly familiar face.
* * * * *
“So...everything’s fine with Mom and me,” Yuka went on, letting the wind whisk her words off, carrying them where it would, out into the world, beyond reach of her senses. “We just started a new school year a little while ago—that’s right, I’m in the second year of junior high now.” She lifted her shoulders in a offhand shrug. “It’s all right, I guess. My school’s pretty tough—but I’ll work hard, Daddy. So wherever you are, you can be proud of me.
“Mom is...she’s okay.” And everything that she could say, that she wanted to say, welled up so fast that she choked, her throat closing as if to protest how things really were, as if silence could somehow make the reality into something else, something pure and innocent, never changing. “But...I think she’s lonely,” she managed at last, and even that was too much.
“Daddy, if you are alive out there somewhere, then please...
Tears blurred the cityscape before her—a spangled blackness now that night had truly fallen. Knuckling at her eyes, she whirled, took three quick steps to retrieve her bag, and then sprang out from the tower, into the emptiness that waited to receive her and the wind that rose to slow her fall.
* * * * *
Behind the whispering green of the late spring cherry trees, a silent snow of petals falls, unseen, flowers eternally fading, just as every young soul is born, briefly new and vibrant, and then fades.
In the narrow maze of New Kabukicho, in the darkness between the lines of neon glare, a hundred secret candles burn: a meeting of eyes, an exchange of fleeting kindnesses, the heat of a touch somehow different from all the rest.
Far beneath the deepest sub-basement of Shinjuku, a metal hulk lies submerged in lightless water, a machine corpse buried and mouldering beneath the city, dead dream of an unborn future.
A small dog barks as a young woman pets it; she rises to her feet, sweeps her hair back as she gazes toward the skyscraper-hidden horizon, her head tilted as if to catch some far-off whisper, her expression suddenly nostalgic and faintly sad.
“Everywhere,” she murmures, “in this Tokyo....”
* * * * *
“Helloooo! Yuka-chan!” Yuka started, looking up from her phone, and wondered what on earth her teacher was doing at Tokyo Tower. An instant later, annoyance followed—distracted by her incoming text message, she’d momentarily forgotten that she had meant to go up on the tower again, and she certainly wouldn’t be able to do it while he was watching. Her brows twitched into a faint scowl as he hurried up to her, still waving energetically.
“Well, what a surprise to meet you here!” His cheerfulness seemed overdone, even for him, as if he was trying to make up for her lack of eagerness to see him. “I didn’t think Tokyo Tower was the happening place for kids your age—ah ha ha ha!” She continued walking purposefully toward the tower, and he fell in beside her, thwarting her brief hope that he’d notice she had somewhere important to be and would just let her go on her way. He did seem slightly taken aback as he asked, somewhat more hesitantly, “Ah, are you meeting friends?”
“Yup.” She started keying a reply message, pushing the tiny onscreen buttons with a great deal more force than necessary.
“You’re going up to the observation deck, then?”
“Hey, so am I! Why don’t we go on up together? Since you’ve got your phone, you can let your friends know you’ve gone on ahead, and they can meet you there, right?”
“U-umm....” Whether it was the pure force of his momentum or the attempt to lose herself in the absorbing rhythm of her texting or the general weirdness of the situation, her thoughts refused to come together and provide her with a satisfactory excuse that would get rid of him. She let herself be carried along until they were almost to the ticket counter, when suddenly she balked. She couldn’t exactly afford to pay the entrance fee—she certainly hadn’t been planning to. “Hey, wait a minute—”
“It’ll be my treat, okay? Since Yuka-chan’s being kind enough to humor her teacher.” She blinked, startled, met his gaze directly at last, and felt an uneasy jolt at the understanding in it, an unexpectedly knowing warmth glimmering behind the usual giddy brightness. “Don’t worry, I won’t hang around once your friends arrive,” he added, lowering his voice as if to emphasize his discreetness. “I guess that’d be pretty uncool, to be seen in public with your teacher.”
Now, she thought with a sinking dismay, she really had no excuse, other than the fact that her teacher was turning out to be kind of a weirdo. But a nice weirdo, at least so far, and so she was as uncomfortable with the idea of telling him right out to take a hike as she was with his inexplicable hovering. She let him pay for her ticket but otherwise tried to pretend that he wasn’t there—finishing up and sending her text message, she started playing a game on the phone, button-mashing in a cranky and rather rude silence as they got onto the elevator and began the ride up to the observation deck.
Of course he was the one to break into the awkward moment. “Um, that’s a nice phone. It’s the new iPhone, right? Was it a gift?”
Halfway between wanting to go on ignoring him and being relieved that somebody had said something, Yuka shrugged dismissively. “This guy gave it to me.” Segawa-sensei staggered, clutching at the elevator wall in melodramatic shock.
“Wh-what! Yuka-chan is getting expensive presents from random men?”
“Sensei!” She didn’t want to laugh; instead, she swatted him on the arm. “You think I’m easy, don’t you?”
“No, no, no! But the stories these days, about the kinds of things young girls get into....” He clenched his fist. “As your teacher, it’s my duty to make sure that you’re not being led astray by shady characters!”
Yuka snorted. “Well, you don’t have to worry. My mother’s friend gave it to me. His name’s Hajime. Ha-ji-me. Don’t you think that sounds like a dweeby name?” Segawa-sensei made a noncommital sound, as if he’d like to protest but thought that it might be offensive somehow, and she shrugged again, tossed her head, a sharp, violent twitch. “He makes good money, though,” she said, and the irony in her voice rang harsh, brittle emotions showing through in spite of herself as she added with a laugh, “And hey, if he marries my mother, maybe I won’t have to be a scholarship student anymore!”
The elevator doors slid open; thrusting the phone into her pocket, she fled out onto the observation deck’s first floor, angry and confused and embarrassed at herself. Her heart pounded, a hard, aching throb—more than ever she wanted to get to her refuge, her secret place far away from everybody. Maybe she could duck into a service corridor and give Segawa-sensei the slip. But he was still frustratingly in view as she rattled up the steps to the second level and flung herself into the Goods Shop. Sullenly she began poking through the racks of mascot gear, awful “Welcome to Japan!” kitsch for the foreign tourists, and a really pathetic collection of idol merchandise. By the time Segawa-sensei came drifting up behind her, the sheer meaninglessness of it all had depressed her to the point where she almost welcomed his hesitant approach, the slightly tentative softness of his voice as he murmured, “Your father’s not here now, right?”
“He disappeared,” she replied, equally quiet. “It was during the earthquake storm of ’99, you know? He left the office one evening, but he never came home.” Idly she turned a revolving rack; rows of baby-pink and sky-blue cell phone charms swung and rippled in waves. “It’s funny—since he was just ‘unaccounted for,’ Mom always used to say that maybe he was actually alive somewhere, that maybe he’d just been injured and was in a coma or had lost his memory or something, and that someday he’d come back to us. She’d say that it was important to hold onto that hope, as long as we didn’t know for sure. Even when I was really little, though, I was positive that he was dead.” Her lips quirked into a faint, wry smile. “He had to be dead, right? Because if he was alive, and he didn’t come home to us...it was too painful to think about. But if he was dead, somehow that made it okay. Because then of course he wouldn’t come back....
“Now Mom’s the one who says that we have to accept that he’s really gone. And I...I....” The pain of that heartache spiked—Yuka spun the rack so hard that it rocked on its base, and stray charms came loose, fell clattering to the floor. “It’s not fair!” she cried out, stamping her foot, fighting back the burning dampness of tears. “How can she!”
“Ten years is a long time, Yuka-chan,” Segawa-sensei said quietly as the flashing whirl of the rack slowed and the other customers in their aisle ogled them with stealthy curiosity, while edging to a slightly safer distance. She glared at him, infuriated by that gentle, I-know-more-than-you, adult tone, and he held up his hands quickly, either in soothing or in self-defense. “I know—I guess that’s not what you want to hear!” His voice strengthened abruptly. “I’ll tell you this, though—I’m a hundred percent sure your mother hasn’t forgotten your father or her feelings for him. And she never will. No matter how much time passes, she’ll always remember the person who was so important to her. But the people who are left behind,” and a look of suffering flashed across his expressive face, so sharp and unexpected that she almost bit her lip in surprise, “they have to live, somehow....”
For a moment, she held her breath, just staring at him, trying to read the traces of that unlooked-for emotion. At last she asked, hesitantly, “Did you lose someone, Sensei?”
He nodded without meeting her gaze. “It was the earthquakes, as well. Both my mother and my father, and also a really good friend of mine. He just disappeared, like your dad. I always wondered what happened to him.” Segawa-sensei smiled then, though it was the faintest reflection of his usual energetic expression, without light—he had the happiest smile she had ever seen, Yuka realized abruptly, and also, at a time like this, the saddest. “He was...a really special person,” Segawa-sensei went on softly. “And I...couldn’t do anything for him.”
Something about seeing somebody else hurting, a pain so much like her own—Yuka’s face crumpled suddenly, helplessly, and Segawa-sensei started, looking distressed. “Oh! Yuka-chan—?”
The tears came then, hot and bitter; she raised a hand, half-hiding them. “I’m supposed to have someone to protect,” she choked out, low and strained, her throat almost too tight to speak as she skirted the edge of secrets, things that he wouldn’t understand—that he didn’t need to understand to understand this.
“But the person that I want to protect,” and her voice broke, wavering high and out of control as she struggled to get the words out, like the keening of metal bending in on itself, like steel cables crying in a storm, “they aren’t here anymore.”
She started to sob then, shaking; unable to stop, she bowed her head and buried her face in her hands, and when a strong, steady arm came around her shoulders she didn’t shrink from its wordless offer of comfort.
* * * * *
The other people in the shop are probably thinking terrible things about him, seeing a young girl crying like this. Not that it matters, really. He only wishes, with a lingering regret, that he could have some better answer to give her. The cashier scans a purchase with a faint computerized beep, people mill about on the deck outside, some energetic pop tune begins playing as the DJ at Club 333 starts broadcasting the night’s requests throughout the observatories, and he marvels at how all around them and rolling outward beyond the tower through the web of densely populated streets and buildings—and even further, going on and on—the great anonymous tide of millions of people just keeps right on flowing, heedless of sorrow, or of loss.
In all this city, how many tragedies are there that nobody knows about? How many stories like his, or like hers?
Careful not to disturb the still-weeping girl, Keiichi turns his head, looking out through the glass front of the store and the windows beyond. Reflections play across the glass, the amorphous shadows of people circling the view blending into long, sinuous shapes, like slowly winding dragons. His arm tightens about her, half involuntarily. The darkness hides the city’s secrets and its crowds, but its lights gaze back at him, unblinking: thousands upon thousands of impersonal, blindly staring eyes.
* * * * *
“I’m home!” Yuka sang out as she closed the door behind herself, shutting out the slanting fall of late afternoon sun. As she spotted the pair of man’s shoes neatly arranged in the genkan, her brows drew together into a minute frown; snatching off her earbuds, she stuffed the phone quickly into the pocket of her blazer.
“Welcome back!” her mother’s voice replied from the kitchen. “Yuka-chan, would you come here for a moment?”
There was nothing out of the ordinary about that request—it wasn’t as though she was even late tonight and likely to be in trouble—but still it gave her an unsettled feeling. She took her time changing into her house shoes, then dragged herself down the short hall. Pausing in the kitchen doorway, she glowered at the dark-haired, impeccably suited man sitting at their tiny, formica-topped table. He smiled shyly at her, pushing up his glasses with obvious nervousness, while her mother, turning from the counter, leaned past him to set down the usual small plate of after-school snacks.
Shimako straightened, brushing back the long, straight sweep of her hair. Her hand came to rest on the man’s shoulder, her fingers curving about it a gentle yet firm clasp. She smiled at Yuka as well, her gaze direct and level, a trifle sad, but unwavering.
“Sweetheart...Hajime-san and I have something that we want to talk to you about.”
* * * * *
The ring of a wind chime on the balcony as she runs past, like the soft shing of a monk’s shakujou, like the steel whisper of a sword being drawn from the sheath: vows set aside, hopes and promises fallen to nothing.
“I wish I could have stayed by your side forever....”
* * * * *
“AAAAAHHHH!” Her throat hurt from the scream, the tangling wind currents lashed about her, whipping her hair across her face, but it had changed nothing—the pain was still there, sharp as the spire of the tower stabbing into the night sky above her, solid as the steel beam beneath her feet. “It’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong, it’s wrong!” she chanted, a low moan, her heartbeat still racing from her mad rush across the city: the terrible, breathless confines of the subway train, so slow; out into the open air at last, dashing blindly through the crosswalks and along the twisting streets, dodging bewildered passersby; and when even that wasn’t enough, taking to the rooftops in long, soaring bounds, an all-out heedless flight. Her legs were still trembling, but anguish and anger lit her from within like a flame, sustaining her with their ferocity. “Mom, how could you do that?” she cried. Refusal and rejection wracked her, boiling and sour, and the wind, skimming the edges of the radio array, took on a harsher note. Her voice dropped to a whisper. “Daddy...I won’t....”
“Y-Yuka-chan!” Familiar and yet totally unexpected, the voice shocked her out of her focus; startled, she whirled about. Segawa-sensei, his back pressed to one of the vertical beams of the tower, held out a shaking hand to her, his eyes wide. The wind whipped the hem of his light duster about his legs, was blowing his fair hair into a wild disorder.
“What are you doing here?” Panic and outrage flooded in, joining the tumult of other emotions—she couldn’t stand it. “Omigosh! Stop stalking me! What’s wrong with you?” Stomping a couple of steps toward him, she clenched her fists and jerked them down in sheerest frustration. “Are you some kind of freak?”
“S-sorry.” He’d already drawn his arm back—as much for the security of clutching at the steel beam with both hands as for any intimidation she might present, she thought. “I just happened to look up, you know, and I saw Yuka-chan running so urgently, looking really upset, and I thought, oh, that can’t be good.” Craning his neck, he risked a peek down past his feet, then straightened quickly, tilting his head back against the beam’s solidity with obvious relief. “W-wow. S-so high....” He managed an extremely quavery laugh. “It seems a lot higher somehow, when there isn’t any glass.”
“You should go,” she said more quietly, her tone dull but still defensive. “This isn’t any place for you. You could get hurt.”
“I’m more worried because you’re hurting.” She stared at him, and he drew a shallow breath, let it out again in a low sigh. “I’m sorry. I kind of took things too far, didn’t I? I know that what you’re going through doesn’t have anything to do with me.” Pushing himself upright, so that he was standing more squarely on his feet, one hand lingering on the beam to brace himself, he reached the other one out to her again, smiling somewhat weakly, as if coaxing a kitten or a small child. Suddenly alarmed that he might do something reckless, she stepped backward again.
“But I couldn’t just stand by,” he went on, more steadily, painfully intent. His gaze never left hers, as if by that he could ignore the fifty-meter drop to the roof of the main observation deck. “If there’s something—anything—that I could do....”
“There isn’t,” she muttered, turning away from him. “There’s nothing anybody can do.” Her pocket trembled, and as she instinctively reached in and pulled out the phone the quiet chirping of the ringtone, playing through the earbuds, became just barely audible. Glancing at the phone’s screen, Yuka set her jaw in fresh misery, a mingling of guilt and defiance. “Mom....” In a spasm of denial, she opened her hand, let the sleek rectangle of the phone slide off her fingers, tumbling out into the drop.
“Whoa! Dangerous—!” Segawa-sensei leaned out, grabbing for the phone—he lost his balance abruptly, and it seemed to her that everything slowed to the point of unreality as he wobbled, then slipped, hitting the beam with his shoulder and rolling off the edge, his mouth opening in the silent beginning of a panic-stricken cry as he fell—
She leaped after him, almost floating out over the void, already a surprising distance between them—no thought, only the sudden, expansive impulse, the surge of an overpowering emotion. The wind howled, deep and shuddering, as it came up from beneath them, lifting him back toward her. Her hand closed about his larger one. Safe—and the wind redoubled, carrying them both upward, past the radio array where they’d been standing, past the special observation deck and the narrowing spire above, and higher yet, toward the stars, an unfurling strength, a gale-rush of relief and release, of a surpassing joy unlike anything she’d ever known—
And then down again, more gently, drifting like slowly spinning maple seeds past the spike of the main TV antenna, to alight on the small but secure square of a service platform. Segawa-sensei staggered as they touched down, and she put both arms around his waist, burying her face in his chest. She could hear the rapid stutter of his heartbeat, feel the deep, uneven lift of his breathing. It took a while for both to calm.
“Yuka-chan,” he said at last, his voice a little shaky, and she felt a twinge of anxiety, wondering: Would he think she was weird? Would he be frightened of what had just happened? He cleared his throat, then went on, “You shouldn’t drop things off such high places. Just imagine if it hit somebody in the head.”
The phone was certainly lying smashed on the roof of the lower deck, and not anyplace where people were liable to be walking around, but she wasn’t going to argue the point. “Sorry,” she said, and tightened her embrace just a little.
Perhaps in answer, his hand settled onto her head, smoothing her hair, a surprising but not unwelcome tenderness. “I guess it was kind of silly of me,” he murmured. “I thought, I couldn’t help him, but maybe if I could help her.... In the end, though, it was beyond me, so I probably just made a nuisance of myself.” The slow movement of his hand stilled. “Special people have special problems. Maybe someone like me...couldn’t understand.”
“Stop that.” She dug her elbow into his ribs as she pushed back, opening a little space between them. Staring down at the steel-plate floor, she mumbled, flushing slightly, “I think Sensei is...pretty special.”
A moment of silence could feel like forever. Then Segawa-sensei let out his held breath, and time was no longer suspended, although it still jittered, an erratic flutter of stop and start. “Awesome,” he said, very softly, “what an amazing view! Yuka-chan, look.” He turned her so that they were both gazing out over the platform’s railing. “Isn’t this city kind of wonderful?”
“Mmm?” She was puzzled, not quite sure if she should be hurt by his reaction or not.
“Things don’t just stop, right?” he went on with that same quiet earnestness. “I mean, when one thing ends, something else has to begin. All the people from the past, all the people who are gone...this is the world that they left behind for us. So now it’s up to us to live in it, and to leave behind the world that the next people are going to build their lives on.” His hand squeezed her shoulder, ever so slightly, drawing her closer against his side. “When you think about it like that...they’re not really gone after all. Even if they’ve left this world, they’re still a part of our world. So there isn’t really an end....
“You know, they’re building a new Tokyo Tower, right?” he announced abruptly. “The Tokyo Sky Tree—it’s supposed to be twice as tall as this! It’s going to be a couple of years at least before they finish it, but when they do—” He turned to gaze down at her, and his smile was luminous and warm again, his eyes alight with happiness. “Yuka-chan, let’s go to the top together, okay?”
She hesitated only long enough to be sure that she’d heard him right. “Okay!” she answered, beaming back at him. Then, quick as changing weather, she pouted, folding her arms across her chest. “But Sensei—are you really going to make me wait that long for our next date?”
This time he was the first one to laugh; grinning, she tucked her arm through the crook of his elbow and dragged him stumbling toward the service ladder, while the wind sang through the spaces in the antenna, a single fluting tone, wild and merry.
* * * * *
Ten years ago a world ended, and nobody noticed.
The music video Yuka is watching is "Higher! Fly!" performed live by A.B.C. & Yamashita Shoon: music video @ YouTube / lyrics
Google Maps, I love you: Tokyo Tower satellite view . Also, here's a link to Tokyo Tower's Club 333 page.
Tokyo Sky Tree: construction begun in 2008; to be completed by 2011 and open to the public 2012. (Shiny!)