That night, Yamato couldn’t sleep.
Yuuri’s hand had been cold? Impossible...
Images from the day he had met Yuuri until now flashed through his head. At a time when everything in Less-Than city had taken Yamato aback, Yuuri had been the boss. Having the only gun, she’d been in control.
But Yuuri hadn’t been doing it only for herself. She’d used the deliveries she took to take care of the smaller children who couldn’t get any supplies for themselves.
That was the kind of person Yuuri was. Seemingly gruff and nihilistic, but in truth more gentle than anyone, more wounded than anyone, and more concerned about everyone in this village. That was the Yuuri that Yamato wanted to see smile again.
That guy Reiji had died two days after his hands turned cold. Did that mean Yuuri only had two days left?
It couldn’t be true, it couldn’t be -
He couldn’t quench the fear, and a sorrow began to spread in Yamato’s chest.
In the Headquarters, a tape was playing of a DJ’s cheerful voice being interrupted by a desperate cry. It was a recording of Yamato’s attempt to contact the outside world. But -
“There were some inquiries about the message, but we explained it as a prank.”
“This has gone too far,” the vice-minister’s eyes glittered.
A secretary stood and began to read a report.
“The Makuhara T-virus is caused by an organism, that causes death by preventing cell regeneration in the human body.”
“If that’s so, why is it only children can survive it?”
“There is an area of the DNA called Telomere that calculates age. As it replicates, the count becomes shorter. Our hypothesis is that the Telomere causes so much cell death that the infected person dies around the age of twenty.”
“Have you found a cure?”
“... No, not yet.”
As the other members of the board lowered their heads, there was a razor-edged gleam in the vice-minister’s eyes.
A cold north wind blew in that felt like it could peel your skin off.
Mori and Takeru stood by the school’s play equipment, unsmiling.
“Hey, Takeru, is Yuuri going to die? Is there anyway we can stop it? What should we do?”
Looking at Mori as he thought for a moment, Takeru finally opened his mouth. “Act normal, just keep doing what you always do.”
“I don’t know if I can...” Mori muttered.
Takeru didn’t know either. His heart was filled with worry, he wanted someone he could rely on.
But... Takeru corrected himself
That couldn’t be his biggest concern right now. More than that, he needed to be someone Yuuri herself could depend on. She couldn’t have the slightest idea of their concern. They had to show her that everything was normal. If that was the only thing he could do for her...
He entered the music room with heavy tread. Yuuri was alone, lying on the sofa and staring at a point in space.
“What is it?” she said, looking at his trying-to-look-natural expression.
“No-nothing, really, I was just wondering how you were.”
“What do you mean?”
“Just, you know, your condition...”
“I’m so-so,” she said, with the same expression as always.
Yamato also came in, seeming as if he also was worried about her.
“What is it?” she looked at both of them.
“Nothing in particular, just wondering how you were doing,” Yamato said, before Takeru dragged him away.
He muttered in the hallway, “Stop acting so strange!”
“Huh?” Yamato responded, looking at Takeru askance.
“Don’t come talking to her without any reason.”
“You did it, too.”
“Yeah, but...” Takeru said, and fell silent. He looked straight at Yamato as though deciding something. “Yamato?”
“Did you notice?” Yamato stared back, not getting Takeru’s meaning, and Takeru smiled bitterly. “No, you wouldn’t have. You’re too thick.”
When Yamato walked out into the schoolyard, he saw Suzuko doing laundry by herself. She smiled when she saw him.
“It’s going to be Christmas soon. Do you remember last year?”
Christmas? It was that season already... Yamato had totally forgotten. In this town, they were literally trying to survive day to day. Things like Christmas and New Year’s had nothing to do with survival.
But Yuuri might never see another Christmas.
Unaware of Yamato’s dark thoughts, Suzuko kept chattering.
“I was late for my curfew when we missed the last train, and my dad got so angry, yelling, “What time do you think it is!?” and you told him, “I don’t have a watch so I don’t know.” And he said, “Stop kidding around!”
Just then, Yuuri wandered by them with an vague air. She carried a white plastic bag, and her steps were uneven, as though each took all of her strength.
Yamato looked after her as she went, and Suzuko watched him do so.
Yamato caught up to Yuuri and took the bag from her. Inside were several glass bottles filled with gas.
“I’m going to burn it down, everything,” Yuuri muttered.
“If you start a fire, you’ll get shot at.”
“Don’t care. I’m going to die anyways. Doesn’t matter if it happens fast or slow.”
“Yuuri... you know?”
“It’s not like I wouldn’t figure it out I thought about what I could do for everyone, and this was the only thing.” She looked straight ahead, and spoke matter-of-factly.
“Why are you talking about this kind of thing?”
“Isn’t it hard for you? You were betrayed, isn’t it painful?”
“I guess, yeah, it was hard.”
“So that’s why, if I stayed silent and did nothing, it would be painful.”
Her tone and expression were gentle, but Yamato thought there must be a fire burning inside her.
“I’m not going to let you go through with something this dangerous.”
She said firmly, “There’s something I have to do.”
“What is it?”
“Get revenge on my mother’s enemy. She was killed... by Shibasaki...”
“Huh?” Yamato gasped. Yuuri’s enemy... was Shibasaki himself?
But suddenly, all the power left Yuuri’s body, and she swayed as though she were about to collapse. Without thinking, Yamato put an arm around her and held her up. She was freezing against his fingertips.
“I can’t let it go any more... I can’t die leaving it like this...” Yuuri murmured as though delirious to a stunned Yamato.
“Yuuri’s mother’s enemy?” Takeru’s voice raised in surprise.
Yamato, looking at Yuuri as she lay unconscious on the music room’s sofa, nodded. “I’d been thinking what to do to help Yuuri.”
“But talking about revenge...”
“It’s not like I’m going to kill Shibasaki. I couldn’t.”
“I’ll get him to apologize to her,” Yamato said as though he’d been thinking hard, and Takeru scoffed.
“They’re not little kids, here.”
“It’s all I can do. I can’t let her do anything dangerous, so I’ll go.”
Saying this Yamato started to leave, but Takeru called him back.
“Wait a minute.”
“There is something else you can do for Yuuri.”
At Takeru’s words, Yamato looked back at him questioningly.
“Yuuri... likes you.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Yamato said with a small laugh.
“It’s not a joke, it’s the truth,” Takeru said, and took hold of Yamato’s shoulder with a serious expression. For a second, Yamato stood still as though struck by lightning. He remembered the day he’d first met Yuuri. That was right, he’d thought she was a woman until her words, “I’m not a girl,” and rewrote her representation of herself, and from those words until now he’d accepted that as the reality, but...
Knowing Yuuri’s hidden feelings for the first time, Yamato could only be silent.
“So because of that, if you could stay with her. And... if you could like her back. I’m asking you,” Takeru spoke as though the words were painful.
Troubled with his own thoughts, Yamato shook his head firmly. “I can’t do it.”
“Even if you have to lie, it’s fine,” Takeru said.
With a troubled expression, Yamato answered him, “Yuuri wouldn’t be happy if I did something like that. If that’s how she really feels.”
“I get it. But at least, could you stay with her?” Takeru’s voice was pleading. But Yamato only shook his head once more.
“I have to do this the only way I can.”
Yuuri regained consciousness, and found Suzuko sitting next to her.
“I guess you’re feeling sick?”
Suzuko didn’t know about Yuuri’s fate yet.
“No, it’s nothing,” Yuuri answered.
Suzuko showed her a bracelet she was wearing. “Yamato gave this to me, last Christmas.”
Yuuri looked at it without words. Suzuko kept talking as though she didn’t know what else to do.
“I gave him a sweater. Then, on his birthday - “
“Why are you telling me about this?”
At Yuuri’s question, Suzuko looked at her with steady eyes.
“I like him, Yamato,” Suzuko said, biting her lip, and looked up at the ceiling for an instant. “I don’t want to lose him to you.”
Suzuko had figured it out, that Yuuri was a girl the same as her, that she also had fallen in love with Yamato -
Yuuri stared at the ceiling silently, but a cynical smile flickered on her mouth.
“Have you got the wrong idea about something? I have no interest in Yamato.”
“Really?” Suzuko’s face grew bright.
“I don’t have the same tastes as you,” Yuuri said, and smiled again. But this time it came from deeper within her, and Suzuko returned it.
As Suzuko left the music room, Takeru entered carrying a blanket.
Yuuri was trying to lit up a cigarette, but her hands trembled so much she couldn’t hold the match.
Takeru took it from her hand, and went to lit it for her. But suddenly, she threw the cigarette away, and pulled the bandana from her head. Her long hair tumbled down.
She was clearly upset. The feelings as a girl that she’d kept secret, the desperate feeling of one’s own body falling apart, they were eating at her.
Takeru looked at her like this, and couldn’t find the words to say.
She noticed his unhappy expression, and gave him her best effort at a smile. “Don’t give me that look. You don’t get it? When we become adults, we die. I understand that. It’s okay, it’s nothing to be scared of.”
“Yuuri...” Her smile now was the cruelest thing he’d ever seen. At a time like, she was still thinking of others, even though she should be wanting to scream out loud. When she should really be the most concerned...
Before he realized it, he had pulled her close to him, tightly wrapping his arms around her.
He’d wanted to do this for the longest time. But he couldn’t have...
Against his chest Yuuri tensed, startled. He held her like a delicate glass ornament, as though she’d crumble into dust the second he took his hands away. The emotions welled up inside him with her pulled so close.
He loved her.
He loved Yuuri.
He didn’t want to lose her.
He couldn’t believe that she was going to die.
He hugged her closer and closer, as tight as he could, as though unless he held her as close as possible he was afraid she would go somewhere far, far away.
“If it’s me... is that no good? If I’m the one who stays with you until the end... am I not good enough?” Before he realized it, he was murmuring his deeply hidden emotions into her ear.
At Takeru’s unplanned confession, Yuuri stiffened. But even though she was confused, she entrusted herself to Takeru’s embrace.
There was no other sound outside the two of them. Nestled close together, neither moved an inch. Inside the world that was only theirs, the night that was only theirs passed quietly.
At the same time, there was an uproar starting near the gate. Yamato, Akira, Makoto and Kiichi were throwing burning bottles, and had a single guard held hostage.
Through the piercing sound of a siren, Yamato yelled at the guards, "No violence! Listen to me - I want to talk to Shibasaki!"
"With Shibasaki?" a security guard responded.
"Call him. If you do, we'll let this guy go right away."
Just then, a man stepped from behind the guard. He had a wide forehead and thin cheeks, and looked cool-headed.
"I am the new head of the bureau for preventative measures, Morioka. Shibasaki has been dismissed. You are the person known as Yamato?"
Shibasaki... was gone? The new chief was this Morioka...?!
"I gather you've made light of us in the past, but now that I am in charge, don't think that will be tolerated anymore."
He made eye contact with the guard. "Shoot them."
Guards began to pour out of the gate. All of them held guns, and they began to fire without mercy. It was clear they intended to kill the four boys, who quickly ducked behind cover.
At that moment, the gunfire suddenly stopped. The guards stepped aside, and someone walked through gate.
It was Shibasaki!
He wore neither protective gear nor a mask, and was empty-handed. Morioka called to him.
"Shibasaki - what do you think you're doing!"
Shibasaki ignored the voice, and kept walking.
Finally speaking to the Shibasaki right in front of him, Yamato said, "Will you come with us? There's someone who wants to meet you."
"There is someone I also would like to meet," was Shibasaki's surprising reply.
"Who is it?" Yamato asked.
Shibasaki handed him a photograph. It showed a girl in a school uniform - it was unmistakably Yuuri!
"My daughter," Shibasaki said. Everyone gasped.
Yuuri... was Shibasaki's child?
"You're not cold?"
Mori placed a blanket at Shibasaki's feet. The man was waiting in the gym for Yuuri to wake up. Makoto and Akira sat nearby, watching with bitter eyes.
"Don't bother being nice to a guy like that!"
"That's right, he's the jerk who threw us away like garbage."
Kiichi chided them, "Hey, he's Yuuri's father."
Makoto burst out, "Which makes it all the worse, right?"
Shibasaki stood. He turned towards them. "It is just as you say. I must apologize to all of you. I'm sorry I broke my promise." He bowed his head low.
Yamato spoke hesitantly, "This is about Yuuri..." When Shibasaki turned to him, Yamato met his gaze steadily. "Maybe only a day left..."
Shibasaki's expression changed. She... only had a day to live?
At this, Suzuko also looked shocked. She hadn't known - all this time, she'd been thinking only of herself...
Morning came. When Takeru woke up, Shibasaki was sitting in front of him.
"What are you doing here...?" He asked, surprised. Yuuri was lying with her head in his lap.
Shibasaki looked at her breathing slowly, and murmured, "Even someone like me wants to be near their child..."
Takeru gaped at him. Child? Yuuri was Shibasaki's daughter?
At that moment Yuuri also opened her eyes.
Shibasaki stood up. "Yuri..."
But looking at him, Yuuri's eyes glittered with hatred. "Don't call me by name. I'm not your daughter Yuri anymore."
"I was told you wanted to see me."
"...I did - "
She stood unsteadily, and moved closer to Shibasaki.
"So that we could die together!"
Without thinking Takeru stepped between them. Yamato ran into the room.
"Stop it, Yuuri!"
"Let me go!"
Takeru and Yamato held back a struggling Yuuri, but Shibasaki stood unmoved.
"It's fine. I don't mind. I killed your mother."
Takeru and Yamato looked at each other, startled. Shibasaki began to tell the story haltingly.
The story of that day... the day that thing fell from the sky...
"I was the one who ordered the road between Tokyo and Makuhara barricaded. I didn't know the reason, but we couldn't let even one person out of Makuhara, or all of Japan - no, all of the world - would fall into a panic. Not only that - everyone would be in danger. That is what I was told, so I had the entrance blocked, and guards placed there. It wasn't my decision, but they were to shoot anyone who tried to escape.
But somehow, my wife and daughter had also gotten trapped in the city. I didn't learn this until it was too late. By the time I heard Yuri's voice calling to me, it was too late. I told the guards, "Don't shoot!" But my wife put her body between them and Yuri, and took a rain of bullets in the back.
No matter the reason, because of my order my wife is dead. I can never change that. The one who killed Yuri's mother... is me."
"Get out," Yuuri said to Shibasaki in a choked voice. "I won't forgive you - I can't. I don't even want to see your face."
"I understand," Shibasaki said, and walked out, his shoulders slumped with the loneliness of having been rejected by his only child.
Yamato followed him into the hallway, but stopped when Suzuko called him quietly.
"I want you to stay with Yuuri. That's the only thing that can still be done for her..."
Yamato entered the music room. Yuuri and Takeru were sitting silently on the sofa.
"I'll go look for something to eat," Takeru said, standing abruptly. Left alone in the room, Yuuri and Yamato were silent for a moment.
"Did Takeru tell you? To stay near me."
"That's not it. I'd be here even if no one told me to be... because you're my friend. The kind I'll never forget my entire life."
Yuuri gave a small smile. "A friend... I was thinking the same thing, about you."
But as she said those words, Yuuri's expression grew lonely.
"Isn't it enough, already? With Shibasaki." Yamato said. "Just forgive him. It's been as hard for him as it has been for you. We didn't call him here. He came on his own. Because he's your father. He came here because he wanted to see you again. If you leave it like this... it might be the end for him."
But as he spoke, Yuuri's eyes closed without him noticing. He looked over to see her slumped on the sofa as though dead.
Startled, he shook her. "Yuuri? Yuuri!"
At his yelling, her eyes fluttered open. "I'm fine. Don't shout like that," she said in a weak voice. "Can we just stay like this for a minute?"
As she spoke, her trembling hand gripped Yamato's. As though finally being relieved, she closed her eyes again.
Takeru stood in front of the closed door to the music room as though he couldn't decide whether or not to go in. His chest was filled with a turmoil of emotions. Finally steeling up his resolve, he opened the door.
Yamato and Yuuri were nestled close together on the sofa, her hand tightly held in his.
For an instant, Takeru's heart ached. But he had also come to an understanding. After quietly calling Yamato over, he gave him a clear declaration.
"I'm going to take care of Yuuri from now."
"I love her. She's troubled now, but I want to do something to put her at ease. I want her to forget the bad stuff, and smile. Maybe you're thinking there's nothing to be done now, but go along with me, ok?"
Yuuri lay on the sofa, breathing peacefully. Looking over at her, Yamato gave a small nod.
Everyone had gathered in the gym.
Yuuri was in the middle of a circle. Takeru sat on the stage, singing the song Reiji had written before his death.
Yuuri was listening but her eyes watched a point in space. Yamato looked at her face, full of calm and dignity.
After Takeru, the other kids got up on stage to perform various routines and tricks. Before long the gym was filled with bright laughter. Even Makoto and Akira were smiling, even Suzuko, even Mori and Kiichi and Yamato and Takeru...
Even Yuuri was smiling.
But before they knew it, their time of fun had passed. The gym grew silent. Tears rolled down Suzuko's cheeks, and then Mori's, and even Makoto's and Akira's.
"What's with you guys?" Takeru said with exaggerated annoyance.
"Because - " Suzuko choked out.
"We don't want Yuuri to die," Mori said, shaking fiercely. Yuuri gave him a gentle smile.
"Thank you. That's enough. I'm happy that everyone did all this for me." As she said that, the smile disappeard from her face.
A heavy silence fell. Then, bang! Yamato jumped up and ran out of the room.
Watching him go, Yuuri muttered, "I'm sorry, but could I be alone now? Please..."
Looking at each other, they left the gym. The last to move was Takeru, but he finally pulled himself away.
When she was alone, Yuuri drew a knife from her pocket and stood silently.
One thought had never left her mind.
She had to revenge her mother's death.
Takeru was running around desperately. In the blink of an eye Yuuri had disappeared, and in her condition... He had no idea where she could be. If by some chance he couldn't find her before something happened...
Then he spotted a haggard figure collapsed next to one of the storage containers in the city center. As he helped her up, Yuuri muttered, "I couldn't forgive him after all. I can't give up until I kill him..."
That night. Yuuri had been brought back to the gym. But she couldn't even sit up on her own anymore. She lay sideways on the sofa, eyes closed.
Yamato had also returned. After he'd run out, he'd been searching for Shibasaki. He was Yuuri's only blood relative. She couldn't just die like this with that hatred still between them.
Shibasaki started to move towards her, but Takeru stepped between them. "Wait a minute. Please get out."
"Takeru," Yamato started to say, but Takeru interrupted him.
"Isn't this enough? Just let her forget the difficult things."
"It's all right to let it continue being painful? Aren't they family? Aren't they father and child? Letting her keep hating him like this... that's too painful."
Yuuri's eyes had opened. Glaring at Shibasaki, she raised her hand as though the knife was still clutched in it. It was no longer there, and she struggled in frustration against her body's weakness.
"Stop it. I don't want to see you like this," Yamato said with a sorrowful expression, and shook his head slightly.
"I won't forgive you. No matter what. I don't think of you as a father," she muttered painfully.
Suddenly, Shibasaki moved forward and embraced her. Everyone present was shocked, including Yuuri.
Hugging her, the organism would enter Shibasaki's body... but he didn't seem to care about that. He continued to hold his struggling daughter tighter and tighter.
"Yuri... I'm sorry. I've never done anything for you as a father. So... at least, we can die together. Forgive me."
Tears began to fall from Yuuri's eyes. "If that's how you feel, help everyone here. Save them. Because they're my dear friends. I've lived until today because they've been with me. Friends like that shouldn't be betrayed by my father. Please, dad."
Listening to her faltering words, the others began to cry. Yuuri's warm, gentle, kind words slowly entered each of their hearts. Finally, the last moment had come. They gathered close around her. She looked affectionately at each of their faces.
"Mori, thank you. It was fun always being with you."
Mori nodded several times, tears flowing down his cheeks.
"Makoto, Akira, we fought a lot, didn't we. but I think you turned out to be decent guys." The two shook their heads.
"Kiichi, I hope you get out of here soon." Kiichi was struggling fiercely against the tears.
"Suzuko, get along well with Yamato." Suzuko started crying harder at Yuuri's gentle words.
She spoke as though they were parting, but now there was a smile on her face. She looked towards Takeru.
"Takeru, if I'd actually been a boy, I think you would have been my best friend. Don't die in here." A tear fell from her eye, and one as well from his.
Last she turned to Yamato.
"Yamato, thank you for your courage. If you hadn't been here, if I hadn't seem your smile, I wouldn't have realized how good other people can be."
A smile spread on her face again. "I'm so thankful I was able to meet all of you."
And her eyes closed.
That was it.
That night, a quiet snow started to fall on Makuhara in the middle of the night.
"Look at this." It was just the two of them in the music room. Takeru pointed a finger at the desk. On top of it was carved, COURAGE. Yuuri's final message.
"I couldn't do anything for her in the end. If it hadn't been you, if you weren't the one she liked, maybe I could have been more of a support to her..." He couldn't get any more words out.
Yamato looked out the window. The snow was falling heavily. It covered everything, the dirty earth, and made it pure white. Yamato thought, that is what she left behind.
The next day, the children and Shibasaki dug a grave in the schoolyard. They covered it with the desk with COURAGE written on it.
Shibasaki said a prayer, then stood to face all of them. "Thank you for being with her, for being her friends. I don't have long either, but as she said, I want to help you. It would be a shame if I died without doing anything."
"Shibasaki," Yamato said, and the man looked at him. "There's just one thing I want to ask you. We're stronger than you think, so you can tell us. What is the government keeping hidden?"
For a second Shibasaki kept his mouth shut. Finally he drew a breath with resolve, and looking at everyone's face, he began to talk.
END OF CHAPTER EIGHT
(Phew, glad that one's over! Sorry it took so long but it was so sickeningly sappy that I kept putting it aside. Hopefully I'll be able to finish up the last two chapters with less delay.)