[When You Gonna Learn]
Flashing neon lights. A typical night of the city of Tokyo. The people below, smaller than the size of ants, hurried their way to wherever they were heading to as cars lined up in the roads one after the other.
I was half a beat too slow to answer Omi, and Aya half a beat too quick to shoot me a death look. I knew I was losing concentration again, but... fine, there was no excuse for it. Not a rational one, anyway. But Ken got off tonight, why couldn't I? I didn't think anyone could get that tired playing soccer with some screaming kids. And anyway, Omi and Aya had it all fixed together, they didn't need me here.
I couldn't get what Manx asked me the other night out of my mind. 'Whenever you're ready,' she said.
What the hell, I didn't want to, but got here anyway. Just walked in behind the two of them as Aya slashed our way through the wall of guards and Omi cracked through the computerised locks on the metal doors. Then stood at the glass walls that let you overlook Ginza. The 42nd floor, how long would it take for someone to hit the ground from here? A few seconds, I suppose.
Damn. I focused on what they were doing before they realise I had drifted off for the second time. They found the maps we wanted, and we took off again.
Maybe it would be quicker to go out from the windows.
'If you've came to give me another lecture, get out. I've been a part for this for longer than you did.'
Shouldn't have given him my keys. I didn't look up, just continued taking off the super glue on my fingertips with the dissolver. A security measure in case the gloves fail me. Not that there is a record of my fingerprints in any of the population records.
He didn't answer. I ignored his presence. I pretended to have ignored him.
So I avoided looking up at him. My shoulder brushed against his when I got out of my room. I could feel him following me into the kitchen. The coffee machine just clicked with the crushed beans I mixed inside. Ah, that lovely aroma of just-made coffee. I poured two cups of it, took one, left the kitchen, our shoulders touching again.
I heard him take the other cup and saw his shadow stretching out before me.
That cup wasn't poured for him.
The plain royal blue mug sat under my bedside lamp, I sat on my bed, beside the bedside table. He stood, beside my bed, beside me.
When finally I could stand it no more and looked up at him, switching on the little lamp with a cute-sounding 'click', I saw his eyes staring down at me, flashing violet.
'You think any of us will want to pick up your dead body?'
'Have you been having too much time mucking around with women? Drifting off - '
'What I do in bed matters to you?'
' - like that can get all of us - '
'You can always leave me behind.'
'You call that team - ?'
'Don't talk about teamwork with me baby. Who's the one wandering off doing his own things all the time?'
'I'm not talking about me. I'm talking about the two of them. You can get them killed.'
I took my eyes off his, picked up my mug and moved it to my lips. He was right. An Irresponsible bastard I was.
'You've won. Now you can go to Disneyland.' I blew on the coffee, feeling the steam on my face turning into tiny water droplets. 'Try the coffee, I take my pride in it.'
He grabbed a chair, sat down and did as he was told. I didn't even know if he liked coffee at all. Couldn't remember seeing him being choosy about anything he eats or drinks. Oh yeah, no red kidney beans. But a lot of people hate them anyway. Only Ken out of the four of us eats those disgusting things. We almost killed him when he got those beans in the salad bar in Pizza Hut. It ended with us picking out the little things and flicking them at him. Yes we did. Imagine Omi, Aya and me throwing food at Ken, in public. From that time on he never got those freaking beans again. But the Ice-cream Factory was still going strong. And the multicoloured flakes are our all time favourite.
Suddenly it didn't seem to matter anymore that he drank from that white Tokyo University mug. It wasn't as if its owner would come and make a fuss about it anyway. Because it looked like he enjoyed my coffee.
But still, I didn't like unexpected night visitors.
'I'd like to sleep. Are you intending to watch?' I striped off my Armani sweater and tossed it at him. 'Put it on the chair and put the mug in the sink. Make sure you soak it.'
The last thing I wanted was coffee stains in the white mug. Asuka used to tell me off a lot for not doing the washing up. 'At least soak it!' She'd say.
When I saw him got up from the chair I buried myself under the bed covers.
'Lock the front door when you're out, Aya.'
And then, it had become some sort of a natural thing to see Aya in my house drinking coffee from Tokyo University. Sometimes when I get home, he'd just be there, in my home, sitting in my sofa, drinking my coffee. He was more like a presence in my house, until one raining Thursday night he suddenly studied the mug and asked one question with his usual quietness:
'Are you looking for the owner of this mug?'
I blinked, tapped the ashes off the tip of my cigarette, ran a hand through my slightly damp hair, shrugged. Earned myself five seconds to come up with an answer. 'Nope.'
'Youji.' He gulped down the rest of the caffeine and walked to the open kitchen. 'There's only one Tokyo University in the world.'
I watched him turn on the tap and wash the mug.
'No matter how hard you try, there is only one. You can't find another Asuka in other women.'
I got off my place on the windowsill, ready to throw my mug or my fist at him. I nearly did. Then suddenly I realised that Aya said all this out of friendship. Oh my, Aya and friendship. That almost made me feel nice. As nice as having a cup of hot chocolate in your hand when you on the windowsill, with a blanket around you, on a stormy day.
The equation 'Aya = blanket' made me grin. Those pink blankets I saw on sale today with Hello Kitty heads all over them popped into mind. One of those with Aya's face printed all over would be hilarious.
Aya frowned at me.
I withdrew that smirk on my face that Aya had mistaken for not taking him seriously. 'Aya, it really isn't what you might think it is. Not even worth thinking about.'
Another thirty-seven seconds until 6:25:10pm. I hate waiting.
'The guards change at 6:30. At the end of their slot they'd be tired and waiting to go off-duty.'
5... 4... 3... 2... 1... 0!
Ken and Aya already ran ahead ten seconds ago to distract the security guard's attention. Omi and I quickly got into the security control room and Omi disabled the systems in less than 2 minutes. I found the tapes that had us captured by CCTV in the last few moments and sacrificed them in the name of Weiß. I didn't like being filmed without my permission.
Omi went to join the other two in case of more security problems while I stayed to monitor them. It should be quite easy since we got the map of the building - including the hidden passages - a few weeks ago.
I had a wall of black and white screens in front of me to show me every inch of the building. Why black and white? With the amount of weapons they smuggled in each year, I'm sure they could afford colour TV.
The 3 of them appeared on the screens one by one. I put on the headphone with mouthpiece.
'Siberian, round the corner behind you. Just keep walking. A 300-pound guy about 10 steps from you. Creeping up with a big fat stick. Oh man, that thing is humongous!' I laughed and saw Ken on the screen bit his lip to stop a grin. 'Okay, turn around on 3... 3!'
'Siberian turns around! He slashes! The idiot dies! Blood everywhere! Go Siberian!'
Ken on screen 42 looked around, then spotted the camera, frowned at me and switched on his microphone. 'Balinese, that was unnecessary.'
'Hey thanks Siberian. And I love you too.' I laughed harder.
'Cheers.' Ken moved onto screen 43, 44... 'How's Bombay and Abyssinian?'
'Bombay...' I found the high school student on 23 doing something to a panel of whatever it was. 'On the second floor. Hold on his line's coming in. Siberian your floor's all cleared. Talk to you later.'
'They have a back up system for the 7th floor! Abyssinian's going up there and I don't know if I can disable it before he gets there! Tell him!'
Shit! I pressed the button for Aya's line. 'Don't go up - '
Aya was on screen 70 already! 'Abyssinian!'
The connection between me and Aya was gone.
'Bombay I've been disconnected!'
'They might have signals on the floor to distract our radio waves! Where's he?'
'Beside the lifts and - holy shit! 20 against 1!' I pressed my palm against screen 75. 'There's enough to bury him alive!'
'Siberian and I can't go anywhere until I crack this system! It's been activated and we're locked in! You go by the back way on the map!'
Running up seven floors was more warm up than enough.
The signal between me and the others was gone when I reached Aya. He had got rid most of them, there were 6 men left standing. Him and I stood back to back, surrounded by these men. Judging from Aya's state, they were hard to deal with.
I half turned my head and whispered to him. 'Only us now. Omi and Ken are trying to get up here.'
'These will do anything to finish us.' Aya tipped his head towards me slightly.
'Suicidal ones?' Geez I hate that type. They freak me out. 'Are you sure?'
That didn't take long to prove. I shuddered when I heard the sound of some thin metal being pulled out. When I turned my head round, I saw the man in front of me had a grim smile on his face and a grenade trigger in his hand. Just. The. Trigger.
A hundred and twenty-two... A hundred and twenty-three...
I heard the door squeak, got distracted and lost count.
'Youji, you're awake!'
'So are you, Ken!' I grinned, then spotted what Ken had in his hands. 'Oh man, not those!'
'They told me to bring something so I got the most handy stuff. But you know I know nothing about floral languages, Omi's the master.' Ken handed me the bunch of flowers. 'Hope I didn't pick something embarrassing. What do yellow tulips mean?'
'"Hopeless love", my dear. I think it does mean that. Check with Omi later.' I tried to reach for the flowers, then realise I couldn't move my arm... I couldn't even feel it. I looked down to make sure my arm was still there, attached to my shoulder. 'So where am I?'
Ken busied around me for a while, putting down the flowers, pulling chairs around, and then finally sat down beside me. 'Underground hospital. Persia's got it all sorted out, you'll stay here until you can move out yourself.'
'I thought I've been caught when I woke up.'
'How long have you been awake?'
'About a hundred and twenty something squares before you came in.'
'I was counting squares on the ceiling. Don't give me that look, I was bored.'
'You thought you were caught, then you started counting squares?' Ken's eyes looked like those from that Rurouni Kenshin anime, when that redhead says 'oro?'.
'What else could I do? Take a look at me, bandages, cast, drip, etcetera. I'm practically pinned to the bed. You expect me to plot escape?'
Ken gave a short laugh, got up and dusted himself. 'Gotta go back and help out at Kitten. Three people doing four people's work... it's like the days before Aya joined, you know.'
'How's Aya and Omi?'
'They're fine. I think Aya'll come see you tonight.'
The relief I felt was like a weight lifted off from my chest. They were all right.
'Man, when Omi and I found you guys, Aya's screams almost scared the hell out of us. And we thought he was bleeding. Then we noticed this deformed thing on top of him, Christ, it was you, and your blood... we thought you were dead.'
'You wished. And thanks for calling me a thing.'
When I woke again, Aya was just about to leave.
He stopped, saw me, and sat back down. He looked at me for a long, long moment, as if he was trying to say something but couldn't. Man, it was like those shounen ai manga that those girls read. I was about to crack a joke to break the silence when he finally spat out the word 'thanks', blushing mildly.
Ha! So what Ken said was true, that Aya blushes when he says 'thanks'. Ken said Aya did the first day he worked at Kitten and got offered breakfast. Aya blushing was, wow, almost cute! The moment of the lifetime!
But it wasn't quite the appropriate time to laugh my head off, so I grinned and gave him a 'you owe me one' expression. He frowned again. He knew I expected nothing from him. I never expected much from any of them. Serious. Perhaps because they're all young people. I didn't feel young anymore after I lost her.
They all had something attached to the world. Omi was still searching, looking for his truth. Ken, soccer. Dreams he was denied the chance to fulfill. I guess that was why he spent so much time with kids, just because kids have every chance in the world to be who they want. And Aya had the obvious, his sister. I had nothing around me.
And this may be the last thing I could do for him and Weiß, so...
I had nothing attached to me.
I remembered what Manx asked me.
Either you, or all of us. Think, Youji. Make up your mind.
When I noticed my flowers had already been changed from 'hopeless love' to 'deepest thanks and admiration', I knew what to tell Manx.
'The coffee beans, Aya, they're in the jar on top of my fridge. Take them if you want.'
Better start cutting strings...
[end chapter one]