[When You Gonna Learn]


Youji's boots splashed into more water puddles as he walked through the dark backstreets of Shinjuku, long graffiti-filled alleyways illuminated only by the occasional street lamps or half broken, buzzing neon signs. Twice this night in this maze of hidden paths he had encountered knives bearing men, ready to kill for money, and both times he just knocked the men unconscious and walked on. He was getting used to it. These men were like croakcoaches, stamping them down only gets your shoes dirty.

Tonight's check-up with the doctors showed no improvement, but nothing got worse, so Youji decided that in itself was an improvement. The psychiatrist said his after shocks were under control. Under control. What on Earth was that supposed to mean? Like he could shut them off like he switches off a light? Or like he would no longer wake up from a bad dream, soaked in his own sweat? It had been months, but still the same.

The same girl had come to find the punk next door again. The girl always came to wait for Youji's neighbour at the wrong times. She saw Youji and recognised him.

'Have you...'

Youji found the keys to his hiding at the bottom of his pockets. 'No, haven't seen him.'

The girl watched Youji open his door. 'Can you please tell him - '

'That you've been here, okay.' Youji only wished that she would go home. Judging from what she wore, she was not used to this kind of area. 'Next time, don't come at this hour. He's never at home this hour.'

The girl nodded politely and left. Idly Youji wondered why the girl appeared every night for someone who was never at home. It was just like him pouring two cups of coffee when he knew Asuka would never come to drink it. It was almost an obsession, a tiny thread of hope that he held onto, too frightened to let go in case it disappears.

Then Aya had told him that there would only be one Asuka in the world, that there was no point going through all the women just to search for Asuka's shadow.

Youji watched the frail form of the girl leave until she turned around the corner, and realised that they were somewhat alike. Silly people they were, knew what they were doing, knew all hope was gone but still, waited, and waited, and waited, for a door that would never open, for love that would never return. Suddenly he had an urge to tell the girl to give up, that the punk brings back a different woman to his place every night, but he didn't do it. It would be too cruel for her. But letting her wait here every night in such dangerous places was cruelty itself.

Closing his door, Youji wondered what had gone through Aya's mind when he said 'there's only one Tokyo University in the world'.

Ken peered over Omi's shoulder to watch the strings of writing appearing on the screen as Omi's fingers danced on the keyboard.

'Will Persia listen to us?'

'No idea, but it's better than doing nothing about it.'

Ken reached up and touched the scalp on his shoulder. A bullet had made itself in, and he could remember the acute pain it caused, almost like somebody was snapping all his nerve endings at the same time. He could also remember the shock when he saw Youji leave through the emergency exit. But Ken couldn't blame him. It was maybe still too early for Youji. He had not been as near death as his tall friend, and he certainly had not fought for his life on a bed tucked away in the dark room somewhere. They had waited months to let Youji on again, but he could tell by the way Youji blanked out at Omi's signal that it still affected him. They should have waited for longer, should have tried to understand that if Youji didn't talk about it, it didn't mean that he was okay. Youji never liked talking about himself or his problems. Ken couldn't blame Youji for running away, and if Youji decides to stay away, he would only wish him good luck. Ken only blamed himself for not noticing the change in Youji, and when he thought something was wrong, he had ignored it. He should have been more understanding.

He guessed Omi too, felt the same way, and that was why they were trying to help, with this message to Persia. Hopefully it wouldn't be too late to ask for mercy.

'There.' Omi extracted the disk from the computer. 'We'll give this to Birman to pass on to Persia.'

'What're you doing?'

'Aya-kun!' Neither of them noticed Aya had came downstairs. 'At least make some noises when you come in, you made me jump!'

'Or you jumped because you're doing something you don't want me to know.' Aya said, glaring at the disk in Omi's hand. 'What's that?'


'Let me see it then.'

'It's nothing about our work.' Ken suddenly said, taking a step forward. 'So you have no rights to demand it from us.'

Aya's eyes moved from the disk to Ken, but the cold glare seemed to do nothing to the soccer lover. Ken bit his lip and stared back, not giving way. Though he no longer says the word 'traitor', they knew Aya was still mad about Youji's leaving. They couldn't afford to let Aya see the message.

Then holding Ken's stare, Aya took a slow step backwards before turning away and going upstairs without a word.

When they heard the door shut, Omi breathed a sigh of relief. 'I can't believe you did that Ken-kun, it's so unlike you.'

'Well I'm an adult and I know how to get what I want. Right now I want him to leave us alone.'

'Just as Youji-kun said...'


'I was just talking to myself.'

... Sixteen. Seventeen. Eighteen. Nineteen. Twenty.


One. Two. Three...

Youji stopped and looked up when the hinges squeaked and the wooden door opened. 'Next time give me some warning that you're coming in.' He got off the floor and wiped off his sweat with an old towel, eyeing Birman.

With the quick push of the arm Birman made sure the door was closed. She smiled. 'I don't think you'd be sleeping yet.'

'No, but I should at least be wearing something when a pretty lady walks into my room. Getting clothes off can be saved for later.' Youji smirked and put on a T-shirt. He didn't like being disrupted in the middle of his routine exercise, but he could do the last three sets of twenty press-ups later.

'Well? Got anything?'

Youji gave Birman a diskette, which she slipped into her handbag, as an answer. 'Finally got in the backstage of Shirakawa Cooperates.'

'Well done. May I ask how you did it?'

'No.' Youji looked away. A combination of bribes, blackmails, threats at the right people did the trick. But it was not relevant information.

'Fine, as long as you've done your part.' Birman shrugged, handing Youji a brown envelope with the word 'Balinese' on it. 'Your next instructions. Any questions?'

'Yeah.' Youji sat down on the bed, reading the instructions. 'Will you stay with me tonight?'

Birman laughed at the usual question. 'No. Anything else?'

Youji paused, put the envelope down beside him, and bit his lip. After a while, he asked, 'How're they?'

The smile on Birman's face vanished. Youji suddenly seemed fragile, like a child who had been away from home for too long. 'They're as usual.'

'How did Omi do in his history exam, do you know?'

'... No idea. Why?'

'I used to help him modern European history.' Youji gave a careless smile, swiping his hair back with his fingers. 'Just wondering.'

After Birman left, he didn't feel like doing the rest of the press-ups anymore. Suddenly he became very aware of the darkness around him as he lay on the bed. The light bulb that hung from the ceiling was too dim, the dripping tap too loud, and the wood board bed squeaked too much. Just about only things this tiny room had, and they each annoyed him in their own ways, as if mocking him of his loneliness.

What would they be doing? He worried about Omi's exam. Omi whined a lot about modern history and got him to help almost every night, keeping him too busy for dates. Not that he really minded. Omi had been cramming the entire final year syllabus into his head for the last few months. Had Ken sorted things out with the damned flower stockist? And did Aya still go to his flat for the coffee beans?

Trivial things. He was thinking about things that would not really matter now. Curling up on his bed, Youji decided, for the first time in his life, that he was homesick.

'... forecast for tomorrow is heavy rain in the Southern parts of the country, and occasional showers with short periods of sunshine near Hokkaido. The temperatures may range from 12 to 25 degrees celcius.

'The weather forecast is sponsored by- '

Omi frowned and switched off the radio. 12 to 25? Why did they ever bother to tell the temperature? It was like 'I predict when I flip the coin I would get a head or a tail'. How useless could the forecast people get? And it would be raining yet again. It had been this way for the past week, as if the Heavens were intending to drown the whole city, punishing it with the acid rain it had created for itself. If it were to rain for another week Omi was sure every single thing in Tokyo would be dissolved into nothingness.

He rested his chin in the palm of his hand and sighed. 'Shall we close the shop? Nobody will come in this weather anyway.' Without waiting for Aya and Ken's reply, Omi got up and started dragging down the metal gate.

Ken shrugged. The days were getting so boring, and he couldn't do much sports of any kind in this weather. He had only been to gym once in his life, and he found jogging on a treadmill just the most unsatisfying way to exercise. No fresh air, no change of scenery, just running on the same spot all the time. It was like not getting anywhere, no matter how hard he tries.

'Closing so early? It's only three o'clock.'

'Hi Manx.' Omi stopped and let Manx in.

'Boys are you bored?' Running a hand through her flaming curls, Manx smiled at the three young men in the shop. 'You need some stretching out.' She said, producing an MO from her bag.

'I've got something for you as well.' Ignoring Aya's strange stare, Omi gave Manx the disk with the message he had typed. 'Please give this to Persia for me.'

'Okay. I have to leave, boys. You'll have all you need on the disk, my explanation won't be needed.'

The young men looked at each other. They had never had their assignments coming in disks before. And when Omi loaded it on the computer, they found only words and no images.

'This is so strange. How're we supposed to work when we don't know what they look like?' Omi scrolled down the screen, but it was the end of the file already. He searched through the disks and found no image files.

'Doesn't matter. There're thorough descriptions.' Aya spoke quietly. 'Maybe the information came from a different source, that's all.'

From their underworld, the sound of rain could still faintly be heard. As water washed away the world above, three young men stood before a computer screen with different things going through their minds: the upcoming assignment; the disk Manx would give Persia; the rain. But none of them questioned the origin of the information they were reading that was divided into sections as if made for each of them. They just printed out copies of it, then disposed the disk, the disk their teammate had carefully prepared for his friends after weeks of danger, sweat, and sleepless nights.

The MO disk lay amongst the other rubbish, un-thought of, hidden, broken.

[end chapter four]

chapter three chapter five