Once again the boy I loved walked into the café, and not for the first time I couldn’t help but notice how similar he was to the girl I loved.
My name is Kouma Yon and I do not, for a fact, believe in fate. It strikes me as unreasonable when people prefer to believe that every little thing was already decided to begin with when such a thing not only denies the concept of free will, but is absurdly boring.
I, more than believe, acknowledge a god that watches all the possibilities and, having the power to pick and change them at will, reserves the right not to.
My concept of love might come across as warped to some, but in all frankness it doesn’t bother me because, even though I am entirely sure I am not the first person to feel that way, it belongs to me. It might be wicked love, but it’s my love and that is all that matters.
To me, love is the same whether it is directed towards a parent, a friend, a puppy or a lover. Not several kinds of love like the Ancient Greek used to believe; Eros, Storge, Philia and Agape are unnecessary names for the exact same thing, and that sort of conceptual mistake happens more often that you’d think. People seem to assume there are feelings in music, paintings, movies, novels, even martial arts. Like everything is mystical in its own way.
I am not ‘people’.
Music is just manipulation of noise, paintings are just lines and blots of pigments, movies are nothing more than pictures with noise, novels are mere printed words while martial arts are body movements and that is all. Nothing mystical, emotional or sacred about them and the feelings one might experience belong to the person alone; the artists may appeal to a certain kind of reaction, but it is absolutely impossible to tell whether the author was feeling something while composing a work or if the actor was performing with passion.
You can’t judge how a man feels from the style and lyrical content of a song he allegedly wrote about his lover, you can only judge the quality of the songwriting.
You can’t tell if a writer’s magnum opus was born out of despairing memories or the author just acts like that to attract those who seek to be surrounded by all things edgy, you can only see if the fiction is well-written.
They couldn’t know my ‘art’ was just a thinly disguised mash-up of hundreds of styles, learnt by pure analysis of every dot and recreated with ease once every aspect of the source was fully comprehended. Instead, they called me a ‘genius’ and the second coming of this and that artist, while referring to my work as ‘deep and soulful.’ I don’t even think I have a soul. I didn’t feel a thing while drawing and painting the works that got me the scholarships I refused and prizes I didn’t bother to pick up.
Everything I do is just collage.
Subcategories based on concept instead of execution are futile. It doesn’t matter what you want or what you feel, just what you do. Your affection, your hate, your trust and care are null. Wanting to save the world doesn’t mean a thing, but killing one person or more does.
Cause is passive, void and worthless; effect is active, everything and absolute.
So whether the love I feel is a result of chemicals, a holy sentiment bestowed to me by heaven or misplaced attention resultant of the broken base for relationships I have, my intentions don’t matter as long as I act good. More important than ends justifying means, my means justify following or avoiding on purpose whatever idea that acts as an initial spark to them. It’s such a relief to my mind as it takes away the heaviest of all burdens.
Being a monster inside is no longer an issue for me, especially not when I’m around him.
“You’re looking great, Kouma. I like the dark red shirt with polka dot combination on you, makes you look almost harmless.”
“You’re being redundant.” He already knew of my fake narcissism was just a way to joke about my self-hatred. Yes, I was capable of making a joke. “Very unmanly too. Glad to see you’re the same as always, Shin-tsu.”
“Did you order already? I’m in the mood for-”
“French fries, because I remind you of Amelie. You told me that two months ago and I came dressed in the same outfit as a social experiment.” I touched the technical book on game theory not just from instinct. “You can subvert it now by picking something different and pretending it was your first option or say you wanted me to think that, but either way you have the bitter feeling inside that I got the best of you this time.”
I wondered if he was aware of the faces he made whenever someone tried to antagonize him.
“The shoes are different and so is the handbag. You were wearing earrings too, and the perfume was muskier than this one, which has a pretty noticeable ‘floral’ attribute, even a little bit of ‘citric.’ The order of red and green in your nails is inverted compared to that day except on the pinkies. Commenting on a haircut is irrelevant considering it was two months ago, so I will abstain from it. Your progress on the book regressed around thirty pages, hard to tell exactly because it’s a paperback volume. Might be thirty-three. One more thing.”
“You hid your killer grin a little better last time.”
More like I don’t mind showing it to him as much, even if it seemed to scare everyone else.
“A full analysis, which implies you’re inspired. Wonderful.” I stared at the waitress who brought the coffee, Chinese dumplings and French fries I ordered exactly four minutes and a half before he got here until she went away. This session would not be a waste. “Go on, start talking. This therapist charges by the hour.”
“Guess I can’t hide anything from you.”
“Of all people, you should know I’m not stupid enough to fall for that.”
“Sorry, bad habit.”
“I forgive you.”
“Never thought I’d listen to these words coming out of your mouth.”
“I shall surprise you more later on. Mark my words.”
“Color me interested. Miss, may I?”
“Dislike the band. Go on.”
“I wonder if we can get away with that, having avoided so many brand names so far.”
He frowned. “Okay. So, today I went out with Akane as I had promised her.”
“Are you that indiscriminate about females?”
“Just listen for now, okay?”
“You know I don’t work that way.”
“Yeah, you just like 2D characters and Shiina Ryo. And my arm.”
“Nevermind. It was almost cute, how she was actually worried that I skipped school because I was scared of her in some way. No self-esteem whatsoever, really.”
“So it didn’t take me long to realize she was looking for someone to sit with her on the bus.”
That line took me by surprise.
“…I beg your pardon? Is that a euphemism youngsters are using these days?”
“You know how strangers sit by your side in buses when there’s a free spot?”
I felt my eyes open wide.
“To avoid that?” I knew I was far from being a regular society member but even I knew the best way to avoid strangers on the bus was not to take it. “That could be even worse in terms of social awkwardness than Ryo, perhaps verging on savant-level if one considers what you told me about her being a music school dropout slash genius. I appreciate that. Quite a lot. She seems interesting as a test subject even if I never saw one.”
“Wait for it. We got on the bus and no matter how much I tried, she wouldn’t use her voice in public. Pretty strict about getting the window seat too, and when that attitude transferred to outside the bus…”
“Excuse me, but how? Also, where were you going? The more details you give me the better.”
“She kept saying ‘please don’t stand in the same horizontal line as I do’ and similar because she’s so paranoid whenever there’s a mirrored surface she’ll use the reflection to watch the world around her. Not joking. And the city nearby, which was no surprise considering how big it was compared to this. If I were to take someone from outside the country out on a date it would probably be the obvious choice, since it’s the closest to a first-world kind of town you get around here.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. This one is growing, but it’s far from a metropolis. That one, not so much.”
“None taken. You were all around the world and have seen everything after all, right?”
“…I wonder how long will it take for me to convince you of that.”
“Carry on, will you?”
“I’ve been through some weird stuff but that date was one of a kind, really. We kept walking until she made me stop by a Post Office. What was interesting was not the place, but what we could watch from there. Or rather, ‘who’ we could watch. Or rather, ‘who’ we could listen to.”
“Yeah. Apparently the reason why she avoided everything on Saturdays lately was so she secretly could go acoustic on the train station. Not for the pennies, it was more to lose fear of public. I mean, really. She walks around like that all day and was afraid of playing at the festival so she decided to just go outside and learn it the hard way.”
“I take it Akane wanted to watch her from afar and that’s why she didn’t go with Megumi and went with you instead.”
“Which is exactly why I grabbed her by the arm and dragged the girl all the way there making sure to scream ‘GREAT PERFORMANCE MEGUMI, AKANE WAS TEARING UP BACK THERE’ at the top of my lungs so running away would only be harder for her.”
“So not you in a way, so you in others.”
“Ends justify the means.”
“Does the story end there?”
“Not quite. Megumi is a little simpleminded so she never questioned why we were there and just took the two of us out. We tried to call our leader but she didn’t think she’d be able to go outside unnoticed. Thus we visited two arcades and a karaoke, as those were things we can’t enjoy with Rin because she’d complain about everything, from the quality of the games in the current state of the industry to our singing. Then we went to a mall to eat more, because Megumi craves meat like a lumberjack, and things got a little weird.”
“Do lumberjacks crave meat? How exactly?”
“Yes, yes they do. Akane went to the bathroom. Megumi and I were just checking people out from the restaurant’s balcony and talking nonsense while eating burgers, such as crazy manias people have. I mentioned Akane’s paranoia and Megumi got mad. I tried to assure her it was just me being playful and nothing I wouldn’t say in front of Akane herself but she took offense to it and started mocking me. She kept on and on picking stuff about me while I tried to calm her down, but then she got loud and people started looking at us, so I kind of got back at her and talked about how her appearance was freaky and trying-too-hard, especially her eyes.”
“Mhm.” I contorted my face in a frown that physically hurt me, possibly due to not using the muscles, ever. “And then?”
“As she got visibly hurt Akane came out, gave me a hawk look and they left, so I came back and now I’m talking to you. Can you spare some of your personal insight?”
I tried to ignore the sarcasm, as it was obvious he was in trouble.
“In a moment. Let’s talk about Ryo for a while, so you can relate to what I’ll tell you a little better.”
“Is that how you want to do this? Alright then. I assume you know I talked to her recently and it didn’t go well. Despite the obvious issue with me, what’s going on with Ryo recently? She seems so… different.”
How brilliant, Sherlock.
“Mostly I’m afraid she has a huge creative block. As far as I’m concerned, ARK is on hiatus. It started a month or two before you came to town and at first it was a relief because I honestly needed a vacation from drawing concept art for every unlikely-to-make-profit idea she had, but now it bothers me.”
“Wait, haven’t you guys worked in any games, manga or light novels recently? From the way you were talking the first time it sounded like you did stuff like that all the time.”
“We work a lot on the concepts. We just never get anything done. Ryo’s methodology of work is 98% research and procrastinating, 1,50% complaining about writing and the rest is actually writing.” I took a sip. “That said, you are very, very mistaken and delusional when it comes to Ryo, Shin-tsu.”
He seemed confused, which was no surprise.
“What do you mean by that?”
“Unlike me, what you seem to like in her is a perfect idealization of her characteristics instead of accepting her as a whole. You mostly ignore her flaws and expect her to meet the expectancies you project on her. That’s pretty much how society brings up boys to be like, but that is still rather painful to watch, even for me.”
“Are you calling me ‘biased?’ You, the person who assumes everything in human behavior from functioning relationships to archetypes can be explained by Freud’s view of psychology? Attacking people because you think they’re going to be in the way of your childhood friend doesn’t help your case at all.”
Only then I noticed how rude I could come across to some, but couldn’t say a thing directly related to the topic after that without losing my composure.
“…Shin-tsu, you ought to start liking people for their flaws. Accepting them as they are, at the very least.”
“Seriously, what are you even talking about?”
“You take it as a pejorative remark of mine but I think you being biased isn’t that bad, as it’s a defining characteristic of yours. You are unsure, paranoid and biased, but that’s who you are, and without your flaws you wouldn’t be you, at least not the you I tolerate.”
I could tell he appreciated my use of ‘tolerate’ as a pretty word.
“Don’t.” I put my left palm one inch away from his face in a halt sign that could as well be some sort of slap. “If there’s anyone you need to apologize to, that is Megumi. Your bias went a little too far on her and it’s not exactly why you think it did.”
Using both the index and middle finger from his right hand, he slowly pushed my hand aside. Then he held it with both of his, as if he had the intention of warming me.
“Kouma.” He gazed into my eyes. “Tell me what I said or did wrong.”
I trembled for a fraction of second; the power he had was unbelievable.
“There is no way you could tell without some background information, but the reason why she got upset at you is a little deeper than just your dislike of her body modification. See, Ryo-chan and I went to the same grammar school as her, and although we were never in the same class because of our age difference, I recall she always stood out even as a child without the accessories, colored hair or more ink than blood in her arms. A tad too much, and kids can be cruel.”
“I don’t quite think I’m following your thoughts.”
“The mismatching eyes are actually hers, from birth.”
“Are you telling me I mocked someone with heterochromia?”
“She probably based her look on the concept of making enough of a visual ruse that no one would think her eyes are unfitting. This is just speculation, though.”
“…oh.” The discomfort in his face was so great the only reason I did not take a picture was because I was sure I would see it over and over again if I just stood by his side. “Then I guess I should-”
Not so fast.
“Pay the price for what I just gave you first. I didn’t come here just to eat with you, you know.”
“Yes. Your thesis. Most don’t work on that until they are, well, finishing college.”
“I am not like them at all.” Felt like Dracula, telling a defining truth that way. “Are you ready?”
The boy I loved just shrugged.
“Am I ever?”
“Well, then I have three what-ifs for you. Hopefully you can answer them honestly.”
“Remember how you told me about the mysterious voice that mocked you inside your head and you haven’t heard it for a while? Perhaps coincidentally, one could argue, but not once since you chose to stay away from Ryo?”
“Remember I was perfectly okay with you getting away from her, but not making her cry?”
“Quite vividly, yes.”
“One. What if I was the voice inside your head?”
“Not flirting, but sometimes you kind of are.”
“Not flattered, you liar.”
“Jokes aside, I don’t think that’s possible. Mind control or telepathy don’t work that way, and if they did and you knew exactly what was inside my head you’d have killed me by now.”
Or fallen for you.
“Alright, two. What if I am just a folie à deux caused by a power of Ryo-chan’s?”
“Not unlikely at all, considering Ayaka had a power that presumably allowed her to induce potent hallucinations by using a simple object like a paper card or, looking from a different angle, affected space in non-permanent ways. The first is much more likely considering she wouldn’t have missed the chance of using the latter against us during the battle, although whether the creature she seemed to be possessed by was rational enough to do so is debatable."
“I guess it would explain your romantic preference for fictional characters. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. No need to get mad at me. I don’t know how I’d react, but I guess it wouldn’t change much how I act towards you or her. If you were a figment of her, I think the only change would be that I’d like her even more.”
“Say, you knew she was sick from the very start, didn’t you?”
“I did spend a lot of time with her online, Kouma… The details are fuzzy and she tried to evade the subject so I don’t know how bad it is but of course I knew she was sick. You might be the childhood friend, but I know her too. Don’t underestimate that.”
I could feel my face muscles contracting lightly and it irritated me further to know he could tell.
“So you were aware of her state and came here anyway?”
“I wanted to be with her.”
“Task in which you clearly are succeeding at.”
“You can’t always get what you want.”
“Three. What if you can’t save her?”
Silence followed because I hit the bull’s eye, and I wondered how Shin-tsu liked a taste of his own medicine, what with him cornering everyone else.
“…I’m fully prepared for that outcome too. I guess I’ll just have to deal with it one way or another.”
“I knew you wouldn’t go full ‘I’ll save her no matter what’ and stuff.”
“And you know I’d die trying just like you, right?”
“Of course, partner. Such is the power of love, etcetera.”
“Oh, I don’t know about love. I do know I’d fight for you too.”
“You cunning bastard.”
“Easy there, crazy fashionista. I wouldn’t do it for just everyone. It’s just that I know you enough to care.”
“Do you know my true nature already?”
“Go on, if you please.”
“You are a『derivative』being.”
He scored a few points by using ‘being’ instead of ‘person,’ although that wouldn’t be as bad as ‘people.’ Either way, this was what surprised me the most when I met Shin-tsu: where others, and I am talking about the best of men with a natural tendency to go all the way towards amateur sleuth would see the facts and then tie them together as a method of discovery the truth, this little fiend I felt tempted to call a friend saw motives, just like that.
It could be magic or not, but it sure was interesting so I fueled the conversation to learn more about the extent of his deductive power.
“Care to elaborate?”
“You cannot create anything, ever. You have no hopes or dreams of your own, but you chose to enable those of the ones you care for because in a sense that would be all you can do. You have absolutely no imagination, just memories, yours and of others.”
“And what kind of human would be that?”
“I don’t think you are human, Kouma.”
“Do I look like something else? Bear in mind I might take offense to your response and if that is the case, you will have to pin your hope on me not being fond of the idea of bearing arms.”
“Excuse me if I came across as rude, or don’t. Your choice, but I can tell you I was honest and you should treasure that either way. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the concept of the right to own weapons, especially guns and similar, doesn’t fly too well here in Japan. But yeah, you come across as something like a magical beast to me. Not like the ones I met, though. Your DNA is pure Homo sapiens material alright, yet your mind is not. You are of human descent, and although this might not make sense at first, your nature surely isn’t human.”
“Correct, we can’t legally have guns here except for some very specific cases which require extensive and somewhat expensive procedures, such as in the case of hunters and sportsmen. And whether I confirm you are correct or not on the second one is irrelevant. Do you know why?”
“It’s simple: whether someone hears the noise or not, the tree already fell in the forest and a fact is a fact. It cannot be altered in any way, just the way we perceive it. Entity or mortal, what difference does it make if I know exactly what you are? What am I supposed to do after the thrill is gone and the mystery is solved? Walk away? Pray tell, how exactly would that be different from running?”
“Doesn’t mean I’m wrong. To assume my argument is invalid just because I am a good-for-nothing, whiny, narcissistic jerk would go against your proclaimed love of flaws.”
“I wasn’t complaining about you being self-absorbed. Just mentioning it.”
“Alright then. What I mean is that I know all I need to know about you right now, and that would be ‘what kind of relationship we have.’”
“And what would that be?”
“My best friend.”
“Excuse me? Wouldn’t that be Ryo-chan?”
“Yes. And Reikoku-sensei. And you.”
“I’m afraid you are having issues with the Japanese language again.”
“No, this is more of a conceptual thing… I have strangers, acquaintances and colleagues, lovers and recently even band mates but no friends. I don’t trust friends, I don’t like the idea of that at all. People you laugh with, you cry with, you spend a year or two with and then stay away from them as your relationship withers to the point where you wave at them at the supermarket and that’s it… I don’t want that. I want constancy. I want something that remains forever because nothing ever does.”
It became crystal clear within seconds.
To him, ‘best friend’ is a slot rather than a title. The ones he could connect with were his ‘best friend.’
“Yet you walked away on Ryo. You noticed she’s not okay and you know there’s only so much reaching out to her I can do. Is that something you’d do to a partner you want for life and beyond?”
“As a matter of fact, yes.”
I was rendered speechless before his bold reply. He suffered no shame admitting how warped he was, and I actually envied him for it.
Shin-tsu was just my kind of repulsive.
“I’m willing to wager what I want for the things that others need, and sometimes to bet the very things I need too. Because I hate myself, but not just because.”
“Why would you tell me? Just because I am part of the group you name ‘best friend’? You should know this might be one-sided. People don’t often correspond to your feelings no matter how strong they are, believe me.”
“…you are really pleasant when implying you have feelings, Kouma. Much prettier than when you smile, too.”
“Once again, stay classy.”
“Friendly jabs aside… I really have to go and fix things up with Megumi. Catch you later.”
As he left, I found myself unsettled.
It bothered and interested me, how someone could be so pure and so pragmatic, so good and evil at the same time. He really was similar to Ryo, albeit far more experienced in a sense; this boy has obviously seen a lot of stuff, even though one needs to take his tales with a grain of salt. He manages to remain a sore thumb sticking out even in a world where, after what we saw, denying the existence of supernatural powers is just silly. Not to say that means everything he said about his past was truth.
To me, Koukishin Shinzou was a liar and that was final regardless of how much of one he would turn out to be.
He was not merely unaffected by morals like I was because of my unnamed condition or even exactly like Shiina Ryo, which would mean ‘switching extremes’ with her obvious Borderline Personality Disorder. Koukishin Shinzou was good, neutral and evil all at once, and every single one of those individual elements composed his ‘true’ personality in a mess so immense and intense they were barely recognizable.
Each of these were separately very easy to spot, considering how he was clearly holding back when we fought against each other and suddenly became stronger when I underestimated him, but did nothing more than stopping me despite having every reason to believe I would kill him if I had the chance. Or how he came up with the idea of trapping Ayaka using psychological pressure, but didn’t go for the kill. Instead, he aimed for restraining the monster while it could be seen Ryo tried to put it down for good.
He had boundaries and I wanted to know what they were, but asking him would be pointless one way or another, so I played games.
It was actually amusing how, even in this setting, just believing what he said was hard, while whenever he made a joke or said an inoffensive lie I had to fight not to get caught in it. Like he could say the truth and it would make one doubt, but whatever he said would only be instantly believable if it was tainted with a dosage of lies. Not hard at all to see how people could distrust someone like him; it was a curse whether he was aware of it or not, except the moment he decides to use that in his favor it’s bound to be a curse to everyone else.
So yes, I was thoroughly obsessed with his ambivalence, a precious monstrosity which gives a whole new meaning to polyvalence and given the circumstances, even gave an actual meaning to omnivalence. In other words, it could be said I was obsessed with him.
I was, for all effects, obsessed. The object, however, was an immaterial one. An untouchable, flawless concept even in my eyes. Not just with him and not just with her, but with the fact the three of us managed to meet and bond somehow. Three beings so broken in different ways brought close and not by fate but by a small, infinitely slim chance…
“Shall we carry on with the little ‘conspiracy’ of ours, then?”
…it was just too beautiful.