Hellping

[Hikaru V9] Chapter 3

“The Poppy flower is the name of the flower held by the Conqueror’s beloved consort Yu.”

Hikaru explained with a gloomy look on the night they returned from the hospital.

“The hero Xiang Yu, active during the late Qin Dynasty, lost to another hero Liu Bang. Consort Yu followed him until the very end, and killed herself—In the Chinese lessons, some said that Xiang Yu, pursued at the very end, was singing, “Ah, Yu, my Yu. What will your fate be?” You have heard of this story before, no? It was said that bloody red flowers bloomed from the consort Yu’s grave, and that was how the name ‘Yu flower’, or ‘Poppy’ came about. The wavy petals would flap with a mere breeze, and while it may look pitiful, it does seem to allure you in a bewitching manner. It is that kind of flower with an unstable charm.”

The name of the flower Koremitsu received in the message was the Poppy.

Surely, the fact that there was a flower with the same name in Yū’s room would be linked to this.

“I don’t understand. Maybe it’s just a coincidence.”

Hikaru frowned hard, and the tense atmosphere pervaded, his face looking conflicted.

“But the Poppy flower is not one that will bloom at this time. It probably was displayed in flower shops over a month back or so. It is not a flower that can be obtained so easily in this season…”

Hikaru himself was a little curious that she never did put such a rare flower in a vase, merely dumping it on the sofa.

Yū mentioned that it was a flower from a visitor, but that explanation was fallible.

She merely gave a glance at the washroom, and already, she wished for Koremitsu to quickly return.

“The floral language of the Poppy is solace, delusion—that is what it means. Another name for Poppy is Papaveraceae. Perhaps it had such a floral language for it was it is a breed of Poppy that can be extracted for drugs.”

Drugs—Koremitsu’s heart jolted upon those words.

“The Papaver Poppy itself is non-toxic, and it is not a criminal act to grow them at home. It does have a similar appearance however.”

Hikaru’s face again sobered as he mentioned this.

“Yū’s acting strange.”

“Yeah…she does not seem happy to meet you today. She even looked a little troubled.”

One would hope that she merely had trivial matters to attend to…

After worrying about it, he sent a message,

“Sorry for visiting you so suddenly.”

Yū’s reply came in the next morning.

” I, too, apologize for what happened”

It was hard to understand through words alone what Yū was ‘apologizing’ for. There were so many issues Yū had yet to talk about, so he could only deduce from what he received.

 

Koremitsu ate his breakfast while listless, and saw Shioriko with that face devoid of energy.

“Big brother Koremitsu…I’m going to school along with you.”

She pleaded with a gloomy voice.

“Okay.”

Koremitsu answered glumly. It was the first time he departed from home early with her due to her school arrival time, but she remained silent for quite a while.

“Are you still angry about Lapis?’

“No…”

“Then, is it about Shikibu and the rest at our house before this?”

“…”

Koremitsu seemed to be saying “No” with that faint voice of his, and he remained silent till they they reached the elementary school.

“Lapis ran away, and Shiiko’s beloved big brother got snatched by other women. She really must be feeling lonely.”

Hikaru muttered.

Koremitsu felt a little heartbroken within to see Shioriko depart haplessly with her backpack, but at this point, he was simply thinking about Yū.

He was planning to look through Shioriko’s homework on one hand, but on the other, he was sending messages to Yū, asking if he could visit her after school. He was troubled.

Perhaps she would find him annoying. Having said that, Koremitsu did not know how long Yū would reside in Japan. He finally had the chance to be reunited with her, and he could not allow such dissatisfaction cloud their farewell.

And of course, was Yū really safe?

He wondered as he entered the classroom, and the seat beside him was empty.

(Shikibu isn’t here yet?)

Though he was thinking (I’m early today though) at that moment…

Noon break had already passed when he realized something was amiss.

The classroom was the same as usual, and so was the corridor. There were also his familiar classmates, acquaintances.

However, something seemed to be amiss.

Something seemed to be changing little by little, subtle enough not to be detected, and he was feeling tense, wondering where everyone else was.

Honoka never did attend school on this day, and the seat beside Koremitsu was empty.

“It’s rare for Hono to take leave. There was a flu outbreak in middle school that caused the school to be closed, and she was the only one feeling alright.”

I sent some messages, but I didn’t get any replies. I wonder if she’s sleeping due to a fever…or is her belly rumbling due to ache…Michiru worriedly asked.

Koremitsu too felt angsty seeing the seat beside him empty during class.

When he was strolling down the corridor during break time, he noticed Aoi looking dejected, whispering something.

And just when he tried to approach her, the chime rang from the side, and she vanished..

After that, he went to the student council office to discuss the message with Asai later on.

“I am busy. Return back.”

Asai spoke with an uncannily frigid voice.

That was not all.

During the following break, he was concerned about Aoi, and went to her classroom, only to notice Aoi and Asai walking in opposite directions.

Neither of them did notice Koremitsu, and upon seeing each other, they averted their eyes elsewhere, the atmosphere frozen the moment their eyes met.

“Is something the matter with Asa and Miss Aoi?”

Hikaru wondered with a frown.

After Aoi learned of Asai’s true feelings during the summer vacation, a rift developed between them. Even beyond that however, they were important childhood friends to each other, and there were signs that the relationship between them was improving. Aoi was doing her best to avoid reliance on Asai, and Asai too kept taking care of Aoi not because Aoi was a fragile childhood friend, but as an equal.

That was the analysis Hikaru gave as he watched them calmly. Koremitsu too was relieved.

But having met the duo, he could only sense acrimony and contempt towards each other.

He hurried off after Aoi.

“Hey! Did something happen between you and Asa?”

He called out to Aoi, and the latter was startled as she noticed Koremitsu’s face.

“Nothing at all. Please do not worry about me.”

She answered, her eyes looking away from Koremitsu before she left.

Tsuyako probably would know a thing or two, and during that noon break, he hurried towards the Japanese Dance Clubroom. He found Tsuyako seated in a seiza, spacing out at the roof, and even after Koremitsu spoke to her,

“Eh, yes, I suppose.”

She gave a vague answer.

“Sorry, I was up the entire night, and my mind is not really functional now. Maybe another time.”

There was none of the usual luster on her beaming face.

In that case, Koremitsu decided to look for Hiina, but he never did. He went to her classroom, looking for her, only for her classmates to state that she had returned home.

“What is going on?”

Koremitsu let out a displeased voice.

It had been one strange thing after another since morning.

“Everyone’s saying things completely different from what they’re thinking. It’s uncomfortable having that itchy feeling on my back.”

While Koremitsu grumbled, Hikaru grimaced worriedly.

“Maybe…there is something that cannot be said.”

What do you mean? He wanted to ask.

At that moment however, the cellphone in his pocket vibrated.

Koremitsu clicked his tongue, and affirmed the sender.

“Another anonymous message?”

He opened the inbox, and the message showed.

 

“Koremitsu Akagi shall execute Yū Kanai by hanging in the name of the Poppy.”

 

“—”

First torching, and now hanging?

He hurriedly sent a call to Yū’s cellphone, but she was busy.

Perhaps it was another prank. There was still some time till lessons ended, and he already did play truant the previous day, so not this day.

However, at this moment, if Yū was to be some form of danger.

“Koremitsu.”

While Hikaru was calling out for him, Koremitsu had already walked away.

(Damn it. Who sent such messages?)

He really wanted to fish out this culprit, who had been hiding his identity while reveling in hurting others from the darkness.

His eyes got fiery, his rage suffocating as it seared, and he dashed towards the hospital he was at the previous day, ignoring how sweaty he was. He signed in at the counter, only to be told that Yū was out, not in her room.

“Where did she go!?”

“She didn’t say.”

Koremitsu asked Hikaru of any possible places she could have gone to.

Hikaru however looked defeated as he answered,

“I cannot think of any other places besides your house and her old apartment. Yū had always been the indoor type.”

He kept calling her, only to reach the voicemail every time, and while he paced around the corridor grimly,

“Akagi…”

“Shikibu!”

For some reason, Honoka appeared.

Koremitsu himself was surprised, but Honoka widened her eyes, shaking her head about as she appeared to be looking for a place to hide.

“You took the day off today? Why are you in uniform? I don’t think you’re here to got some flu prescription.”

“Er-erm, I-I-I’m here because of a relative! He’s hospitalized here due to a sudden illness! I’m here to visit!”

“Visit?”

Honoka’s shoulders suddenly jolted in shock. Her eyebrows were clenched for just a moment, and she showed a cowed look, before tensing her face and saying,

“I got to go. That relative asked me to buy the weekly magazine that’s sold today. See you then!”

“Hey, Shikibu.”

He called out to her, but she never did look back as she ran off at startling speed.

“Koremitsu, you should give Miss Shikibu a word of advice that she cannot be running down the corridors of a hospital at full sprint.”

Hikaru chimed with an austere look.

(Shikibu’s being rather lively today, isn’t she? But wasn’t she showing a helpless look for a moment just now?)

While Koremitsu squirmed his lips as he pondered, Yū, passing by Honoka, returned.

“…Mr. Akagi.”

Yū widened her eyes upon seeing him, and again, she looked perturbed.

“Erm…sorry about yesterday.”

“N-no, I was wrong too for rushing over here out of a sudden.”

Yū did not appear to be hurt in any way. Surely it was a prank message stating that she was to be hanged or something, and Koremitsu’s ears seared in fury and regret for being lured in by such a thing. However, he was relieved to see that she was fine.

“I received some…Chinese…floral tea. Do you mind…having some too…Mr. Akagi?”

“You sure?”

Yū nodded.

She was a little terse, but she did not seem too bothered that Koremitsu was present.

“Thank goodness, Koremitsu. You are finally able to patch things up with Yū.”

Hikaru beamed.

(Oh, yeah.)

His nose gradually heated, Koremitsu walked along with Yū.

“When we mention Chinese tea, surely they are to be classified as artistic. The flowers will slowly bloom when you pour hot water into the buds, and a fresh aroma will spread.”

Hikaru floated above them, displaying his trivial knowledge.

Yū opened the door carefully.

“P-please…”

“Thanks.”

Koremitsu was as tense as one making a home visit to his girlfriend’s house for the first time.

And such a sight entered his eyes.

“!”

There was a crimson umbrella hanging on the rack beside the wall, with a handle that was atypical of an umbrella, a rope tied around it, dangling off the protrusion on the wall.

Black water dripped down the front end of the umbrella, leaving black trails on the wall, and black marks on the carpet.

 

It was an umbrella dangled downwards—

 

That was akin to a corpse hung on the head by a noose.

Yū, right beside Koremitsu, whimpered.

Her eyes widened, the massive terror spreading in her eyes. Her white skin instantly paled, and her slender shoulders kept shivering.

Back then, Yū tossed her favorite umbrella out, and she was covered in dirt after she went to look for it in the rain.

It was later on that she hanged the umbrella, covered in mud, in the school chemistry lab.

Because of these, Yū was dubbed the vengeful spirit, and shut herself in. She became terrified of the rain and umbrellas. She personally put back the wrecked umbrella into her father’s golf bag, which she called the tower of prayer.

Clearly, if the sight of the swaying black, stained umbrella dripping black water was meant to harken Yū’s nightmares, and it worked.

Yū’s body began to stumble.

Koremitsu hurriedly helped Yū to stand.

He took the umbrella away, brought it out of the window and handed it to a staff member. The fury practically blew his head apart, and when he handed the black umbrella to the staff member, his nefarious eyes caused the staff member to shudder.

“Damn it, did that sender do this?”

He muttered as he entered the room. Hikaru too frowned.

“I am worried about Yū. What happens if she ends being reclusive again?”

When Koremitsu returned however, Yū was done wiping off all the marks on the wall and the floor.

Her face remained pale,, and fear could obviously be felt from her eyes, yet she continued to scrub the wall with vigor.

That sight caused Hikaru to widen his eyes.

Koremitsu too had originally assumed that Yū would have a towel draped over her, shivering and shriveling in a corner of the room, or that she had fainted from the shock. He was taken aback by Yū’s actions.

However, this did not mean that such a dastardly act had never happened.

“Absolutely unforgivable.”

Koremitsu clenched his fists firmly, his temples tightened. While he murmured and unleashed his rage, Yū looked up at him tentatively.

Koremitsu knelt down in front of her, and the latter was taken aback, her body shivering.

“Yū! Do you know who did this?”

“…I don’t.”

She shook her head.

“Either way, I’m going to find him and beat him up. I’ll be with you always, Yū, I’ll protect you.”

I definitely won’t allow her to do such a despicable thing again. I’ll protect Yū!

The blood flowing in his body was pumped due to his rage and determination, his muscles tensed, and the core of his head was buzzing.

What Poppy! I don’t care what your orders are!

I don’t care what kind of execution it is! There’s no way I’ll do that! I’ll definitely smash the head of that sender in, and force him to grovel and apologize to Yū!

While Koremitsu was rampaging due to his rage, Yū looked up at him with her fleeting eyes.

Her eyes fluttered the moment she heard the word ‘protect’, and though her lips twitched, she did not say anything.

♢ ♢ ♢

After that, Yū was endangered all the time.

Every day, Koremitsu would receive messages from the Poppy.

 

“Koremitsu Akagi shall execute Yū Kanai in the name of the Poppy by stoning.”

 

Koremitsu went off sprinting after seeing such a message, and saw that Yū had a stone thrown at her head as she was walking through a crowd, leaving a small wound on her.

The methods of execution varied, including ‘burial’, ‘stabbing’, ‘poison’. What happened thereafter was that events befell upon her, like dirt falling from a veranda, hurt by a thumbtack on the corridor, and mixing salt in the sugar pot.

These were not threatening situations; they were more akin to childish pranks.

However, Koremitsu clenched his fists quite a few times, terrified that the little things around him could be used for such things, and worried of Yū’s mental stress as she endured all this.

He said he wanted to protect Yū, but he never did.

He was peeved, and remorseful. Whenever the prophecies of the Poppy was carried out, his head began to sear.

If anything was to happen to Yū when I’m at school. Once he thought about this, he was unable to calm down and attend classes. He did not attend school for the past 3 days.

When he woke up in the morning, he rushed off to the hospital where Yū was at. While Yū went to talk with the old man from Australia, he waited quietly in the room.

When Yū returned, he was tense and wary. Whenever she went, he would scowl and follow.

But even so, she got hit by a stone.

And when Koremitsu went back at night, it appeared that Yū went out again.

This was a seed of discord between them.

“I told you to tell me when you want to go out, right? Isn’t it dangerous to go out alone?”

“There’s a car fetching me…so…I’m fine here.”

“Where were you at every night?”

“I was requested…to be a volunteer.”

“Volunteer?”

“I was to go visit an old man living alone…give him flowers, chat with him or something.”

“Why do you have to do that in the night? Can’t you do it in the day?”

“I need…to take care of the other old men in the day…so.”

“You didn’t refuse?”

“…It’s someone who often helped me out, and he asked me…to take care of the old man, so I wanted to do my best…to take care of him…”

“What kind of person is that acquaintance like?”

“…That’s..”

“What’s his name? What does he do? How old is he?”

“…I still can’t say.”

Once the conversations end up like this, Yū would typically avert her eyes and not say anything.

Why could she not mention the name of the one taking care of her?

Did she really become a volunteer at night?

Yū’s attitude and voice were so rigid, Koremitsu was increasingly suspicious that she was lying.

Yū lowered her eyebrows awkwardly, and as she did, Koremitsu was left breathless by the anxiety that came.

The Poppy was again placed in the room.

There was a bundle of flowers placed on the table, and another by the basin in the kitchen, with plenty of thin, crimson petals scattered all over the carpet.

They were startling, vibrant and ribald flowers, the flowers with the name of the beloved consort of the Conqueror, smiling with a sweet chuckle. This caused Koremitsu’s gut to wince.

“You received these flowers again? Looks like you like them.”

“Y-yes. They’re…really pretty.”

However, these flowers don’t match you at all, Yū. They’re flaunting, raunchy,. My heart just sickens whenever I see them. I hate them.

Koremitsu was unable to say those words, and he swallowed them.

When Yū remained shut in her apartment, unwilling to head out, the time Koremitsu spent with her together was like a recess at the bottom of the sea, one filled with peace.

But at this point, whenever he tried to talk to Yū, he could only sense that she was hiding something, and he felt restless.

Koremitsu was worried about Yū, and wanted to protect her. For some reason, it appeared that she was very defenseless herself, and even after asking why she wouldn’t give up on her volunteer work, she would simply avert the topic or not talk at all, and this caused Koremitsu much vexation.

Hikaru watched Koremitsu frown all day long, and looked worried as he said,

“If you are being so tense at everything, you will be the first to fall. Yū is no longer the same as the one who kept herself locked in that apartment. She will think for herself and take action, even if you do remain with her at all times.”

He tried to appease Koremitsu, having considered the latter’s feelings.

Koremitsu realized that he was being petty now that he had this pointed out. Once he noticed it, his head sizzled, but if he were to go out, and Yū was to be hurt before he came back.”

“That’s why I said to stay here already, didn’t I!”

He gave Yū such a chiding tone.

Koremitsu did not take the time to calm down, and as he remained anxious, Yū stared at him in an apologetic manner, her smile gradually faded.

And so, on the sunset after Koremitsu refused to attend school for the 4th time.

She stared at him in a tragic manner,

 

“Please…just go to school. I feel pained…to be with you, Mr. Akagi.”

 

It was truly a plea.

Her eyebrows were lowered, her eyes damp, her lips quivered as she hushed her voice. All those caused Koremitsu to be stupefied.

Yū herself should have known that these words would hurt Koremitsu, but it was really a state where Koremitsu’s existence was causing her to suffer, and she was suffering so much she had to say it. It was as if a part of her body was being ripped away from her.

Hikaru too gave Koremitsu an anguished look.

“I…”

A slurred voice slipped between his lips.

He did not have any intention of causing her to suffer. He was simply worried about her—

But no matter what he said, it would merely cause more moisture in Yū’s eyes, and her to feel more anguished.

His hands clenched rigidly, he gritted his teeth, and remained silent.

“I understand…if there’s anything, call me.”

He said, and left the room.

♢ ♢ ♢

“You had a quarrel with Mr. Akagi, did you not?’

Yū’s chest was practically ripped by a thousand blades as she watched Koremitsu leave, and a rich, sweet voice entered her ears.

The washroom door opened, and standing there was a bespectacled, tender looking boy with slender shoulders.

“…Mr. Kazuaki.”

“Sorry. It was my fault.”

He approached Yū with elegant steps, watching her face with a worried look. He bore no similarities to Hikaru in any way other than the rich sweet voice, but the tenderness and words caused her to be reminded of Hikaru.

“No…it is not your fault.”

She shook her head silently.

He however looked at her worriedly. Their faces were close, but her heart did not flutter as it did when she was with Koremitsu, or perhaps it was because Kazuaki gave a genial atmosphere, and that she knew that Kazuaki was a fine gentleman.

She first met Kazuaki, Hikaru’s older brother, in Australia.

He was an acquaintance who often visited the care center where Yū did her volunteer work.

“You are Yū Kanai, right? I heard that you are on good terms with Hikaru, no? I am his older brother. Woah, this is quite a coincidence.”

He came to chat with her happily.

The rich, sweet voice was just as when she spoke to Hikaru, and this caused her to immediately let her guard down. If she had closed her eyes, Kazuaki’s voice would have sounded just like Hikaru’s.

“Hikaru and I are agnate brothers. My mother is a very proud person, and it appeared that she would not forgive father for secretly letting Hikaru be born. When father decided to let Hikaru enter the household, she angrily sent me to another place to stay at, so I hardly had the chance to talk with him. I did hear that Hikaru is very popular amongst the girls, and also about you. If possible, do you mind if you talk about Hikaru with you? I really wanted to get along with him, actually.”

As he said that, there was some scene of loneliness appearing in his eyes, and her heart gripped as she felt the impulse to comfort him. Yū recalled the memories she had with Hikaru, and talked about them. Kazuaki narrowed his eyes happily, sometimes envious, sometimes forlorn as he smiled.

“…I see. You already had your promise with Hikaru fulfilled. That is wonderful. That…can never happen for me now.”

Kazuaki’s attitude, tone and expression had been gentlemanly the entire time, and never did coerce Yū into doing anything. He always treated her, younger than him, with an overly humble attitude.

“Yū, perhaps you can take care of Mr. Collins, no? He will be able to visit his son in Japan.”

And thus, Yū’s return to Japan was encompassed in the planning.

Kazuaki too remained gentle in the plane. When Yū showed a gloomy look.

“What is the matter? Is there something you have to worry about?”

He asked with the tone of a close family member.

Yū shook her head.

“…Perhaps Mr. Akagi doesn’t like me as how I am right now…”

She revealed what she had been secretly thinking.

“What are you say now, Yū? Are you not a fine woman now? Surely Mr. Akagi will fall for you again.”

Kazuaki said.

“But…Mr. Akagi…wouldn’t let go of me…because I was so fragile back then, that I couldn’t do things by myself…that’s why he worked hard, and brought me to the outside world…he just held my hand because I…was unsteady…I felt like I was about to fall…If I’m able to walk on my own, surely Mr. Akagi…doesn’t need me anymore…I guess…”

“Then, when you do meet Mr. Akagi, perhaps you can try again. Will Mr. Akagi again hold your hand when you are cheerful and able to smile? Surely you will understand that you are just worrying too much.”

The conclusion was made with that voice filled with clarity, just like an encouragement from Hikaru, causing her heavy heart to relax slightly.

“But even so, you really do like him, Yū. I really wish that Mr. Akagi would be able to hear your words, Yū. What will you do if I say that our conversation was recorded?”

“Eh…th-that’s.”

“Ahaha. That was a lie. Were you shocked?”

“Y-yes.”

“That is how it works. You were shocked, and then all your worry suddenly vanished, no?”

He noted tenderly to Yū as the latter widened her eyes, and then,

“Hey, Yū. I suppose it is better not to mention about me to Mr. Akagi.”

He said with a steady voice.

“It is not a good thing to hear that one’s girlfriend is riding a plane with another boy, and staying in an apartment arranged by him. Surely he will be jealous.”

Girlfriend—now that this term is used, am I Mr. Akagi’s girlfriend? Her face blushed as she thought of this, Mr. Kazuaki is Hikaru’s older brother. Will Mr. Akagi be jealous? Though she wondered, she never had any experience of dating a boy, and never had proper conversations with boys other than Hikaru, so she did not know.

However, one could tell from Kazuaki’s tender eyes that those words were not a lie, so she did as he said. It was impossible for this gentle, smiling Kazuaki to actually do anything diabolic.

“Actually, I was misunderstood by Mr. Akagi.”

It was when they were arriving at Japan that he mentioned it.

Back then, it was not anything particularly poignant.

“It seemed my mother did something terrible to Hikaru’s mother…Mr. Akagi must have thought I did the same thing to Hikaru. He really glared at me the first time we met.”

Kazuaki chuckled.

So Yū made a promise.

“I’ll introduce you to Mr. Akagi, Mr. Kazuaki. I will tell him that you are a kind person.”

“I will be glad to. Can you do that? Please keep it a secret, and then slowly reveal it later.”

As Kazuaki beamed and requested Yū of this, the latter smiled and answered,

“Yes.”

When exactly could she talk about Kazuaki to Koremitsu. It would be great if Koremitsu would clear his misunderstanding of Kazuaki and get along. Yū was really looking forward to it.

But at this point,

“I am sorry…Yū. I suppose Mr. Akagi’s misunderstanding was a lot more serious than what I told you on the plane.”

He first began to say these words on the ward room sofa, the day when Yū accidentally got scalded brewing tea.

“I really do like it that Aoi was Hikaru’s fiancee. I really did like her ever since I was young, but because I knew Aoi liked Hikaru, I hid my feelings for her and treated her like an older brother. Hikaru however died, and I could not leave Aoi as she was…I really hoped that she would be better, so I got her to a resort. Aoi suddenly felt unwell, and it just so happened that Mr. Akagi, worried that I would do anything bad to her, came over, and deemed me to be a pervert who did something terrible to Aoi. I even got hit by him.”

Clouds appeared in Kazuaki’s eyes.

“The swelling remained for quite a while…and after that, he would not listen to my explanation at all. He would simply hiss at me ‘you perverted scoundrel’ ‘you wanna get beaten!?’ whenever he saw my face, even raising his fist at me. Mr. Akagi has a strong sense of justice. It was my fault for doing something that roused his misunderstanding…it really is troublesome to be hated by Hikaru’s close friend like that.”

Kazuaki looked forlorn as he placed his fists on his knees and remained silent; Yū felt pity for him.

“Actually, I already knew that Mr. Akagi does like you, Yū. Perhaps you will be able to quell the misunderstanding Mr. Akagi had, or so I hoped. It really does seem that I am making use of you. I really do apologize.”

I lowered his head deeply, and Yū held his hand.

“Please don’t apologize…I don’t think…I’m being made use of. It is thanks to you that I am able to return to Japan and meet Mr. Akagi again…I’m…really grateful to you….so, I-I’ll do my best…to make sure you two get along…”

Surely Mr. Akagi will understand that Mr. Kazuaki is such an honest, kind person.

No, I hope he will

She wanted to clear Koremitsu’s understanding by talking about him, little by little.

And so, Kazuaki lifted his face, and beamed graciously.

Then, he continued with that clear voice akin to Hikaru’s,
“There are lots of people around me who wish to harm me, so I absolutely cannot let my guard. It is for my own safety, but I do find it tragic that I have to continue living on while keeping my guard up…but you are my ally, no, Yū? I shall believe in your words then.”

He concluded, seemingly delighted with this. Yū’s heart too calmed down.

After that, whenever Koremitsu visited over and over again, her heart was practically about to stop, and Kazuaki,

“Now is still not the time to meet him. If he tis to see us together in the room, it will be just as what happened with Aoi. Mr Akagi will definitely beat me up without hearing my explanation.”

He was angsty, and hid at the basin.

Koremitsu’s eyes were bloodshot as he appeared, his eyebrows frowning as he gave a heinous glare. If the incident about Kazuaki was to be revealed, it appeared that the latter would be beaten to death. Yū’s heart was about to break apart.

She heard some sounds from the basin, and was really terrified as she turned her head there.

When Koremitsu said that he wanted to use the washroom,

“N-no!”

Yū yelled without thinking,

“E-erm, I’ll go get a wet towel…please…wait here, Mr. Akagi…do-don’t move. And…no peeping.”

She cautiously opened the door to prevent Koremitsu from looking inside, and Kazuaki was seated in the bathtub, cupping his knees.

“Does Mr Akagi know that we know each other?”

“Erm…I suppose not.”

Perhaps he sensed something however.

And maybe he would suddenly barge in.

Once she began to doubt, she got increasingly tense, almost groggy. Thus, she told him that she had something going on, hoping that he would return back.

That night, she received the message from Koremitsu, “Sorry for visiting you so suddenly.” , and the guilt pricked her body, so she replied with ” I, too, apologize for what happened” .

She wanted to explain Kazuaki to Koremitsu.

Having decided that, what immediately happened was the black umbrella dangled from the rope. Back then, she red umbrella dripping black water appeared in her sights, and she knelt in the mud in the garden, looking for the umbrella—she was reminded of the clapping of the rain, and the touch of the muddy ground; as a result, her body was frozen.

She barely managed to regain her consciousness, shivering as she scrubbed the wall and bed, the image of the damaged umbrella swirling in her mind.

If Koremitsu had not been around, perhaps she would not have been able to shake off those fears.

However, Koremitsu said that he surely not never forgive the person who did such a thing, and would definitely beat him up. The moment he swore to protect Yū, the latter felt a tinge of sadness in her terrified, confused heart.

Koremitsu said ‘I’ll protect you’, but why did she feel so sad? Back then, she did not understand.

After that, little things happened every day, and Koremitsu stopped attending school to remain with her. While he kept worrying for her, agony struck her.

Whether it was the umbrella incident, the dirt that fell from the veranda, or the salt mixed in the sugar pot, Kazuaki said with a worried look.

“I guess it is definitely my fault here, Yū. Surely you were thought to be my lover.”

That is wy you were troubled like this. Kazuaki said, appearing to have an idea.

“I guess it is better for you to return to Australia. I cannot allow you to suffer any more danger.”

Kazuaki stubbornly insisted, Yū answered, saying that she wanted to stay in Japan until that day.

If she was to return at this point, all her efforts for Koremitsu and Kazuaki would be wasted.

And surely she would be left with regrets.

“Really?”

“Yes.”

Though she said so, Yū was frustrated that Koremitsu wanted to protect her so much, and that she had to explain why she was being targeted.

If she were to talk about it, she would have to explain about Kazuaki. Koremitsu might feel enraged because Kazuaki caused Yū much danger, and he would feel increasingly vengeful.

Having thought about that, she was unable to say anything.

This guilt, coupled with the agony that struck her from time to time, kept her breathless all time.

Koremitsu’s eyes too got increasingly savage because of Yū.

Yū really was unable to endure this, and felt apologetic, depressed.

“Please…just go to school. I feel pained…to be with you, Mr. Akagi.”

She pleaded Koremitsu,

 

(I’m sorry…Mr Akagi.)

 

Yū whispered this, and Kazuaki gave her an apologetic look.

It was something Yū decided for herself, and she certainly could not let Kazuaki feel that it was something he had to bear responsibility for. Having thought that, she did her best to lift her head and smile,

“I will…contact Mr Akagi…later on…more importantly, where are we going today…?”

“Forget about the volunteer work today. You should take a rest.”

“No. I guess I’ll be relaxed…when I go out to talk…”

Kazuaki’s requested for her to deliver flowers to old people living alone. The adorable, radiant crimson flowers were called Poppies. He told her that.

It is a beautiful color that would cheer a soul, Kazuaki said with a cheerful look, and Yū too felt the same.

“Yes, surely he will feel this way.”

Kazuaki beamed, the eyes behind his glasses narrowed. It was such a genial, serene, sweet, sweet smile—

“Now then, I shall prepare a bouquet…one much larger than usual…”

♢ ♢ ♢

Love will make anyone pretty. However, that love contorts my face, making it hideous. It threw a my heart a pungent, filthy mud.

The girl in front of you is more wretched than me. Why are you not smiling at me, but at her?

Why must you reach out to that wretched flower, caress her face and scent upon her aroma? Your promise with me was never fulfilled. Why must you swear an eternal swore with that girl, with your fingers intertwined?

The fact cringes, the lips contorts, and the eyelids continue to shiver.

I cannot allow myself to be ugly. I cannot be as wretched as them. I cannot allow myself to be as filthy as those women.

However, the contorted face, the creaking body, and the ripped bleeding heart happened. The bright red blood became a crimson flower, swaying gently, drawing me in.

Stop.

If I become ugly, mother will lash out at me. I will be harshly hit on the hand.

But if I am to pretend. Yes, if I am to just do that, I will be someone else when I play pretend.

The crimson one-piece dress that really suits mother’s dance seem to allure me, forcing me to put it on.

I felt that I was not myself.

Ever since that day, I began to play a game.

I imagined—trying to be someone else. I am loved, and hated, releasing my innter heart like a torrent, free, bored, and I accepted it all, becoming a crimson woman.

I became Rokujō.

Having obtained that power, I began to change amidst the swaying crimson flowers, becoming his Cherry Blossom, his Lily, his Pansy, his Camellia, his Orchid, and his beloved—Wisteria.

Ah, such a sweet, wondrous time.

 

The ones preventing this cannot be forgiven.

In the name of the crimson flower, ‘I’ command.

To dig out the wretches, hang them, and let them kill each other

♢ ♢ ♢

After dinner, Koremitsu locked himself in the room, brooding.

“Is my desire to protect Yū causing her trouble? Is that why she lost her smile?”

He noticed that he was the one who caused Yū that anguished look.

But Koremitsu firmly believed that if he was to keep preventing her from getting hurt, surely she would again smile like how she did that day. He wanted to protect Yū for that—and ended up hurting her more.

Hikaru carefully warned,

“Koremitsu, your desire to protect her is stronger than any ordinary person. This time, Yū is hurt because of your name, so I do understand that you cannot allow yourself not to do anything. It is not a bad thing to take a step back and calm down, however. I feel this is Yū’s way of telling you to calm down.”

His words were so tender, so calm and fair, and they entered Koremitsu’s heart effortlessly. However, they were shrill.

Koremitsu sat on the tatami with his legs crossed, his hands on his forehead as he scowled. In the meantime, Hikaru whispered with melancholy,

“I too…only cared about my own feelings. Perhaps I never noticed some things that were important…”

The tender, effeminate sidelong face gloomed at this moment.

Perhaps he thought of Fujino.

The one most beloved person to Hikaru in this world, whom he could never embrace with.

Even he, who spent much time with many girls, would be perplexed, filled with regrets.

The more he wanted to cherish, hope and love, the more intense that trepidation got.

Surely there were many days where he buried his head and grimaced.

(Is that guy talking about the one he liked…?)

Koremitsu himself was yet at the point where he could get an answer.

The fusuma slid open, and this time, he spotted the face of Shioriko, now dressed in pajamas.

“…Big brother Koremitsu, can we sleep together?”

Shioriko had been lackluster recently, seemingly thinking of something complicated alone.

“Did anything happen?”

“…No.”

Even thought Koremitsu asked her, she never replied.

“I just…want to sleep together.”

She whispered, and her shoulders dropped as she remained silent.

While Shioriko remained as she was, Hikaru looked at her worriedly, and Koremitsu too found himself very pitiful.

“Okay, come here.”

He answered curtly.

If Shioriko wished for it, they would sleep together. She would be able to calm down, and he would be able to get closer to the answer.

She hugged her pillow, approaching him tentatively. Koremitsu stood up and laid out the blanket. It was a little too early for the high school boy Koremitsu to sleep, but the moment he laid on the futon, Shioriko snuck in.

Her hair gave off the scent of shampoo from a while back, and her skin gave a milky scent. She buried her little face firmly into his chest, and closed her eyes. The room was silent, and the wind was howling furiously outside the window.

Was Shioriko already asleep, or that she could not sleep even though she had her eyes close? Even now, perhaps that little heart of hers was still in agony…

He could see a little curl of hair in his sights. It was practically a fit into his chest, the adorable sight causing his gut to wince again.

(Hey, Shiiko…if I’m to force you to say what’s troubling you when I want to take care of you…will you be hurt and refuse me…)

Hikaru, unable to sleep, sat with a knee tucked by the windowsill, watching Koremitsu and Shioriko with his anguished, jaded eyes.