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Unforeseen Consequences

Emps Feb 18th, 2018 (edited) 168 Never
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  1. Unforeseen Consequences
  2. By Emps
  3. Day I
  4. The train pulled into the train station with a screech. Hefting her luggage, Hanako Ikezawa let the other two girls board the train first. She wanted an aisle seat, since she wasn’t quite familiar with either of them enough to let them box her in next to the window. Besides, an aisle seat would bring her into contact with more people, which was something she felt she should be doing. Not that it would matter much, since there was only one other occupant in the train: a man with unkempt dark hair and a thickening beard, wearing a red skirt. He was sitting in a row of chairs on the far side of the car facing them, legs spread to occupy more of his row than strictly necessary. The girls chose a table seat across the aisle from him and a few rows short of him. From where Hanako was sitting she could clearly see the middle of his skirt was down, preventing any unwanted eyes from seeing what they shouldn’t. Hanako dug around in her pack and drew out her latest book.
  5.  
  6. Angus McCrae watched as the Japanese landscape flew by outside his window. He was incredibly bored, so much so, he actually considered talking to the three girls who had gotten on his train earlier. He hadn’t, as he wasn’t sure that was socially acceptable in Japan. Although Lilly had changed her mind about answering his summons he wasn’t really worried about it. There was time for that later, and besides, he would be at Yamaku soon enough. Once there he was certain he could convince her to come back with him, even if he had to use a little “Scottish Magic” to make her see she should go with him. ‘It’s not like she’s seeing someone on the side. She probably just got cold-feet. She would be leaving all her friends behind to go live with a family she hardly knows, after all.’ At that moment he saw what book the dark haired girl was reading. Although the title was in Japanese, he could see what it was easily enough from the cover art. There was no way he was going to pass up the chance to talk with someone with such refined tastes.
  7.  
  8. Hanako looked up when she heard a gruff voice in heavily accented Japanese say something. It was the man, but now that he was closer Hanako could see he wasn’t as old as she originally thought. She could also see that his skirt had purple plaid on it, and that he was clearly a foreigner. The man repeated what he said, slower this time and adding an apology for his accent. Natsume and Naomi were watching both of them curiously now, and Hanako could feel heat rising in her cheeks from being the center of attention. She wanted to run, by whatever gods there were, she wanted to run so badly, but she clamped down on her fear. She needed to learn how to handle situations like this.
  9. Stammering, she managed to get out, “Y-yes. I-it’s a good book. I l-like it.” The man seemed to relax, she hadn’t even realized he was tense, and nodded.
  10. “You have good taste,” he said, “How far in are you?”
  11. Hanako was starting to feel a little more at ease. Although she still felt strange having a complete stranger talk to her, she could talk about books, and this was a pretty good book. “Th-they’ve just deployed to Menazoid Epsilon,” Hanako said.
  12. The man nodded his head gravely. “Prepare for incoming feels.” Returning to a less serious mood, he finished with “I hope you read the rest of the series when you’re done with that book. I’m only on book three, but I think I can safely say it’s pretty good.” With that he left.
  13. 'What an odd man,’ Hanako thought. ‘I don’t think I could ever approach someone like that.’ Hanako returned to her book.
  14.  
  15. Angus returned to his seat. He mentally screamed in anguish. ‘I forgot to ask her phone number! I didn’t even get a name! How could I let the only other person I’ve met to have read that book get away like that? I can’t even go back and do it now since that’d be too awkward!’ Now he could only hope that she would come to him. Putting his mistake out of his mind Angus ruffled through his backpack. There was not much inside, only a notebook with concept sketches in it, two towels, and his laptop, and he put the bag away. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bottle opener. Running his thumb over the cool iron he decided he wanted a soda. Getting up, he smashed his head into the long-haired girl’s.
  16.  
  17. Reeling back from the force of the blow, Hanako gave a small yelp. She quickly caught herself on her back foot, but the man wasn’t so lucky. He fell back into his seat clutching his head, face contorted with pain. After a moment he shook his head and said something in English. Hanako couldn’t quite understand everything he said, but she assumed he was asking if she was okay.
  18. “I-I-I’m f-fine,” she managed, “I-I wanted to talk with you more about the book.” She couldn’t make eye contact with him.
  19. This time, the man spoke in Japanese. “Huh? Oh, yes, yes. What about?”
  20. “N-nothing in particular. I-I just wanted to t-talk about it. I-I have a friend I think might like it, so I want to know m-more about the series before I t-tell him about it.” The man chuckled.
  21. “It’s about the service of a regiment of soldiers and their Commissar during a hellish campaign through a sector of space. I can’t really say more without going into spoilers.”
  22. “Oh. Okay,” Hanako trailed off. She stood there fidgeting in the aisle for a little.
  23. “Would you like to sit down?”
  24. Hanako gulped and nodded, quickly taking a seat across from him. They sat in awkward silence for a few moments before the man decided to break it again.
  25. “How do you like Brin?”
  26. “He’s cool, I guess. I prefer Mkoll though.”
  27. The man scoffed. “Mkoll’s pretty good, but Brin is Best Boy.”
  28. “But Brin doesn’t do anything. He’s just Gaunt’s camp assistant.”
  29. Hanako worried she might have gone too far; the man looked genuinely hurt at her words.
  30. The man brought his hands together in a clap, then pointed them at her. “Alright, listen here, lassie. You may not realize this, but Brin is vital for the success of the Ghosts. You see, he is the regimental piper. Every regiment needs a piper, and Brin is the Ghosts’s.” The man looked at her for a second before slowly breaking into laughter. “You have good taste lassie. If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your name?”
  31. “H-Hanako. Hanako Ikezawa,” she said as a small smile grew on her.
  32. With a small smile of his own the man said, “Nice to meet you Hanako. I’m Angus McCrae.”
  33.  
  34. They spoke together about what books they’d read for the rest of the trip. As they talked, Hanako seemed to open up more, and Angus could tell from the corner of his eye that the two girls with her, Naomi and Natsume, he had learned, were watching them, sometimes giggling. Over the course of their conversation, Angus found out that not only was Hanako reading "Gaunt’s Ghosts," but had also read "Dune" and "Wheel of Time." When she had said that Perrin was her favorite of the Ta’veren his heart thumped in his chest. Although Mat was his personal favorite, he personally believed he was most like Perrin.
  35. Unfortunately, their conversation had to end. With a tinge of remorse, Angus said, “It was nice talking with you Hanako, but I have to go now; this is my stop.”
  36. Hanako looked at the sign as the train pulled into the station.
  37. “R-really? This is my stop too.”
  38. “Huh. What a coincidence.” They got up together to retrieve their bags from the luggage rack. Hanako’s two female companions joined them, and soon all four were standing on the platform. As Naomi and Natsume went ahead to call a taxi, or something, Angus wasn’t quite sure since he wasn’t paying attention to them, he and Hanako exchanged phone numbers. Though it was likely they would never see each other again, Angus didn’t want to miss the chance to include another such interests in his friends circle. Waving goodbye to her, Angus watched as she ran to catch up with her friends. As the train pulled out of the station Angus realized he never got his soda.
  39.  
  40. Day II
  41. Lilly Satou stood in front of the Yamaku gate, hanging on Hisao’s arm. They wanted to be there when Hanako returned from her trip with the Newspaper Club girls. Lilly heard Hanako’s quiet footsteps coming up the hill. There was something different about them this time though. They weren’t louder, just different. Lilly supposed it was reasonable to expect that she had changed. She wasn’t the porcelain doll she had been when Lilly first met her. She was about to say something when the owner of the footsteps addressed her. It wasn’t Hanako. It wasn’t even a girl. He wasn’t even speaking Japanese. For a moment Lilly was shocked. She couldn’t believe it. There was no way he should even be here. She could feel the blood drain from her face as she answered him in faltering Scots Gaelic.
  42. “Angus? What are you doing here?” She felt Hisao shift.
  43. “I could ask you the same thing, Lilly,” his voice was flat.
  44. “I’m waiting for a friend. I wanted to greet her when she came back.” Lilly got herself off Hisao’s arm.
  45. “And who is this?” He had switched to Japanese.
  46. “Hisao Nakai. You know Lilly?” Lilly dreaded what was going to come next. There was no way this was going to turn out well.
  47. “Yes, I know Lilly. I met her back when she was first summoned to Inverness.”
  48. “Oh, you’re Scottish?”
  49. Lilly heard the smack of a hand to a face. It sounded like Angus had face palmed. “I thought Lilly was the blind one here.” Lilly chuckled a little at his comment, but Hisao was a little put off it.
  50. Taking up her serious manner once more, Lilly repeated her question.
  51. “I came to see why you weren’t going to Scotland. Last I knew, you had decided answer your parents' summons.”
  52. There it was. The uncomfortable topic Lilly had hoped to avoid, yet knew was inevitably coming. She looked down in embarrassment.
  53. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave my friends behind.” There was a pause. Lilly was debating if she should continue before Angus spoke.
  54. “I understand. It was a hard decision your family asked of you. But then why did you tell us you were coming to Scotland?”
  55. “It was a spur of the moment choice. We were about to board the plane, but there was a commotion. When Akira looked back to see what it was,” she faltered. Hisao tried to speak up, but she silenced him. “It was my boyfriend. He had a heart attack trying to catch me, trying to keep me from going.” Lilly heard him take a step back.
  56. “Boyfriend? Is it him?” Lilly couldn’t see where he was pointing, or even if he was. The context of the situation was enough. She nodded. “But what about me? Did those times at the beach mean nothing?” his voice was heating, “Those nights spent over a bottle of wine? Those nights spent by the fire?”
  57. “Angus, I-”
  58. “No,” he said, his voice flat once more, “I’ll brook no excuses. That you didn’t even tell me about this change in plans, even after weeks, is insult enough. Goodbye, Lilly.” With that, he walked past her and through the gate. Curiously, she turned to face where he went.
  59. She heard Hisao ask, “Lilly, what was he talking about?”
  60.  
  61. “Hanako?”
  62. Hanako stopped as she heard her name called. Looking around, she found the speaker.
  63. “A-Angus? W-what are you doing here?”
  64. “I came to talk to my girlfriend, but I just found out she was seeing someone else,” Hanako could hear the bitterness in his voice. When he next spoke the bitterness was replaced by curiosity. “I didn’t realize you went to school here. Or are you visiting a family member?”
  65. Hanako blinked. “N-no. I-I go here.”
  66. Angus nodded. “That’s right, they accept non-disabled students here.”
  67. Hanako blinked again. ‘Did he not notice my scars?’
  68. Angus spoke again, “Well, my plans for today are shot. Would you mind if I hang around with you?”
  69. Hanako mulled his proposition over in her head. ‘I hardly know him, and he wants to spend the day with me. Does he like me? He didn’t seem to notice my scars and I do want to talk more about books with him. But he’s a complete stranger. We just met literally yesterday, and he has a girlfriend, or ex-girlfriend now. Will that color our discussion if I accept? But from what I do know about him he seems like a nice guy. And I do need to push myself to interact more with people.’ Hanako realized that a silence was building between them. She quickly nodded.
  70. “I-I was going to g-go visit a classmate. He wasn’t at h-his dorm, so I’m g-going to go check a t-tea shop we like to visit.”
  71. “Alright. I wouldn’t mind a cup of tea.” Together they set off towards Yamaku’s front gate and the Shanghai. At the gate they encountered Lilly and Hisao again. Lilly was standing by herself and Hisao was pacing off to the side.
  72. Hanako started; Lilly was supposed to be with her family in Inverness, not here at Yamaku.
  73. ‘Wait, was this the girlfriend Angus was talking about?’
  74. “L-Lilly? What are you doing here?” Lilly turned to face Hanako.
  75. “Hanako? I hadn’t realized you had returned yet.”
  76. “M-my train came in late yesterday. But I-I thought you were moving to Scotland?”
  77. Lilly nodded. “I was, but Hisao convinced me to stay,” she frowned, “but it might have caused some trouble back home.”
  78. Angus was being oddly silent. Perhaps he didn’t want Lilly to know he was there. Hanako decided to let him keep his prescence hidden for now.
  79. “W-What’s Hisao doing?”
  80. “My my, aren’t  you curious today, Hanako?” with a sigh Lilly continued, “I’m afraid that’s to do with the trouble. See, while I was in Scotland there was a boy. When I didn’t go back, he was concerned, so he came over here. He saw me with Hisao, and I think you can guess what happened next.”
  81. Hanako made a noise of understanding. “Tell H-Hisao I said hello. I’m going to the Shanghai with a f-friend? Yes, a f-friend.”
  82. “My my, Hanako, you’re really coming out of your shell now, aren’t you? I hope you have fun with your friend.”
  83. Hanako nodded, despite knowing Lilly couldn’t see it. She started down the road into town, with Angus following quietly behind.
  84.  
  85. Hisao walked back over to Lilly. The news that she had been seeing someone in Scotland had hit him hard. He took a moment to focus on keeping his heart under control.
  86. “Lilly.”
  87. “Yes, Hisao?”
  88. “I’m glad you decided to stay.” A smile spread across Lilly’s face. “What time was Hanako supposed to get back?”
  89. “Apparently she got back last night. She just passed by here and said hi to me.” Hisao was surprised. He was certain she was supposed to get back today.
  90. “Where is she now?”
  91. “She said she was going to the Shanghai to visit a friend.”
  92. “Do you think we should go? I wouldn’t mind seeing Yuuko, and I don’t think Hanako will mind if we join her.”
  93. “But what about her friend?”
  94. “It’s probably Naomi or Natsume. I don’t think either of them would be bothered if we joined them.”
  95. “I’ll let you make the decision.”
  96. “Then let’s go.”
  97.  
  98. “I didn’t know you were friends with Lilly,” Angus said once he was sure they were out of earshot.
  99. “R-Really? She n-never mentioned me?”
  100. “No. She didn’t talk about Japan at all. Since you didn’t know about me yesterday I’ll guess she didn’t talk about Scotland when she got back?”
  101. Hanako shook her head. “She a-avoided it when Hisao brought it up. H-he didn’t ask about it again, and I-I never asked.”
  102. Angus gave a grunt. “I’d be annoyed that you didn’t push her more about it if that wasn’t pretty much how much I asked her about Japan.” A silence settled over then. It was a while before Angus spoke again. “I don’t get it. She didn’t seem like the type of girl to be seeing two people at once.”
  103. “I-It surprised me too. I don’t think she ever d-dated anyone before H-Hisao. A-And she wears the c-cross.”
  104. “She’s very reserved too,” Angus shrugged, “I don’t think I’ll get a better explanation from her then the one she’s already given me, so I guess I’ll just never understand why she did it.” They turned a corner, passing by a bakery. “It’s not so bad I guess. I’m not the first guy a girl’s dropped for another.” Then, with a small chuckle, he followed with, “At least she didn’t leave me for another girl. That would’ve been too embarrassing for me.” Angus though he saw Hanako give him a weird look from the corner of her eye. However, she looked away before he could be certain it had really been there. It probably hadn’t. Angus looked forward again, and they rounded another corner.
  105. “H-heh, yeah,” Angus turned to look at Hanako. She still had her face turned away from him, but not enough to completely hide it.
  106. ‘Is she blushing?’ Angus thought, seeing a hint of red in her features. ‘That or her scars have spread since I last checked.’ A delightfully devilish idea popped into his head, and Angus acted upon it. “Oh? You sound like you have something to say about that.” ‘Yep, that’s a blush,’ Angus thought as he saw the side of her face turn a deeper shade of red.
  107. “I-I-I-” Hanako stopped. Swallowing, she said, “I-I’ll tell y-you when w-we get t-to the Sh-Shanghai. W-We’re a-almost there.” She pointed to the far side of the street.
  108. Angus looked to where Hanako was pointing. It was a small shop she was pointing to, down and across the street from them. It had a few signs outside that he couldn’t read. “Alright then,” he said, before taking off again. He walked a little faster than he had before, hoping to make Hanako pick up her pace. It worked.
  109. It was small and comfy on the inside, softly lit and with high backed booths. It was also completely deserted, save for the hostess who greeted them with a very deep bow.
  110. “Hello and welcome to the Shanghai!” she said, “I’m Yuuko, and I’ll be your server today. Please sit wherever you like,” She quickly bowed again and ran to the kitchen. Angus let Hanako lead him to a booth. They had barely taken a seat when Yuuko popped up nervously again. “I’m sorry, I forgot to take your order. I’m not very good at this job, and if I don’t do well I’m going to get fired-” Angus could tell she was starting to get herself worked up.
  111. Dismissing her panicked ramblings with a wave of his hand he said, “Its fine, its fine. I wouldn’t expect you to take my order before I sat down.”
  112. Once Yuuko calmed down she said, “Yes, right. What would you like?”
  113. “Do you have any black teas? Earl Grey preferably, but any would do.”
  114. “Yes, one Earl Grey. And the usual for you, Hanako?”
  115. Hanako nodded.
  116. Bowing deeply again, Yuuko hurried off to put in their orders.
  117. “So, what was that thing you were going to tell me?”
  118. Red suffused Hanako’s face again. “I-I was g-going to say I knew how y-you felt. I-I mean a-about having someone you l-like going out with someone else.”
  119. “Ah,” was all Angus said. Yuuko brought them their drinks and bow deeply before departing. Taking a sip of his tea, Angus said, “If you don’t mind, can I ask who it was?”
  120. Hanako nodded, blowing on her tea. Then she let out a small laugh. “You’ve a-already met them. W-well, the g-girl at least.” Hanako paused, clearly debating whether or not to continue. “I-I actually u-used to h-have a crush on H-Hisao, L-Lilly's b-boyfriend. But b-before I c-could t-tell him he a-and L-Lilly g-got together.”
  121. Angus took another drink of his tea to hide his reaction. ‘Wow. What a coincidence. Almost like the plot of some trashy fan-fiction. But sometimes life is just like that.’ Hanako’s face was very red now, and Angus wasn’t sure how to respond. At that moment the door opened and Angus looked over to see the newcomers by reflex. “Ah, dammit. Speak of the devil…”
  122. Hisao looked around the room. He was clearly looking for something, or someone but Angus didn’t know what, or who. He really hoped it wasn’t him or Hanako. Of course, it was Hanako he was looking for. To make it worse, he had Lilly with him. Angus hoped this chance meeting wouldn’t devolve into another confrontation, but he was aware enough to realize what he was doing looked like. He could here death’s footsteps as she approached.
  123. “Hanako? This is the friend you were meeting here?”
  124. ‘So he’s avoiding me.’
  125. Lilly’s voice ended that thought. “Hisao, who is it?”
  126. Hisao started to speak at the same time Angus did, but it was Hanako who answered Lilly, “T-this is A-Angus. I-I met h-him yesterd-day on the t-train.”
  127. Lilly rounded on Angus. Anger was plainly written across her face. “What’s this? You come here to tell me off about not telling you I was seeing someone, and less than an hour later you’re trying to get into my best friend’s bed?”
  128. Hanako and Hisao both seemed startled by the heat in Lilly’s voice, but this was exactly what Angus was expecting and hoping to avoid. Pinching the bridge of his nose and sighing, Angus said, “Alright, first of all, you rejected me. Meaning we are not together. Meaning you don’t decide who I can and cannot interact with. Secondly, although she is rather pretty, I hardly know her. We just met yesterday and have only talked about what books we’ve both read. Third, what was I supposed to do today after you rejected me? Sit in my room and mope about all day?”
  129. “Well, no, but you certainly weren’t supposed to go looking for someone else right away.”
  130. “How plainly must I speak, woman? I’m not here to sleep with her! And besides, even if I was, it’s not like she sees me that way, right Hanako?”
  131. That Hanako was horrified by how Angus had suddenly dragged her into the confrontation was painfully clear. Even so she tried to force some sort of answer out. “I-I-I, uh, I-I, uh, n-n-no,” was all she managed before hiding her tomato face behind her hands.
  132. Before their spat could get more heated Yuuko popped up. “No, please don’t fight. If customers fight I could get in trouble. Please, I can’t afford to lose this job…” Perhaps it was something in Yuuko’s demeanor, or perhaps the tone of her words, that softened Angus’s heart. Lilly looked away, and Angus could see her face was still red, but less so, from embarrassment rather than anger.
  133. Sending up a white flag of parley, Angus said, “Ah, I’m sorry, Lilly. I guess this was kind of rude of me.”
  134. “No, no. It was unreasonable of me to expect you to bow to my wishes. You are a single man, after all.” A little bit of joviality returned to her voice, “Even if we were dating I doubt I could control who you see.”
  135. Angus nodded. “Since you’re both already here, you’re welcome to sit with us, if Hanako doesn’t mind?” he said, turning to Hanako. She nodded affirmation that she didn’t mind. Angus slid around the booth to make room where he was sitting for Lilly and Hisao. Yuuko took their orders and an awkward silence settled over the group.
  136. “So, uh, what hobbies do you have? Other than reading, that is,” Angus asked the group.
  137. “We all play chess against each other sometimes.” Hisao said. Angus grimaced.
  138. “I don’t particularly like chess. It’s too formulaic. Not enough chance, or tactical dept.”
  139. “So you’d prefer something like Risk?”
  140. “Not quite. Risk is too dependent on luck, and it’s still not very tactically deep. Axis and Allies is more my speed.”
  141. “Oh.” Another silence settled over the group.
  142. “I-I like to s-sing, sometimes.”
  143. “Really?” Angus asked more from surprise than anything else. Hisao and Lilly seemed amused at his reaction. “I like to sing too,” he said, “though I don’t know any songs in Japanese.”
  144. This time it was Hisao and Lilly’s turn to be surprised. “You like to sing?” Lilly asked.
  145. Angus turned to look at her. “Did you pay attention at all while we were together? I sang for you at least three times.” Angus thought about what he said, then followed it with, “Then again you were pretty drunk. You lightweight.” Angus enjoyed seeing Lilly’s face redden, a reaction that had nothing to do with how hurt he had felt at her betrayal. Certainly not. That’s what he told himself, anyways.
  146. “W-What songs do you s-sing?”
  147. “Mostly patriotic songs, or songs about war and fighting. I do know a few love songs, and some drinking songs. That’s not counting hymnals and chants though. I know a lot of those. There’s also a few I’m probably forgetting, but that’s all I can think of on the top of head.”
  148. “Can you s-sing one?”
  149. “Here? Now?” Angus looked around the teashop. “I suppose it is rather deserted. Still, I’m not sure. I’d have to sing one of the quieter ones I know. Perhaps we should go visit a park once we’re done here. I’d be more comfortable singing louder there.”
  150. Hanako nodded. “O-Okay.”
  151. Angus waited a short moment before turning her question back on her. “What songs do you sing, Hanako?”
  152. “A-Anything, really. As long as it m-makes me feel happy.”
  153. Angus nodded. “Ah, yes. But sometimes a melancholic song is nice. Sometimes.”
  154. Another silence came over the group, but it was not an awkward one. At least, Angus didn’t feel like it was awkward. Yuuko brought Hisao and Lilly their drinks, and Angus ordered another cup of his.
  155. “Angus, what other hobbies do you have?”
  156. Angus turned his head towards Hisao. “Well, other than reading and singing, I do foil and broadsword fencing, and I’m an artist, of sorts.”
  157. “An artist?” Although it was Lilly who asked it, it seemed both Hisao and Hanako had been thinking the question too. “What do you do? Drawing? Painting?”
  158. “I’ll show you later, once I have my notebook.” Yuuko brought Angus’s tea and bowed away. He blew on it before taking a sip. He savored the bitter taste of the dark brew that was overlaid with the citrus taste of bergamot oil. “Do you sing, Hisao?” Angus already knew that Lilly seldom sang outside of Church.
  159. “No. I’ve always been more interested in listening to music than making it.”
  160. “Meh. Suit yourself.” Angus took another drink from his cup. They continued chatting amiably until all had finished their drinks. They promptly call Yuuko over to bring them the check. After a short debate, Angus paid the check, as he refused to let either Lilly or Hanako pay for it, and Hisao was completely broke. They left the Shanghai and found their way to a park.
  161. Once there, Angus bid the others take a seat on the ground as he positioned himself behind a park bench, and spoke, “I don’t really know any songs in Japanese, so you’ll have to settle for this instead.” Taking a deep breath, he began to sing.
  162. “Scots wha hae, wi Wallace, bled, Scots wham Bruce has aften led, welcome tae yer gory bed, or tae victorie.” His voice did not come out smooth, but it fit the song. His voice shifted up and down in pitch, following the flow of the song. As he sang Angus could see that Hisao was completely lost and rather disinterested, but Hanako seemed to at least be trying to understand the lyrics. Angus felt a twinge of regret that he had chosen to sing in Scots rather than English, but pushed the thought aside. It was too late to change now. Lilly looked politely interested, as always, but nothing more. He was somewhat disappointed by that, since he knew Lilly could understand the lyrics perfectly well. On the other hand, there wasn’t really any reason for her to be more interested. It was a song she had likely heard before, performed by professional choirists. “Lay the proud usurpers low, tyrants fall in every foe, Liberty’s in every blow! – Let us do or dee.” He finished the last stanza. He breathed heavily for a moment. That song was not kind to the lungs.
  163. It was Lilly who reacted first, with her small, polite clap. It reminded Angus very much of the kind of clap people give when someone had just made a good shot in golf.
  164. “That was, uh, interesting I guess. I probably would’ve liked it more if I could understand it,” Hisao said. Angus merely nodded his understanding.
  165. “I-I enjoyed it,” Hanako said, “b-but I h-had a bit of t-trouble u-understanding it. Y-your E-English is s-sounds s-strange t-t-to m-me.”
  166. “That’s because it wasn’t English. I was singing in Scots. A completely different language. Scots is to English what Dutch is to German.”
  167. “O-Oh.” Angus walked over to where Hisao, Hanako, and Lilly were.
  168. “Are you going to sing now?” Angus asked. Hanako started blushing furiously.
  169. “I-I-I-I-”
  170. “It’s alright if you don’t want to,” Angus interrupted, “it’d be pretty hard to beat my performance.” Angus looked into Hanako’s blushing face, hoping his dare would get her to sing. Looking into her eyes he saw it had worked. Her jaw was set and there was a glint in her eye. It was a look Angus recognized; it was the look of someone with slighted honor, possessed by a fiery determination to avenge it. Angus had seen it before, in his older brother Robert’s eyes before an Armored Combat League match. It was Scotland vs. Russia, and Robert had just been told there was no way they could win. Robert had taken it as a personal insult, and had gone into the arena to prove them wrong. Of course, Scotland lost and Robert had been laid up in the hospital for the next three days with a severe concussion.
  171. Hanako looked Angus straight in the eyes and said in a completely calm voice, “We’ll see about that.” The intensity in the girl almost scared Angus. What’s more is that her voice didn’t shake at all while she spoke. Angus couldn’t recall a single sentence since they had met that she hadn’t stuttered through. Taking a number of breaths to compose herself, Hanako began to sing. As the words spilled out in a flowery voice, a sense of growing awe came over Angus. Though he didn’t recognize the song, and he apparently wasn’t as good with Japanese as he thought, he was enraptured by her siren’s voice. Hanako sang through the entire song, high and low, without once stuttering or stumbling. Angus felt like it was a completely different girl he was listening to. Once she was finish singing Angus could only stare in astonishment.
  172. He tried blinking. Then again. Again once more. He still couldn’t believe how well she had performed. Once he finally managed to collect his thoughts he said, “Alright, you win this round, lassie. But I’ll get you next time.”
  173. “Is that a ch-challenge?” the fire still burned in Hanako’s eyes.
  174. “Yeah, it is. Tomorrow, at a real karaoke bar. Your choice.” Angus offered.
  175. Hanako accepted, a small smirk on her face. Then, as she realized where she was, the confident, domineering girl Angus had glimpsed quickly died in a flood of red, to be replaced with the small, quiet girl Angus was more familiar with.
  176. “Tomorrow, then.”
  177. “T-t-tomorrow.”
  178. With that, the group split to go their separate ways; Hanako, Hisao, and Lilly back to Yamaku and Angus back to the Bed and Breakfast he was renting.
  179.  
  180. “My, my, you’re being very forward today, Hanako,” Lilly said.
  181.  “I-I d-don’t know what came over me. W-when he ch-challenged m-me I c-couldn’t c-control mys-self.” Hanako sounded like she was blushing.
  182. “Everyone has something they’re passionate about. Singing seems to be yours.”
  183. “Hisao is right, Hanako. It wasn’t anything to be ashamed of.”
  184. “I-I know, but sill…”
  185. “It’s fine. And it seems like you’ve gotten a date to reward you.” Hanako’s footsteps stopped. Lilly halted, worried something was wrong. “Hanako? Is everything okay?”
  186. “I-it’s not l-like th-that! H-He j-just ch-ch-challenged m-me!”
  187. Lilly realized what was wrong. “I’m sorry Hanako, I didn’t mean as a romantic date. I just meant like a meeting between friends.” Lilly heard Hanako’s footsteps as she caught up to them.
  188. “O-okay,” Hanako said. “He s-seems pretty n-nice.” Lilly nodded.
  189. “Maybe. During my time with my family he was nothing short of a perfect Scotsman. I only spent a few days with him, so I don’t know much, but I’ve been told he can be very passionate.”
  190. “Th-that’s not exactly wh-what I read from him. H-he was r-rather laid back with m-me.”
  191. “Perhaps that was his way of dealing with your scars?” Hisao tentatively. Lilly heard the rustling of Hanako’s hair. Lilly thought she was shaking it.
  192. “I-I don’t think so. H-He looked me st-straight in the eyes and didn’t react. I-It was l-like he d-didn’t even notice them.”
  193. “Really? Maybe he has experience dealing with that kind of thing?”
  194. “I don’t think so. From what my parents told me his parents are wealthy businessmen. I don’t see how he could have that kind of experience.” A contemplative silence settled over the group as they walked up the hill to Yamaku, permeated only by the tapping of Lilly’s cane.
  195. “A-anyways, I’m going to c-crush him tomorrow.” The whole group had a little chuckle at Hanako’s determination
  196. “Ah, damn it!” Hisao exclaimed.
  197. “What’s wrong Hisao?” Lilly asked concerned. It couldn’t be his heart; he usually made a distressed noise when that happened.
  198. “I forgot to go running with Emi today. She’s going to be so angry with me once she finds me.” Lilly turned her head to look Hisao in the face. She hoped the face she put on looked intimidating.
  199. “I’m going to be angry with you if you have another heart attack on me. I don’t want to lose you, Hisao.”
  200. “I know, I know. Just, remind me if I forget again tomorrow.”
  201. “Hmmph.”
  202.  
  203. ‘Oh God what was I thinking?’ Angus thought, ‘Why did I challenge her to a match at an actual karaoke bar? There’s no way they’ll have any song I know! She’s gonna fucking kill me!’
  204. Angus sat in the room he was renting. It was very strange, built and decorated more like a hunter’s lodge than anything that struck him as Japanese. There was even a buck’s head mounted over the bed. Still, it was very nice accommodations, and had a nice fire pit outside. A shame he probably wouldn’t use it.
  205. Angus grabbed his notebook. As he flipped through it he looked at the delicate drawings, pages upon pages of elegantly designed tools of war, thin bladed rapiers with elegant hilts, and broad axe heads with masterful designs engraved on them. There were also other things, plainer and simpler, practical tools for use in shop or kitchen. Alongside each schematic were notes, recording insights on how to set a certain part, or a reminder to use a different tool than what seemed obvious at first.
  206. Angus stopped when he reached the first blank page. He wanted to make another piece, but he wasn’t sure what. He had made most everything before, from generic weapons to recreations of personal emblems. He even made an Inquisitorial Rosette. When inspiration would not come to him, he tossed the notebook aside. He hoped Japan might have given him something to work with, which was part of the reason he had come. Picking up his Founding omnibus, Angus went to reading.
  207.  
  208. Day III
  209. Hisao took gasping breaths. The world in front of him was red. The world in front of him was also the track, which was usually red. Gasping, he managed to get out “Alright, Emi, I think that’s enough for today.” Hisao shut his eyes, consciously trying to suppress the pain in chest. He didn’t think he was in trouble, but he knew the danger that loomed over him. He was also vaguely aware that Emi had stopped her run and was coming back to check on him.
  210. “Hisao? Are you okay?”
  211. “Yeah, I’m fine.” Hisao said. His breath was more controlled now and he could feel the pain abating. “Just not used to this yet.”
  212. “See, this is why you can’t afford to miss any days.”
  213. “Yeah, that and Lilly’ll kill me if I have another heart attack.”
  214. “Hah! That too!” Emi stuck out her hand. Hisao gratefully accepted it and she pulled him up. By the time he was standing, Hisao’s breath had returned to normal.
  215. “I better be going now. Still need to shower and I don’t want to keep Lilly and Hanako waiting longer than I have to.”
  216. “Sure thing! Tell Lilly I’ll have you strong enough to take her soon!” Hisao was paralyzed with amazement at Emi’s forwardness. When he struggle to make a retort, Emi laughed and said, “Go on, Loverboy, don’t keep her waiting!” Hisao turned to hide his reddening face as he left the track. Either it didn’t work or Emi didn’t need to see his face to know he was blushing, because she started laughing again before resuming her run.
  217. It turned out that Hisao’s worries were unfounded. He was the first one at the gate, but even as he got there he could see Angus coming up the road. He was dressed similarly as yesterday, but his pants and shirt were black today instead of khaki. After about five minutes without either of the girls showing up Hisao felt the need to say something. The silence between them was growing uncomfortable, especially since Hisao was acutely aware of Angus’s relationship with Lilly. Stupidly, like some sort of idiot, Hisao said the first thing that came to his mind.
  218. “So, I thought Scots wore kilts?”
  219. Angus turned an unamused gaze at him. “I thought Japs wore kimonos,” he said levelly.
  220. “Only on formal occasions. Otherwise we wear what Westerners wear.”
  221. “Same with us and kilts.”
  222. “Oh.” Hisao didn’t know what else to say. As he tried to think of something to say, another silence grew between them. Angus must’ve felt it too, since he spoke only a short time later.
  223. “Hanako tells me you like to read.” It was a simple statement of fact.
  224. “Yes, it was actually how we met. I ran into her at the back of the library when I went to pick up some books my first week here.” Angus nodded.
  225. “Have you read Gaunt’s Ghosts?”
  226. “No, I haven’t. I’ve been meaning to, for a while though.”
  227. “Really now?” Angus actually seemed interested for once, “Hanako’s just started reading it. That’s how I met her.”
  228. “You met her because she was reading a certain book?”
  229. “Yes. I saw the cover of the book and couldn’t resist talking to her about it. None of my friends back home are too interested in anything more nerdy than Harry Potter and Star Wars.”
  230. A sense of horror crept up on Hisao. “You just went up to her and tried talking to her? In public?”
  231. “Yeah, what else was I supposed to do? Stare at her and try to telepathically beam my thoughts to her?”
  232. “How did she handle it?”
  233. “Handle what?”
  234. “You going up to her.”
  235. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
  236. Hisao could tell he messed up. Angus had taken his words as a personal insult. Frantically, Hisao tried to backpedal, “No, no, no, I didn’t mean that to insult you, it’s just that, well, it’s Hanako…”
  237. “So? What’s that got to do with anything?”
  238. Hisao had misjudged his error. “It’s just that she’s really shy. She doesn’t do well in social situations, and-” Hisao’s next words were cut off by an agitated burst from Angus.
  239. “She’s a human being, you know? She’s not some fragile china doll that will shatter if you touch it.”
  240. “You didn’t see what she was like at the beginning of the year,” Hisao said in defense, “she was so bad she-” once again, he was cut off by Angus.
  241. “Are you blind you idiot? Did you not see that proud girl who came out of the walls she built around herself? Walld she built because everyone, including her only friends, treated her differently?”
  242. “I’ve only ever done right by Hanako.”
  243. “So you think. I’d bet if you were to ask her she would say otherwise.”
  244. “What do you know? You’ve only known her for two days.”
  245. “Truly, you are blind if you cannot see in a year what I have seen in two days.” Hisao bristled at Angus’s remark.
  246. “And how do you think she should be treated?”
  247. “Treat her like any other person. Don’t treat her like she’s any different.”
  248. Hisao could feel his heart rate accelerating. He gave over the fight to keep his heart from hurting. The air between them was still tense, and Hisao hoped the girls would get there soon.
  249. Fortunately they did, and the atmosphere grew lighter with their presence.
  250.  
  251. The bus trundled along down towards the city. Hanako was filled with nervous energy and couldn’t stop fidgeting in her seat next to Angus. Lilly and Hisao had taken the seats across the aisle from them.
  252. Hanako was taking them to a karaoke bar in the city. Although she was aware of its location, she had never been there herself, mostly because she was too scared to go by herself. This would be a first for all four of them.
  253. Hanako turned to look at Angus. She caught a glimpse of his eyes. They were the eyes of soldier sent on a mission he knew impossible, but still determined to give it his all. She wondered why he would have such a look in his eyes. He turned away to look out the window. She turned to look at Hisao and Lilly. Lilly was leaning on Hisao’s shoulder, her cane retracted. Hisao was looking out the window. Hanako turned to face the back of the seat in front of her again.  A warm glow suffused her. She had been so lonely the past eleven years. She was glad that she had friends who appreciated her now. Lilly and Hisao, especially, but Naomi and Natsume as well. Even Angus. It still surprised her that she was able to consider him a friend so soon after meeting him.
  254. Their stop came and they got off the bus. Hanako took a moment to orient herself. Having done so, she took up position on the left of Lilly. Hanako knew how cities made her uneasy. Angus fell in beside her.
  255. Making their way through the city, they eventually found the place they were looking for. The sing above the entrance labelled the place as “Han’s Karaoke” in kanji. The place was dimly lit when they entered. Hanako asked if they had a private room available, which they fortunately did.
  256. “You guys gonna drink anything? I’m gonna get a glass of scotch.” Angus said. A moment of confusion struck the assembled Japanese. It was Hisao who first spoke.
  257. “The drinking age is twenty.” There was a pause as Angus absorbed this piece of information. He muttered something in a language Hanako didn’t recognize. She assumed it was a curse.
  258. “Right. I forgot,” Angus slumped into a chair. “How’re we determining who goes when?”
  259. “That’s between you and Hanako. Me and Lilly are staying out of this.”
  260. “Hey now! You’re both here, you have to participate too!”
  261. Hanako chuckled at Angus’s indignant outburst. “N-No, it’s p-probably better this way. They b-both sing really b-badly.”
  262. “Alright, I guess I’ll go first then.” Hanako took her seat and Angus got up on the small stage. She saw his eyes go wide as he looked over the song list. “No bloody way,” she could hear him say under his breath in English, “No bloody way!” With a big stupid grin on his face, Angus began his performance. Hanako actually found it kind of cute.
  263. Hanako was surprised by the song Angus had chosen. She could recognize it from the fanfare alone. It was by a German band, but this version had lyrics in English. Angus clearly enjoyed the song, since he was able to sing it perfectly. He even danced as he sang.
  264. As Angus finished with “Come and have a drink again! You will never leave again! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, hey!” Hanako found herself liking his performance. It was really good; he had clearly rehearsed this song before. A small worm of worry crept into her. He had done much better than she had expected, perhaps she might not win as easily as she had thought.
  265. Hanako got up to take his spot at the machine. She flicked through the list until she found one she liked, and settled upon it. The song she had chosen was by a British band and was very fast paced. Giving her performance, she saw the shocked expressions on Lilly and Hisao’s faces at her choice of song. Her voice ran through the lyrics, for the tempo of the song demanded it.
  266. “Running back through the mid-morning light, there's a burning in my heart. We're banished from a time in a fallen land, to a life beyond the stars,” and on she sang. When she finished she saw Angus throw his hands up in exasperation.
  267. “You know, I thought I had a chance at winning since they had songs I knew on that list. Way to completely destroy me.”
  268. Hanako hid a giggle at Angus’s complaint. “I-I thought you d-did really well too, Angus. I-I was w-worried y-you might have b-beaten me.”
  269. “You’re just saying that so I don’t feel as bad.”
  270. Hanako shook her head. “N-no, it’s true.”
  271. “Well, then your worries were unfounded.” Hanako felt heat in her cheeks at his compliment. “Hisao? Lilly? Who’s going next?”
  272. Hanako groaned. “Please, n-no. I’d r-rather n-not have m-my ears b-bleeding when we l-leave.”
  273. “Ah, they can’t be that bad. I’ve heard Lilly sing in Church and she wasn’t too terrible.”
  274. “My, my. You’re very insistent that we go up.”
  275. “Well, we’re here, so you might as well do it,”
  276. “Generally, I would agree with that sentiment, but in this case I think Hanako has the right of it.”
  277. “Fine, have it your way.”
  278. Hanako giggled quietly at Angus’s defeat. They left the bar, Angus once again covering everyone. It seemed a bit old-fashioned to her that he should pay for everything, but said nothing about it. Being a ward of the state didn’t endow her to much money.
  279. “Where to now?” Angus asked. Hanako wasn’t sure. The city was very big, so there was probably something they could find to do, but she didn’t know what. She would suggest walking around until they found something, but she knew that would make Lilly uneasy. Still, it should be fine as long as she had her and Hisao to help her.
  280. Hanako was just about to speak up when Lilly spoke instead. “Hisao?”
  281. “Yes, Lilly?”
  282. “Do you remember that antique shop where you found that doll for Hanako?”
  283. “Yeah. Do you think we should go there?”
  284. “If no one objects.”
  285. Hanako enthusiastically agreed and Angus just agreed. Hisao leading the way with Lilly on his arm, they wandered through the streets of the city. Eventually, they managed to find it.
  286. It was empty when they entered, save for an old man. He greeted them as a group, but when he saw Hanako he visibly recoiled. Hanako saw his reaction and was filled with a sinking filling. She turned her head down and moved to hide behind Lilly. Both Angus and Hisao had noted how he reacted to her, and leveled simultaneous gazes of displeasure at him. This made her feel a little better. He quickly tried to amend for his mistake, clearly hoping to not lose potential customers because of his slip.
  287. The group slit up to look at items that caught their attention, Angus and Hisao each going their own ways, leaving Hanako with Lilly. Hanako guided Lilly through the aisles, describing what she saw to Lilly in case she was interested in anything. Her voice was shakier than usual, but only slightly. She found her way to a set of dolls. This must’ve been where Hisao had found her birthday present.
  288. At the thought of her birthday a depressive mood came over her. It wasn’t helped by a sudden wave of heat and the smell of smoke. She quickly forced it out of her head, thinking of her happy memories until the heat subsided and the smoke went away.
  289. “Hanako?” Lilly’s voice rousted Hanako from her thoughts.
  290. “Huh?”
  291. “Are you okay?”
  292. “Huh? Oh, y-yes, I-I’m f-fine.” Hanako turned back to the dolls. She studied each one, finding each of high quality, even the cheapest ones. Taking one in a Victorian dress with blonde hair she held it out to Lilly to hold. “I-It looks j-just like y-you.”
  293. Hanako saw Lilly smile as she ran her delicate fingers over the doll. “Do you want this, Hanako? If you can’t afford it I can get it for you.”
  294. Hanako swallowed and nodded, despite knowing Lilly couldn’t see it. “I-If Angus will let you.” They both giggled at that.
  295.  
  296. Angus looked over the old bits of stuff littering the tables in the store. He was starting to get bored with the shop. It wasn’t that he didn’t like antiques; just that this store didn’t have anything that particularly interested him. He had managed to find his way to the book section, hoping they would have an English title. He was lucky and managed to pick up a first edition of Rand’s "Atlas Shrugged." He had already read it many times before, but he couldn’t resist the allure of the book. He continued to look around as he made his way back up to the front. Soon the others came by, carrying items of their own. Hisao had a nice chess board, Lilly had an antique braille-pattern typewriter, and Hanako had a small doll. The doll bore a striking resemblance to Lilly. They each paid for their items, Angus and Lilly splitting the cost of Hanako’s doll. Once outside they decided to catch the next bus back to Yamaku and eat at the Shanghai.
  297. One bus ride and a short hike later, they found themselves heading into the Shanghai. Yuuko wasn’t serving today, so their waitress was much less amiable. She still performed her duties satisfactorily, and soon each had their food and a cup of tea.
  298. “Today was fun. Any plans for tomorrow?”
  299. “I-I was thinking w-we could stay here t-tomorrow.”
  300. “Alright. Today was pretty busy so I wouldn’t mind taking a break.”
  301. “What would we do here?” Hisao asked.
  302. “Chess or read, probably.”
  303. I thought you didn’t like chess, Angus,” Lilly said.
  304. “It’s not my favorite, but I don’t dislike it.” Angus finished his sandwich. Tomorrow decided, they finished their meals, and payed. Angus grimaced at his wallet.
  305. “Out of money?” Hisao asked.
  306. “No. I just realized I have a 50 ¥ bill in here.”
  307. “But they don’t make 50 ¥ bills.”
  308. “Not anymore they don’t. I don’t know why it’s in here; it’s completely worthless.”
  309. Putting aside this oddity, they left the Shanghai and returned to Yamaku. Angus was on his way back down from the school when he was ambushed by a mysterious figure.
  310. “Angus?”
  311. Angus turned to face the voice. The woman’s bright red eyes stared at him.
  312. “Hey Akira.”
  313. “Angus, what are you doing here?” Akira closed the distance between them. Angus wasn’t sure what she was thinking, but she didn’t seem happy.
  314. “I came to bring Lilly back to Scotland with me.”
  315. Akira’s shoulders slumped. “That’s what I feared. Angus, you know she stayed because she has a boyfriend here, right?”
  316. “Yeah. I’d have really appreciated if someone had told me that before I arrived in Japan, though.”
  317. “Yeah, sorry. It slipped my mind.” Akira seemed to have picked up on his jab.
  318. Angus waved his hand. “Eh, some good may have come from it. Met a cute girl on the train up.”
  319. “How is that good? You’ll probably never see her again.”
  320. “Turns out, she goes to Yamaku. You’ve probably met her; on the taller side, dark hair, a little crispy on the edges.”
  321. Akira’s eye widened. “You mean Hanako?” A sly grin quickly took over her face. She lightly punch Angus on the shoulder, “You arse! Dumping my sister for her bestfriend!”
  322. Angus rubbed his arm where she hit. “Alright, one: ow, two, Lilly dumped me, and three, we’re just friends, if that.”
  323. “Alright, alright, I believe you. But how will Lilly feel?”
  324. “She seems fine with it. I just spent the last two days with her, Hanako, and Hisao.”
  325. “You know Lilly isn’t exactly open with her feelings.”
  326. Angus sighed. “Yes. I suspect if she was I wouldn’t have bothered coming here in the first place,” a smile worked its way onto Angus’s face, “but as long as she doesn’t say anything I can claim ignorance.”
  327. “You could try that.”
  328. The two parted ways after that.
  329.  
  330. Day IV
  331. Angus wandered through the halls of Yamaku. He had thought he would be able to find the library easily enough. He couldn’t, and he was now lost. Selecting a nearby door, he opened it. Inside was a girl with short cropped dark hair. She was facing away from the door.
  332. “Hey, I was wondering if you could tell me where the library is?”
  333. No response.
  334. “Hello?”
  335. Again, no response.
  336. “Hey!” Angus raised his voice, trying to catch her attention. Still, she ignored him. “Hey! Lassie! I need directions, please!” He was almost shouting now.
  337. The girl continued to ignore him.
  338. “Fine then, I’ll ask someone else, you arse!” Angus closed the door a little more forcefully than absolutely necessary. Angus had just reached the corner when he ran into another person. Literally.
  339. “Whaa~!” the bubblegum haired girl shouted as she fell back. Angus found himself on his back too. Scrambling up, he offered out his hand to help her up.
  340. “Sorry about that. Didn’t see you around the corner.”
  341. “Whahaha~! It’s okay~!” she had a very bubbly speech pattern. A thoughtful look came over her face. “You don’t look familiar. Are you new here~?”
  342. “Just visiting some friends. You wouldn’t happen to know where the library is, would you?”
  343. “Hmm~? The library~? Oh yes~! I can show you to it~!”
  344. “Thank you.” The pink-haired girl took off, bouncing from step to step as she led Angus through the halls. They reached a flight of stairs.
  345. “I’ll have to go slower here. I have trouble with stairs sometimes~” the girl said. She very deliberately placed her foot on the first step, grasping the handrail firmly.
  346. “I never caught your name.” Angus said once they reached the landing. He wasn’t particularly interested, but he wanted something to talk about as they went up the stairs.
  347. “Shiina. Mikado. But you can call me ‘Misha’~!”
  348. “I’m Angus McCrae.”
  349. “Alright~! I’ll call you ‘Acchan’~!”
  350. Horror painted itself on Angus’s face. “Please no,”
  351. “Whahaha~!” They reached the first floor. “Alright~! The library is just down here~!” She took off in her bouncing stride once again. Angus followed her. She led him to a pair of double doors and pushed them in. “Hello Yuuko~!” Misha shouted as she entered. Angus winced at her volume. Surely even in Japan you were supposed to be quiet.
  352. A loud thump issued forth from the library at Misha’s call, and Angus entered in time to see Yuuko rub the back of her head as she emerged from underneath the counter. “Ow ow ow.” Misha didn’t seem to notice her pain.
  353. “Are you okay?” Angus was concerned about the librarian.
  354. “Yes, I’m fine.” Yuuko said, still rubbing the back of her head.
  355. “Alright Acchan~! This is the library~!” Angus cringed again.
  356. ‘Does this girl have no since of volume control?’ he wondered for what he hoped would be the last time. “Alright Misha, you can go now.”
  357. “Happy to help~!” she shouted on her way out. Angus and Yuuko both cringed.
  358. “Uh, Yuuko?”
  359. “Awah!” She shouted in surprise. Apparently volume wasn’t a concern in Japanese libraries after all. “Yes? How can I help you?”
  360. “I’m looking for some friends. The ones I was at the Shanghai with earlier this week.”
  361. Yuuko nodded. For extra emphasis she added a vocal confirmation. “Yes, Lilly, Hisao, Hanako. I think they’re in the back.”
  362. “Thanks.” Angus left to find his friends.
  363. He found them tucked away in a recess behind the bookshelves, resting on bean bags. “I see you’ve met Misha,” Lilly said.
  364. “Yes. She was much more helpful than the first person I met. She wouldn’t even acknowledge me, not even when I was almost shouting.” Angus complained.
  365. “Was she in the Student Council room?”
  366. “I don’t know. I can’t read kanji. But I doubt it, the room was rather dusty.”
  367. Lilly pursed her lips. “Hmm. Did she have short dark hair?”
  368. “Yes. She had glasses too.”
  369. “I see. That would have been Shizune Hakamichi. She’s deaf.”
  370. “If she’s deaf then why does she wear glasses?”
  371. Lilly grew annoyed. “Being deaf doesn’t guarantee perfect eyesight, Angus.”
  372. “Right. Now I feel like an arse.”
  373. Lilly gave him a look, almost as if to say “Well, you should,” but she never vocalized it. Angus squatted down to read his book, the one he had purchased yesterday. Hanako and Hisao gave him strange looks. Lilly kept running her finger over the pages of her book.
  374. “I’ve never found beanbags comfortable,” Angus said, as though to excuse himself. Hanako and Hisao accepted his comment and continued reading.
  375. As Angus started his book he recalled why he hadn’t read it in a while. As spot on as Rand’s political and economic theories were, her prose was less than exemplary, and her theology was certainly lackluster. They were able to read together, Angus enjoying the presence of the others, albeit, some more than others. For a while at least. Angus had lost track of time while reading, so when a shadow blocked his light he didn’t know how long it had been. Turning to look at the new presence, Angus stood up. He stood almost a full head higher than the Harry Potter cosplayer he was confronted with.
  376. “Can I help you?” Angus roughly asked. Harry ignored him, and leaned in closer to his face. Angus took a step back.
  377. “Hey Kenji,” Hisao said, saving Angus from the cosplayer.
  378. “Hey Hisao. You’ve grown taller.”
  379. “Actually, I’m over here. Between Lilly and Hanako. The person you’re standing in front of is Angus. He’s from Scotland.”
  380. “I see. Hisao, floor meeting. Now.” Hisao reluctantly heaved himself up from the beanbag to follow Kenji.
  381.  
  382. “What the hell, man! I warned you to be careful!” Kenji whispered as soon as they had rounded a corner.
  383. “What’s there to be careful of? I’ve successfully infiltrated their group.”
  384. “No man, don’t you see? He’s Scottish, Satou’s Scottish. He’s obviously here on mob business! Probably to fetch her back to Scotland! And you know what that means for your arrhythmic ass!”
  385. “Kenji, Angus is not part of the Scottish mob. Even if he was, if he planned on killing me, I’m sure he would’ve done it already.”
  386. “Or he could just be waiting for the chance to strike. Has to make your death look like an accident.” Kenji was getting annoyed with Hisao’s blindness. ‘How can he not realize the danger he’s in?’ kept repeating through Kenji’s mind.
  387. “He’s not a very quick person. If he wanted me dead I would be. I’m sure you could scope him out if you wanted to.”
  388. ‘Hisao makes a good point there,’ “Alright Hisao. We’ll play it your way.How about we invite him for some man-time later today. On the roof, of course. I don’t want an unknown entering our stronghold.”
  389. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea, Kenji.” Kenji and Hisao went back to where the other three were. Once there Kenji looked at Angus and extended their invite.
  390. “Hisao and I are going to have a picnic on the roof tonight. A manly picnic; no girls allowed. Want to join us?” Kenji extended his hand.
  391. An unenthusiastic “Eh, sure,” along with a nicely firm handshake was all he got in reply.
  392. “Good.” Kenji turned and left, navigating his way through the blurs of the bookshelves.
  393.  
  394. “So, uh, what exactly was that?” Angus asked. Hisao sighed.
  395. “That was Kenji Setou. He’s a pretty good guy once you get to know him, even if he seems a bit eccentric at first.”
  396. “He doesn’t seem eccentric to me,” Lilly broke in.
  397. “That’s because you don’t have him as a hallmate.” Hisao retorted. Hisao looked back at Hanako and Angus. Hanako had hidden herself in her book, a thick volume titled "The Founding." Angus had returned to reading his mysterious old book. Hisao felt a brief flash of annoyance that he couldn’t read English, but he knew it wouldn’t really matter as long as he and Lilly stayed in Japan.
  398.  
  399. Kenji sat on the blanket he had set out on top of Yamaku’s roof. Next to him was a basket full of pretzels, and he had two bottles of whiskey in his sack. He heard the door open and looked at it. He sprang to his feet and strode to the door before it was finished opening. A blur came out, one he recognized as Hisao. Another blur behind came up, one he assumed was Angus. He ushered them to the blanket and set the basket between the three of them. After they had all settled he brought out a bottle of whiskey.
  400. “So, you decided to come after all,” Kenji said towards Angus.
  401. “I said I would,” he said, as though that meant that there was any guarantee he would.
  402. “What people say isn’t always what people do,” Kenji pointed out.
  403. “All too often. That’s why I always do what I say.”
  404. Kenji nodded. “Good man. Honesty amongst bros is cool.” Kenji opened the bottle and took a drink.
  405. “Hey man, give me some of that.”
  406. “Sure thing, bro.” Kenji carefully observed Angus as he took the bottle. He took a moment to look at the label before downing a mouthful.
  407. “That’s a good one. Though I prefer vodka or scotch.” He passed the bottle to Hisao.
  408. “Kenji, where did you get that?”
  409. Kenji frowned. “Hey man, don’t ask; don’t tell,” he and Angus said at the same time. Kenji looked at the Angus-blur. He couldn’t tell where he was looking, but he assumed at him. Looking back towards Hisao he pointed his thumb at Angus and said, “See, this guy gets it.” Hisao dropped the topic and took a gulp of drink.
  410. They spent a number of hours on the rooftop, eating and drinking. It was after the first bottle that Kenji had decided Angus wasn’t associated with the mob and worth bringing into his confidence.
  411. “Alright, Angus. It’s time you be inducted.”
  412. “Inducted to what, exactly?”
  413. Kenji looked at Hisao. He hoped they exchanged glances, but had no way of knowing. “Angus, the world is in grave danger,” Kenji thought he saw a nod, so he continued, “there is a feminist conspiracy to take over the world and eradicate man.” The blur suddenly fell forward, and Kenji heard the smack of hands against a face. Angus let out a long moan. “I’m telling the truth man! I’ve got it all figured out-” he was interrupted by a bark of laughter.
  414. “No, no, no. Oh, how fitting, that someone part blind sees only a part of the picture!” Laughter racked Angus. “Oh Kenji, you sweet summer child! The Feminists are only a front for the true threat: the Communists.”
  415. “Wait, what?” Hisao asked. Angus suddenly got to his feet and started ranting.
  416. “It’s all historical! Who was it that fought hardest against the Indochina War? The Feminists! Who is it that pushes soy on our men? The Feminists! Who advocates the dismantlement of manhood? The Feminists! But who benefits from this? Not women, no! Without support from strong, free, men the women of our countries are helpless! Sure, they can put up token resistance, but not nearly enough to resist the invaders! But who will these invaders be? Just look where Feminism isn’t being pushed: Communist and ex-Soviet countries! It is the Communists who benefit from the Feminist and Socialist infiltration of Western Civilization! This is all part of the Communists’ master plan! Break the Men of the West, and the West falls! I say to you this very election cycle will put a Communist agent in the American Presidency, and in less than decade an open Communist will run for President! And dammit, I’m going to stop them, whatever it takes! They can take my life, but they will never take my freedom!”
  417. “Holy shit man. You’re right! How could I have been so blind?” Kenji screamed in horror.
  418. “Quickly, we must share our findings!” Kenji nodded, and he and Angus rushed off the rooftop and down the stairwell. Angus ran back to the roof and returned, holding the other bottle of whiskey. “Sorry, couldn’t leave this behind.”
  419.  
  420. Still on the rooftop, with the last pretzel in his hand, Hisao said the only thing his drink-fuzzed mind could think of. “What the fuck just happened?”
  421.  
  422. Day V
  423. Angus awoke to a world of pain. He deserved it. He knew he shouldn’t have drunk so much last night, but he did anyways.
  424. ‘Disgraceful,’ he thought as he pulled himself out of bed. He trudged his way to the shower and turned it on, full power and as cold as he could get it. Having stripped he climbed in. The cold shocked him out of his hungover daze. It still hurt, but he could at least focus now. He washed himself, and went to the small kitchen. He took a glass from the cabinet, filled it with water, and drank it all. He repeated the procedure four more times. His next glass he drank slower. He forced himself to drink two more glasses. He knew it would help with the hangover.
  425. He went back to the bedroom and looked through his clothes. He grabbed the pair of shorts he had packed and a shirt. Pulling it on he realized it was his lace-up sleeveless shirt, the one he had bought at an American Renaissance Festival earlier that summer. He briefly questioned whether it would be appropriate to wear this about town, but eventually decided it didn’t matter. He would be leaving tomorrow, anyways.
  426. Just as he stepped outside his cell phone started ringing. Answering in Scots, he said, “Angus McCrae speaking. Wha’s this I’m talking tae?”
  427. It was Akira. She answered in English, “It’s me, Akira. Lilly and Hanako were wondering if you’d like to go to dinner with us tonight. Hisao’s coming as well.”
  428. “Sure. Where are going?”
  429. “Don’t know yet. I’ll call you when we decide.”
  430. “Alright, as long as they have proper food. Can only eat rice and soy for so long.”
  431. “Hah! Scared you’ll lose your manly physique?”
  432. “As if! I just want a good piece of steak or meatpie.”
  433. “We’ll keep that in mind. Talk to you later, Angus.”
  434. “You too Akira.” Angus hung up the phone. He went back inside and laid out his formal clothes. He knew Lilly liked to eat at fancy restaurants, so he knew formal wear would be a safe bet. Angus had no plans for today until dinner, so he set about for something to do.
  435.  
  436. “Wh-what did he s-say?”
  437. “He said he’ll come. On one condition though,” Akira said as she put away her phone.
  438. “What condition?” Lilly asked, screwing up her face in thought.
  439. “We go somewhere that serves non-Asian food.”
  440. Liily’s face relaxed. “I suppose that request wouldn’t be too hard to respect. It would mean we’d have to go to the city though. Is this fine with you Hanako?”
  441. Akira barely noticed that Hanako’s face had taken on a slight tinge of strain as she said she would be fine. ‘If Hisao was here he’d probably think it was from the prospect of going to the city. Lilly probably would too, if she could see it.’ Akira knew it was from the overly motherly attitude Lilly had with her. Akira didn’t know why they insisted on treating her like a child when she clearly resented it. Sure, she had been the victim of merciless bullying, but that kind of thing tended to toughen people, not make them into fragile dolls like Hisao and Lilly seemed to think. Still, they were at least able to restrain themselves.
  442. “We gonna tell Hisao he’s coming?”
  443. “Yes,” Lilly sighed, “I’ll go do that now.” Lilly stood up, grabbing and extending her cane as she rose. Once she had left the room Akira turned back to Hanako.
  444. “So, what do you think of Angus?”
  445. Hanako seemed caught off guard by her question. “H-He seems very nice. Besides L-Lilly, he w-was the f-first to person to n-never treat m-me different because of my sc-scars. Even H-Hisao did, a little.”
  446. Akira had an uncomfortable moment of remembering how she had reacted Hanako’s scars. She still felt guilty about that. From what she could could get Lilly to tell her about their early days with Hisao, she had handled Hanako much worse than Hisao did.
  447. “Makes sense he wouldn’t,” Akira said dryly. This confused Hanako.
  448. “W-Why do you say th-thay?”
  449. Akira frowned. “It’s not really my place to say. The McCraes’ have their own problems. If he wants to tell you he will.”
  450. Hanako didn’t ask any more questions. Perhaps she realized that even if she did Akira wasn’t going to answer them.
  451.  
  452. Hisao heard the gentle tapping of Lilly’s cane as she navigated her way through the aisles. He looked around, but didn’t see her.
  453. “Lilly?” Hisao called.
  454. “Yes Hisao?” she called back. Hisao estimated she was a couple rows down. Hisao went over to her. He found her in the cross aisle a few rows down.
  455. Taking her on his arm Hisao said, “I’m here now. Were you looking for me?”
  456. “Yes. Angus has agreed to accompany us to dinner tonight.”
  457. “Okay. Have we decided where to eat yet?”
  458. “No, not yet. I was thinking was should discuss that with Akira and Hanako.”
  459. Hisao nodded, despite knowing she couldn’t see it. “Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Should we go to them now?”
  460. “Yes, I think that would be best.”
  461.  
  462. Hanako watched as the door to Lilly’s room opened. Hisao’s voice called to her and Akira as he and Lilly entered.
  463. “Hey, we’re back,” he said.
  464. “Hey,” Hanako said.
  465. “Took you long enough,” Akira said.
  466. “S-So, where are we going to go eat?” Hanako asked, before Hisao could get a retort in.
  467. “Well, what are our options?” Lilly asked.
  468. “Angus requested a place that serves non-Asian food. That rules out pretty much anywhere out of the city,” Akira said.
  469. “Do we know of any places that serve foreign food that we all like?” Lilly asked. They thought for a moment, just long enough to run through and disqualify every restaurant on their short list.
  470. “No, I don’t think we do – oh! Lilly, you remember the place I took you for our first real date?”
  471. “Yes, the place I had to pay for?”
  472. Hisao grimaced, “Yes, that one.” Hanako and Akira both giggled at his discomfort.
  473. “You let a lady pay for your meal, Hisao? And I had you pegged as a proper gentleman.” Akira jokingly taunted. Hisao shrugged his shoulders.
  474. “I don’t have a lot of money,” was all he said. A silence grew as they forgot what they were talking about earlier. It was Lilly who first remembered.
  475. “You’re thinking we could go back there?”
  476. “Yes. A lot of those names looked European. And I would like to know what they are. Though I will have to rent a tux again.”
  477. “Akira, Hanako, do you have any objections?”
  478. “N-No.”
  479. “Sounds good to me.”
  480. Lilly smiled and nodded. “So its decided then. Akira, will you call Angus and tell him? And tell him that it’s a very formal dining place.”
  481. “Sure thing, Lils,” Akira said, getting up from the wall she was leaning on. She pulled out her phone and left the room to place the call. Hanako got up too.
  482. “I-I have some work to finish for the n-newspaper club before school starts again,” she said to Lilly, “see you at dinner.” She got up and gently closed the door to Lilly’s room before going to the main building.
  483.  
  484. It was approaching six in the afternoon when a group of six people were found waiting at the bus stop outside Yamaku. Only one person in the group was skirted, Akira was wearing her pinstripe suit, as always, and Lilly and Hanako were wearing cheongsam, though Hanako’s had longer sleeves than normal.
  485. Angus checked the time on his pocket watch before slipping it back in his jacket pocket. The bus should be arriving soon. He fiddled with the Maximillian Kolbe pin on his kilt. He was in full formal attire, with jacket and fly plaid in the Inverness tartan. The fly plaid was pinned to his jacket by a silver brooch with inset ruby. He even wore a tam o’ shanter, also in the Inverness tartan. He checked his gillie brogues to make sure they were tied correctly. The laces had a nasty habit of slipping to the side when he wasn’t watching.
  486. Angus surveyed the group again. Akira had brought her boyfriend, Jigoro Toriyama, along. He was dressed a pinstripe suit to match Akira’s. Hisao was in a rent-a-tux, and it showed. The jacket was a little big in the shoulders for him, but otherwise it fit fine. Lilly’s cheongsam was sleeveless, made from red fabric with gold embroidery. Hanako’s was pink with purple, and had sleeves that went down to her wrists. She also had her beret on, tilted to cover the burned part of her face.
  487. “I think I hear the bus coming,” Lilly announced. Everyone was quiet, and Angus could hear the rumble of its engine as it rolled up the hill. It wasn’t much longer before it had arrived and stopped, and the six got on. Once again Angus found himself sitting next to Hanako. Akira and Toriyama had taken the row in front of them, while Lilly and Hisao had the row behind.
  488. Toriyama turned around in his seat, looking over the headrest so he could speak. “So, you’re a McCrae, huh?”
  489. “Yeah, why do you ask?”
  490. “No reason, it’s just that Akira’s mentioned your family as dealing frequently with her father’s firm.”
  491. “Yes, the Satous and McCraes have been close business associates for a while.”
  492. “So, uh, what exactly is it that your family does?”
  493. “Akira hasn’t told you?”
  494. “She said your family’s in the steel industry. I don’t believe it.”
  495. “She’s right. We own a number of steel mills, some in country, and some overseas. My sister Maria handles our American holdings.”
  496. “Maria? Isn’t that a Spanish name?”
  497. Angus shook his head, “Latin, actually. In case you hadn’t noticed, our family are devout Catholics.”
  498. “Ah, yeah, Akira mentioned something about that,” Toriyama glanced at the kilt pin. “That’s a Saint, I take it?”
  499. “Yes, St. Maximillian Kolbe. My great-grandfather met him a short time before he died. The Saint, that is, not my great-grandfather.”
  500. “Really? That’s actually pretty of cool. What’d he get Sainted for?”
  501. “Martyrdom,” Angus replied simply.
  502. “Who are you talking about?” Lilly asked from behind. Angus twisted around to address her.
  503. “St. Maximillian Kolbe.”
  504. Lilly’s face screwed up in thought. “But he’s Polish. And he was in-” Lilly face contorted in horror as she realized the implications of why Angus had said. “Oh God. I didn’t realize-” her voice trailed off quietly.
  505. “What? I don’t get it,” Hisao said. Angus shot him a mildly annoyed glare.
  506. “You’ve never heard the story of St. Kolbe? Disgraceful. Absolutely shameful. What do they teach you people here?”
  507. “I’ve never studied your Saints. I’m not Christian.”
  508. “Hmm. Alright then, well basically the story is this: Some dumb Austrian loser started stealing land from neighboring countries. One of those countries was Poland. St. Kolbe didn’t particularly like how he ran things once he had forced the Polish government into exile, so he ran a newspaper against his regime. Well, he didn’t like that, so he had St. Kolbe arrested, stuffed him in a train, and shipped him off to Oświęcim. Once there, someone escaped, so the guards decided to execute via starvation three prisoners. When selected one of the condemned started crying, so St. Kolbe volunteered to take his place. He was the last die, being the only one conscious when the Nazis got bored of starving them and stuck them with needles. He offered up his arm to them as they came by and prayed for their souls as he died.”
  509. “Osh- you mean Auschwitz?”
  510. “That’s the German name.”
  511. “Wait, so if you’re great-grand father was in Auschwitz, does that mean he was Jewish?”
  512. Angus glared at Hisao for a moment before responding. “No. Not everyone persecuted by that damned Socialist was a Jew. My great-grand father was a devout Catholic, blond and blue-eyed Pole. He was in there for being a member of the Armia Krajowa. He managed to escape a few months later and stayed in country until the late 40’s, when he managed to escape the Soviet puppet government and flee to Scotland.” Angus waited for someone to say something. When no one did he sat back down. He saw Hanako gaping at him. He slowly reached out and used his index finger to close her mouth. Her face changed color to match his kilt when she realized she had had her mouth open.
  513. They rode in uncomfortable silence for a while. Angus reached into his sporran and withdrew his wallet. He took a photo out and looked at it. Four strawberry-blond children, three boys and a girl, stood side by side, from oldest to youngest. The youngest boy was clearly uncomfortable, his face turned away from the camera and trying to hide behind the next oldest boy. It had been taken two years ago. There was something on his cheek. When Angus wiped it with his hand it came away wet. It was a tear, shed over all the changes that had happened since that photo was taken.
  514. “A-Angus?”
  515. Angus turned back at Hanako’s call. He made a questioning noise.
  516. “A-Are you okay?” She sounded genuinely concerned for him.
  517. Angus sighed. “Yeah, I’m fine,” his voice came out dull, “just old memories.” He looked at the photograph again, focusing on the oldest child, his brother Robert. He fixed the image firmly in his mind. This was the Robert he wanted to remember. He put the photo back in his wallet and that back in the sporran.
  518.  
  519. The mood was subdued as they entered the restaurant. Angus was beating himself up mentally for killing the mood with his short history lesson. They were seated and had already placed drink orders, Akira requesting a bottle of red wine for the table, an action Angus heartily agreed with, when Hisao spoke up.
  520. “Uh, does can anyone here read French? Or English?”
  521. Angus looked at the menu. Sure enough, he saw that most items were in French or English.
  522. “I can, and I know Akira can too, well, English at least.”
  523. Angus looked at the others. Toriyama shook his head, and Hanako said, “N-Not well, but I think I can well enough to r-read this menu.”
  524. “Alright. You want me to read the menu? I can explain what some of these French dishes are if you need me to.”
  525. “That would be very helpful,” Lilly said. Angus ran through the menu. It was a long list, and he went through each item to be sure they knew what they could get. Angus had decided to get an entrecôte. Soon their waiter returned, and took their orders.
  526. As they waited Angus tried to stir up a conversation. “So, Toriyama, how long have you and Akira been together?”
  527. Toriyama smiled and looked sideways at Akira, “Not counting the time she dumped me because she was moving out of country, a couple years,” he punched Akira on the shoulder lightly. She glared at him and punched him back harder.
  528. “You know that hurt more me just as much as it did you.” Toriyama didn’t say anything, but rubbed the shoulder where her fist landed.
  529. “So, how about you? How’s your romantic life?” Toriyama asked. The entire table besides Angus and Toriyama cringed.
  530. “Horribly,” Angus stated flatly. “There is little amity between me and most of the girls back home.” The table seemed to relax when they realized he wasn’t going to mention Lilly.
  531. “Why’s that?”
  532. “It’s to do with our being half Polish. Despite what they may claim, racism is still strong and alive in Europe.”
  533. “Oh,” Toriyama said, “I see,” he trailed off.
  534. “So, Toriyama, what do you do?” Angus asked, hoping to keep conversation flowing.
  535. “Huh?”
  536. “You know, your job. What do you work as?”
  537. “Oh, right,” Toriyama smiled and shook his head. “It’s complicated. Suffice to say I help the Doctor a bit.”
  538. “The D-Doctor?” Hanako asked.
  539. “Sorry, that’s just what I call Doctor Mutou,” Toriyama said. “Doctor Akio Mutou is one of the science teachers at Yamaku.” This was said for Angus’s benefit.
  540. “He’s our homeroom teacher,” Hisao said, gesturing to Hanako. “He’s also the science teacher for seniors.”
  541. “Okay. That was just a weird way to phrase your replay, Toriyama.”
  542. “Yeah, I know, but have you seen him? He looks just like the current Doctor. He really does.”
  543. Hanako giggled. “He does.”
  544. “I don’t really watch Doctor Who. I only know about it since my little brother picked it up.”
  545. Toriyama looked offended. “Truly. You are missing out on a masterpiece of science-fiction.”
  546. “Is that so? Maybe I should watch it. But if it’s not as good as Dune or what Abnett writes I will find you, and I will execute you.”
  547. “You won’t be disappointed. Actually, I think Abnett has done some work for Doctor Who.”
  548. “Fah!” Akira exclaimed. “I’m surrounded by fucking nerds!”
  549. “Says someone who’s job is literally debating the meaning and application of words,” retorted Toriyama. Akira punched him again. “Ow. Stop hitting me like that.”
  550. Toriyama was saved from further abuse by his girlfriend when the waiter came through carrying their food. He had a couple of busboys assisting him. Once Angus had his food he quickly dug into his food.
  551. “Where are you going to school, Angus?”
  552. “Huh? Oh, uh, actually, I already graduated. Scottish and Japanese school calendars seem to start at different points in the year.”
  553. “So where are you going for college?”
  554. Angus took a bite of steak, then downed it with a sip of wine. “Nowhere, as of yet. My parents want me to get some real-world experience before I go, so they’re sending me to America in a few weeks to help Maria with our assets there.” He took another drink of wine.
  555. “Angus, are you sure you should be drinking that much?” Hisao asked.
  556. Angus leered at him. “Yes. What’s it to you?”
  557. “It’s just that you and Kenji had almost two whole bottles of whiskey last night. I’m actually kind of surprised you’re even able to be here.” The table seemed interested in this revelation.
  558. “As I recall, you were rather eager to help us with the first bottle.” Angus sighed, “and yeas, I was rather hungover this morning. But I know a few tricks to help with those. Besides, this is wine. It has significantly less ABV, and we’re sharing among six people.”
  559. “Y-you sound like you h-have a lot of experience with alcohol.”
  560. Angus shrugged. “The drinking age is eighteen in Scotland, or in some cases sixteen.” Lilly and Akira both nodded confirmation. Angus cut another piece from his steak. “Hanako, have you finished First and Only yet?”
  561. Hanako nodded. “I’ve just started Necropolis, actually.”
  562. “An entire book in one week? Feth, but you’re a fast reader.”
  563. “A bit sl-slower than I used to be. B-Before I met Lilly and H-Hisao I could finish some books in a d-day.”
  564. “Sort of like my little brother. Except he does it with tellie shows instead of books.” Angus frowned. “I think it might be a bit unhealthy for him to live like that. He doesn’t really have any friends, so he doesn’t get out at all, besides school.”
  565. Hanako visibly shuttered. “I-It’s not a l-life I would w-wish on anyone. I-I was miserable b-before I m-met Lilly. Y-You should talk t-to him.”
  566. Angus sighed. “If you were so miserable, than why didn’t you approach someone, Hanako.” He saw Hanako cringe. A redness was coming into her face.
  567. “I-I had my r-reasons,” was all she said.
  568. “And he has his. Trust me, I’ve tried to help him, but a brother isn’t what he needs. I can’t be what he needs.” Angus continued eating. The others sheepishly returned to their meals as well.
  569. Angus found himself finished with his meal well before the others. After his second attempt at conversion had failed it took a short bit for the mood to return, but eventually they had been able to return to normal conversation, sans Angus. Angus examined now-used steak knife. It was a smooth bladed knife, with a full tang and pommel at the base. The tang was surrounded by what Angus guessed was probably ivory from a walrus or narwhal.
  570. “Angus, what are you doing?” Hisao asked. Angus looked up, startled. Everyone at the table was looking at him. They had stopped talking while he was distracted with by the make of the knife.
  571. “Nothing. Just seeing if I could make this,” he flipped the knife in his hand. “I probably could, but these,” he said, pointing to the large caps of metal at the base of the handle and blade, “could pose some trouble. It would take a lot upsetting to get the metal that thick, depending on the thickness of stock used, and if the stock was too thick to start with the blade would be too long.”
  572. “What?” chorused through the group.
  573. “That’s right, I never mentioned what kind of artist I was. And I still don’t have my notebook. But yeah, I make things out of steel.”
  574. “What, like swords and stuff?” Hisao asked.
  575. “Other stuff too. Simple jewelry, tools, kitchen utensils.”
  576. “That’s actually pretty cool,” Toriyama said. “That means you do commissions, right?”
  577. “Not yet. I still think I need to practice more before I’m ready to make specific items, rather than just generic ones. However, if you’re willing to pay, I won’t say no.”
  578. “Can we see some of your work?” Lilly asked.
  579. “Sorry, but I didn’t bring any with me. Kind of hard to get a sword through customs, and I didn’t think I’d need any of my other pieces. No wait, I do have one,” Angus said as he opened his sporran. He pulled a chunk of black metal out, in the shape of a horse’s head with a ring on the end. He gave it to Toriyama to look at.
  580. “This is cool,” Toriyama said as he ran a finger over the fuller marks on the horse’s mane. “What is it?” Toriyama passed it to Akira.
  581. “It’s a bottle opener. I use it for sodas and beer. It was one of my first pieces.”
  582. “It’s pretty nice. Can you make one for me?” Akira said. She passed it to Lilly.
  583. “If I have stock, coke, and an anvil, yes.”
  584. “My, my, it’s kind of heavy. It also feels a little oily.”
  585. “Yes, it is iron, after all. If it’s not lightly oiled once in a while it will rust.”
  586. “Coke? What’s that?” Hisao asked as he took it from Lilly.
  587. “Its what you get after burning coal for a little while. It produces much less smoke, so it’s nicer to use than coal.”
  588. “I didn’t know that,” Hisao said, giving it to Hanako. She looked it over, carefully examining dully shining metal.
  589. “Y-You made this?”
  590. “Yes.” Angus’s voice was plain.
  591. “W-With a fire?”
  592. “Yes.” Angus’s voice took on a tone of caution. He wasn’t sure where she was going with her line of questions.
  593. Hanako stared at it for a little more. “Why a horse?”
  594. Angus snorted. “That’s what the instructor taught us to make. I could probably put a different handle on one if I made it now.”
  595. Hanako handed it back to him. He looked her dead in the eyes as she did so. She blushed and moved her right hand in front of the right half of her face as she looked away. Angus slipped the bottle opener into his sporran with one hand and with the other gently but firmly pushed Hanako’s arm down.
  596. “Don’t hide yourself,” he said, “there’s nothing more degrading that someone can do to than hiding themselves.”
  597. “E-Easy for y-you to say,” she mumbled.
  598. Angus shrugged. “I’m just saying what my older brother would have said. If anyone should want to hide their body its him.”
  599. It seemed that Hanako wanted to say something, but decided not to. Angus let the subject drop. A waiter came to collect Angus’s empty plate, and Toriyama asked if he could take his too. He did, and one by one the other’s pushed away mostly eaten plates.
  600. When he came back, the waiter asked, “Would we like any desserts today?” A moment’s worth of discussion happened, but it was eventually decided there would be no dessert. Akira asked for the check before he left. He brought it back and Akira covered it.
  601. “You’re not going to fight Akira over it?” Lilly asked.
  602. Angus laughed. “I wouldn’t want to fight Akira even if I had Kalashnikov. I think I’ll let her take it if she wants.”
  603. “Good to know you’re so scared of me,” Akira said with a devilish grin.
  604. The ticket was payed and they left a short while later.
  605.  
  606. Hanako found herself sitting next to Angus again on the ride back to Yamaku.
  607. “Y-You have a lot of s-siblings,” she said. She couldn’t help but look away as she said it.
  608. “Are you talking to me?”
  609. Hanako nodded. She turned to look at him.
  610. “Only three,” Angus pulled out his wallet. “I have a photo of the four of us. You can see it if you want. It’s a little out of date though.”
  611. “Okay,” she said. Angus withdrew the photo and pointed to each person and identified them, starting with Robert.
  612. “This is my older brother, Robert. It’s a tradition to name the first son Robert in my family, in honor of Robert the Bruce.”
  613. Hanako looked at the person he was pointing to. It looked like an older, much more muscular version of Angus, but with shorter hair and without the beard. The hair was also strawberry blonde, of a shade slightly darker than Emi’s. She didn’t immediately see anything wrong with his body, besides a thin scar across his left cheek. He was dressed in camouflage fatigues.
  614. “I-I don’t s-see anything wrong with h-his body,” she said, a little confused.
  615. Angus sighed. “This was taken two years ago. The day before Rob shipped out to boot camp.”
  616. “H-He was in the m-military?”
  617. “Yes. Got deployed to Iraq. Perhaps that might give you an idea of why he might want to hide his body.”
  618. “Oh,” was all she could say. She knew little of international politics, but she knew about the Iraq War. She thought over all the possibilities of what could have happened to him. Doing so recalled the smell of smoke and burning flesh to her. She felt nauseous. She shuddered and forced herself to stop. Angus gave her a questioning glance. Something must have shown on her face, since he was clearly worried.
  619. “G-go on,” she said.
  620. Angus continued, dropping the worried look. His finger moved to point to the girl next to him. “This is Maria, obviously. She’s named for our Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin. There’s not really much to say about her, other than that she manages our American assets. I think she’s dating an American now, actually.”
  621. The person Angus pointed to was in fact the only girl in the photo. Her hair was the reddest of the four, and was done in a loose braid she had hanging between her breasts. Hanako guessed Maria’s were about the same size as her own. She was dressed in a purple knee-length skirt with a loose green blouse.
  622. “Interesting color choice,” Hanako muttered.
  623. Angus ignored her as he continued to the third person. “That there is me.”
  624. The person Angus was pointing at looked quite different from the Angus she was used to seeing. The Angus in the picture was of wide shoulder but leanly muscled and clean-shaven, with hair of a color between Maria’s and Robert’s. Still, she could see the resemblance, if the hair was black, longer, was accompanied by a beard, and the person it was on was a little older. He was wearing the exact same clothes in the picture that he was wearing now, down to the shoes and hose.
  625. “You d-dyed your hair?”
  626. Angus grunted. “There was a nerd-con a couple nights before I came here. I decided to go dressed as Colonel Colm Corbec.”
  627. “I-I’m surprised Akira didn’t m-mention it at diner.”
  628. “It probably didn’t occur to her. Why make such a fuss over people’s appearances?”
  629. “Y-Yeah,” Hanako said, knowing exactly what Angus was talking about.
  630. Angus pointed to the last person. “This is Władyslaw. My mother insisted at least one of us have Polish name, so he got it. He got a lot of our mother in the genetic lottery.”
  631. The person Angus was pointing to was clearly the youngest of the group. He also had the lightest hair of the four, it was closer to pure blonde with a slight tint of red than it was to strawberry blonde. To her eyes, he didn’t look different from the other three, besides his cowering demeanor. She recognized that all too easily from how she had acted, even after meeting Lilly and Hisao.
  632. “W-Why does he avoid the c-camera?” she asked.
  633. Angus grunted. “It’s not really my place to say, but he was bullied a lot when he was younger. I can’t really say anymore without him here.”
  634. Hanako nodded. She wished she could learn more, but she suspected he had his reasons for not wanting people to talk about him. If she was right, they were the same reasons she had had earlier that year. She yearned to reach out to him and comfort him, the same way she wished someone would for her when she had been her loneliest. “I-I u-underst-stand,” she managed to say. They sat in quiet for some time before the rocking of the bus and fullness of her stomach lulled Hanako to sleep. Her head fell and she snuggled into the semi-hard muscle of Angus’s arm before she was completely lost to sleep.
  635.  
  636. Day VI
  637. Angus stood in front of the train station. He turned to face the three who had come to see him off.
  638. “You know, I had a lot of fun this week, despite the somewhat awkward circumstances that brought me here,” he said. This provoked chuckles from him and Hisao, and giggles from Lilly and Hanako. “For once I can say I’m sad to go. I had a great time with you, and I’ll miss you all.” He stepped forward to shake Hisao’s hand. Then he hugged each of the girls in their turn. “And now, I wish you all a very fond farewell.” With that he turned and left.
  639. Entering the train station he felt something run down his cheek. He lifted his hand to brush the tear away. ‘Why does it hurt so much to leave them? There’s no guarantee I’ll never see them again.’ Even as he thought it he knew it wrong. Even if he could see Akira again and maybe Lilly, he knew that was the last time he would lay his eyes on Hanako. ‘Damn, but I’m an idiot,’ he thought as the realization of his true feelings hit him.
  640.  
  641. Hanako sat in the window seat on the bus back to Yamaku. Tears quietly fell off her face.
  642. “Hanako, are you okay?” Hisao asked. He could see her tears in the reflection of the glass.
  643. “N-no,” she said before swallowing. She forced the next sentence out. “M-my h-h-heart h-h-hurts s-so m-much.” She could see realization come across Hisao’s face as he realized this wasn’t something he could help with. This was something nobody could help her with. Nobody, except the person she had just lost forever.
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