Chapter 1: Training
He threw the ball up and jumped high in the air: it was clear that, in spite of how hard it was to get up so early, those morning trainings were bearing fruit. He spun, rolled and turned round in the air. And just as he kicked the ball he shouted enthusiastically:
"Shin… Rolling Kick!"
The ball shot out diagonally towards the goal. There, the goalkeeper was waiting, ready to face the shot with his burning fist.
"Shin… Nekketsu Punch!"
The flames coming from the goalkeeper's hands couldn't match up to the power of the shot and he fell to the floor, defeated, as he helplessly saw the ball enter the goal. Nevertheless, he wasn't sad. On the contrary, a great smile appeared on his face as he gave him a thumbs up as a sign of approval.
"Great, Shin-shin! You have improved a lot in a very short time!"
Yeah, improved… He thought.
"A-ah, thanks, capt'n…!" He stuttered.
His captain could say what he liked: the opinion Shinichi Handa had on his talent for shooting wouldn't change no matter how much praise he got.
"You are very commendable, you know?" Endou had stood up and got closer to Handa while the midfielder was lost in his own thoughts. "It's incredible that you created a hissatsu technique on your own so quickly! Most of mine are either grandpa's or based on other people's…! And look at you: you and your own techniques! You can tell you were one of the first people who joined Raimon!"
Indeed, back in the day, Endou, Handa and Someoka had been the only members of the soccer club that would subsequently be crowned as the best team in Japan. And, of course, two of its first members had reached the very top: saviors of the human kind! World champions! The kind of achievements one can proudly brag about to their grandchildren. But Handa, unfortunately, dropped out halfway through.
Shinichi sighed at the idea.
"Capt'n, it isn't that much of a big deal… Also, however much my Rolling Kick has improved, it's still the weakest shot of the team. And I'm still salty everyone thinks that bloody Italian guy created the Freeze Shot…!" The midfielder snorted, crossed. For one fairly powerful technique he had, no one would recognise it as his. Handa was and had always been what in the modern society is known as a scapegoat or, simply, a battered guy. "Also," he added, "my Cyclone was taken from Teikoku, and Zigzag Spark was a hissatsu created by your grandpa… And even if I can use Ryuusei Blade and Odin Sword, they aren't even half as strong as Hiroto-san's and Fideo-san's…"
He had indeed asked Hiroto to teach him his technique as soon as he had had the chance, since he thought it would help Raimon after the former alien joined the team to fight The Ogre. On the other hand, Fideo and he had got on so well that Fideo offered to teach him his ace hissatsu to lend him a hand and, maybe, even inspire him to create a new technique of his own.
Despite that, his lack of experience with those techniques and not being able to adapt easily to other people's styles lessened the might of those awesome shots considerably. So, in the end, most of his techniques were copied, and his own were either too weak to be useful or no one would even recognise them as his.
But, of course, Endou soon saw an easy solution that, from his point of view, was very easy to put in practice.
"Create a brand-new hissatsu from scratch!"
Handa thought of how joyfully and nonchalantly Endou used to always take it all.
"T-that's easier said than done, capt'n…!" Handa retorted. "I've only created a couple of techniques so far, and they're very simple…! I couldn't create something as advanced as your Ijigen The Hand…"
"Listen to me, Shin-shin," the captain said, placing a hand on his friend's shoulder and the other one on his own chest as he stared at him. "You don't need to create a technique like mine. First of all, because I'm a goalkeeper and you are a midfielder. Also, you have your own soccer, and your hissatsu must bring out the best there's in you! If you try to do it like me, you will never obtain anything you can call yours. Trust yourself, look inside your heart and let us all see the strength that's inside you!"
"C-capt'n…" Shinichi spluttered. His whole body was shaking, both because of the feelings Endou had stirred within him and because of the excitement brought by such a big personal challenge.
"And, of course, I will help you! From now on, we will be having special training sessions everyday!"
Oh, dear God…
Kuusuke Matsuno and Shinichi Handa were focused on the Pokémon battle they were having. As they struggled, Handa decided to talk.
"Guess what, Max-kun…! Capt'n wants me to create a new shot hissatsu."
Handa's Raichu knocked out Max's Gyarados with a well-aimed Thunder.
"What? You, a shot hissatsu? Don't make me laugh~" Max said teasingly as he hurled a Nidoking out to the battlefield. "You are a midfielder, so stay in your league. Leave the forwarding business to forwards, Han~da~kun~"
Luckily for Shinichi, Max was having one of his dumb days.
"…Said someone who was a forward just out of necessity. They rushed to demote you to midfielder as soon as Shadow-kun came…" Handa answered, upset by his friend's comment and trying to be, at least, as hurtful as the Earthquake attack the foe Nidoking had just used, which had finished his dear Raichu off.
And he managed to do so.
"At least I do have a strong shot," Max asserted.
"And at least I do have my own shot. And I don't think Cross Drive can be considered 'strong' either…"
Generally, it was Max who would always manage to slag Handa off with his sarcastic remarks, but, that day, good old Shinichi was way more inspired than usual. By a stroke of luck, they were close enough to finish the argument off and let their actions settle the subject.
Unusual as that was, Handa won that time. But, clearly, he wasn't the same as always that day.
"So your own shot, huh~?" Max repeated once the battle was over. "Well, if you're that convinced, go ahead. But it's not like you could steal Gouenji's, Shadow's or Someoka's place in the team just with it~"
"I don't wanna be a forward, Max-kun. I simply wanna be a useful midfielder in more than one sense…"
"But being so aggressive it's not like you at aaall, Handa-kuuun~ You are rather like… like a panda. Fairly calm and not much of a man of action. I can't imagine you attracting everyone's gazes in a stadium thanks to a goal, actually~"
"A panda…? Hey, but not all pandas are like that! Haven't you watched Ranma ½ or what…? Genma was no pushover…"
Shinichi grimaced, but a thought soon occurred to him. Truth be told, Max had given him a great idea. If he looked so much like a panda, he would bring out the panda inside him and he would show its fangs and claws to the world. It would require effort, but there's no progress without sacrifice.
But, of course, he could never do it alone. It wasn't easy at all to create a hissatsu, and even less so when your knowledge about them was as limited as his.
To unleash the beast inside of him, he would need help. And the first step was clear: learn how to make use the strength that beast was able to offer him.
A strength that, back then, was already roaring inside of him.
Chapter 2: Teikoku
Welcome to the second chapter of this adventure in pursuit of acquiring new abilities—"The Roar of the Beast." Back in the day, I decided to take a slightly more humoristic approach with this chapter—I'm the curtest person you'll ever meet, though, so it'll be hard to notice. Still, I tried not to lose sight of the final objective. I think I waffled excessively—as usual even now, cough cough—, but ideas come to me as I write and I end up regretting it if I don't type them down.
Anyway. In this chapter, you'll see how Handa is dragged to Teikoku to practice, with the subsequent appearance of some of my favorite characters. Have I ever mentioned I love Fudou? He's a lovely ass, aka what I look forward to being someday. Well, maybe.
Finally, let me thank my friend Yvonne for checking this crappy thing out and making sure everything sounds as good as possible. There's not much she can do when the raw material's this bad, but at least it's a nicely presented rotten dish. It's still very, very old, though, so I quickly fixed some things before posting it here. But it's still a mess, so sorry about that.
With nothing else to say (because I'm out of strength and kind of sick), here's the chapter. Enjoy it!
He whistled and, at once, a squad made up of five violet penguins emerged from the ground, which followed and surrounded the trio as they rose in the air. They created an energy circle that held the ball inside and injected potency into it—a clear influence of Teikoku’s game and its Death Zone. They spun around the soccer ball to, eventually, hit it at the same time with a heel kick to the cry of ‘Koutei Penguin San Gou—G3.’ The penguins took care of correcting the erratic trajectory of the shot, sending it straight towards the goal.
The goalkeeper gathered energy in his fist the same way he had gathered it around his heart so many times in the past. He propelled himself upwards and the hair-rising figure of a demon appeared behind him, ready to help him hammer down the ball wrathfully as he exclaimed, ‘Ikari no Tetsui—V2.’
It was a fierce battle, but, eventually, the ultimate penguins broke through the improved version of Daisuke Endou’s master technique. The keeper, although beaten, was panting happily.
“Guys, that was amazing! You keep becoming stronger and stronger every single day!”
Jirou Sakuma, forward for Inazuma Japan, celebrated the goal with enthusiasm.
Yuuto Kidou, midfielder and game-maker, smirked faintly.
Akio Fudou, the team’s trump card, simply folded his arms and clicked his tongue, implying that what his captain had just said was not news at all.
It didn’t matter how many times he had already seen it: the strength of that shot would always impress the young Shinichi Handa, midfielder for Raimon, who, unfortunately, hadn’t been chosen to represent his country in the world tournament.
“So, what, Shin-shin? Does the environment inspire you?” Mamoru Endou asked the newcomer.
“You guys’re obviously in a whole other league, capt’n…” Handa answered, still amazed.
“The world was a tough rival,” Kidou added. “By the way, what did you needed from me, Handa?”
“Ah, yeah, right. I almost forgot…!”
Handa had gone to Inazuma Japan’s training session for a very clear reason. At the suggestion of Endou, which verged on an order, he had unwillingly decided to go and ask Kidou for help to develop his new hissatsu.
“You think we could talk about it in private, Kidou-kun…? It ain’t like I don’t want you to find out, capt’n, but I wanna talk about it calmly and…”
“Don’t worry—I understand!” The goalkeeper answered cheerfully. “See you later, guys!”
Kidou and Handa headed to the changing rooms.
“Summon, huh…” Kidou asked, confused and curious at the same time. “Is that where your new hissatsu is headed, Handa?”
The boy just nodded, somehow ashamed of having to ask for help. Kidou patted his shoulder lightly a few times.
“It’s only natural not to know—don’t worry. I wouldn’t know either if it weren’t thanks to—”
Kidou went quiet all of a sudden, making a tense silence appear between the two of them, which Handa tried to break.
“Ah, yeah… S-so, will you help me, Kidou-kun…?”
“Yeah… I mean, yes, of course,” he answered, still disconcerted and feeling the dark shadow of Kageyama over his shoulders once again. Even then, he could hardly take the memory of such dark times out of his head.
“What… what are we doing here…?” Handa queried.
Around him, some Raimon players had gathered. Kidou, Megane and Miyasaka stood to his left: the latter had joined the team at the request of Kazemaru and Endou when Shishido got injured and the team was in need of a replacement. Endou and Shadow lined up to his right. The former seemed very excited to be there and the latter was as cold and expressionless as always.
“Teikoku Academy is the best place where to develop the skills you need right now, Handa,” Kidou answered.
“But what’s this all about, Kidou-kun…?”
Handa was, as usual, disconcerted. The only people who knew anything about what was going on were Kidou, Endou and Shadow, but none of them was really up for spilling the beans just yet. Suddenly, he noticed that Endou’s face had lit up while Kidou looked away a little. He looked straight ahead and found a proper explanation for both reactions.
“Yu-san!” Mamoru greeted. The adult version of Yuuto Kidou stood in front of Handa, whom no one but Endou had met yet. The young Kidou, ashamed and somehow confused, looked away apprehensively when he found out that person he had in front was himself.
Certainly, they all were surprised. Even Kageto seemed to have shown signs of humanity when he saw the Kidou from ten years in the future. Their captain had talked at great length about that whole issue to them, but it was strange to see it with their very own eyes.
“Hello, boys. …Hello, Yuuto,” Teikoku’s current coach greeted.
“He-hello, Kidou… san,” Raimon’s game-maker replied, clearly nervous and even uncomfortable. He continued to avoid his young self’s eyes. “Is… everything ready?”
“Yes, everything is set for you. Handa, Megane, Miyasaka.”
“Y-yeah!” The aforementioned teens retorted in unison, equally surprised. They all had reflexively grown very tense and bolted upright; it almost looked like a military scene.
“You will come with me and Miyabino, Teikoku’s new goalkeeper. Handa,” the coach said, looking straight at him, “I hope this training will help you develop that new hissatsu you were talking about. This is all I can do for you, however.”
“D-don’t worry, Kidou-san…! I should be the one thanking you for helping me without asking for anything in return…!”
“This is a training for Miyabino as well,” the adult answered while patting Miyabino’s head softly, who was kind of hiding behind his coach’s back. “Raimon is a strength to be reckoned with. It will come in handy for him to face you boys, even if he will verily be fighting against one of our techniques.”
Handa’s group looked at Kidou before looking at each other. They still couldn’t understand exactly what was going on.
“…What? Have you not told them anything?” The coach asked, frowning at Endou and his younger self.
“Ah, I forgot all about it!” Raimon’s captain stated, playing the subject down. “Guys, we’ve brought you here so you can learn how to use the Koutei Penguin!”
“Koutei Penguin Ni Gou? Pardon me for saying so, but isn’t it sort of useless for us to learn that hissatsu? Kidou-kun, Someoka-kun and Gouenji-kun have mastered it already!” Megane inquired, adjusting his glasses.
At that point, Handa reflected on how he had ended up bringing with himself such a motley duo as Megane and Miyasaka. When Kidou and Endou told him that they would get a custom training plan ready to help him, they asked him to look for two mates who would want to train with him. However, no one answered his request: everyone was perfectly aware of how dangerous could one of their captain’s ‘special trainings’ be. Everyone except a newcomer. Miyasaka, paying no mind to any reasons nor his mates’ advice to avoid it, rushed headlong to help his new teammate, thrilled by the simple idea of being able to perform more of those unbelievable techniques they all used. As for Megane, he was eventually unable to resist the idea of hogging the limelight if, thanks to him, they could one day score ‘the winning goal’ in a match. So, plucking up all of his courage, he overcame his fears and decided to give Handa a helping hand.
“You’re right, Megane. The team can already use Koutei Penguin Ni Gou,” the young Kidou stated. “Although there is another Koutei Penguin that Raimon can’t use… yet.”
Jirou Sakuma and Akio Fudou appeared at that moment.
“Tch, what a drag. I dunno why we have to help ‘em losers master a hissatsu they’ll be able to use against us later on. What are we, idiots?”
“Don’t be so nasty, Fudou. It’s a mere favor for Handa.”
“As if that changed crap, Sakuma. Can’t you see the Football Frontier’s about to start and the Koutei Penguin that we created is way too much for Genda to deal with?”
“It’s a matter of civism and friendship. Don’t you want to help an old friend, you unpleasant thing?”
The rest decided to let the two stars of Teikoku continue with their stupid discussion and they dove into more important subjects.
“Are you telling me that I… w-we… will have to…?” Handa stuttered.
“Indeed. We want you to master the Koutei Penguin San Gou.”
“B-but wouldn’t it be better if you led us, Kidou-kun…? After all, it’s yours, and it’d probably be stronger that way…”
The younger Kidou shook his head.
“It’s not a matter of strength, Handa. We want you to master the hissatsu so that you can learn how to summon—that’s all. And if the team can grow stronger as well thanks to it, all the better.”
Miyasaka was very excited even if he only understood half of it all. Megane was both frightened and impatient to start scoring goals. As for Handa, he was shaking way more than your average leaf.
The Teikoku Academy split in three groups. The first one, led by coach Kidou, would take care of Handa. The second one, with Sakuma’s older self at the front, would train as usual with both of Teikoku’s teams, present and future. But, what about the last group?
“Start warming up, Genda! We’ll soon give you a challenge worthy of you!” Endou exclaimed, firing with enthusiasm.
“You’d better. If I get bored, you’ll pay the consequences,” Genda said with a defiant smile on his face.
“Are you ready, Shadow? It’s time for us to get in sync!”
“Yes, captain. But we must wait until she arrives.”
“Don’t worry! Look: there she is!”
Endou pointed at the entrance of the stadium. The silhouette of Hitomiko Kira, who became Raimon’s coach during the war against the Aliea Academy, could be easily glimpsed.
“Coach Hitomiko!” Endou greeted effusively.
“Hello, boys. Long time no see. Hello, Genda.”
“Good morning, Coach Hitomiko!” Genda said with a reverence. The coarseness with which Kira always earned everyone’s respect showed clearly—she had tamed even Neo Japan. Kidou and Shadow greeted her as well in the same way, but in a much more demurred way.
“So, what you want is to practice your Death Zone 2, right?”
They all nodded. Endou and Kidou already knew how to use it together, and even if Shadow knew the theory and had performed the technique before, he had never done so with Raimon. After all, he was still a pretty new member of the team.
“Okay, boys. Get ready,” Hitomiko ordered.
To say that Handa didn’t know where to start from would be to underestimate it a lot. He was just standing there, literally.
It had been long since the younger Kidou had gone with Hitomiko’s group, but Handa was so lost in his own thoughts that he hadn’t even realised that much.
“Pay more attention, you halfwit,” Fudou sprang on him drily.
“Just shut up, you mama’s boy,” Sakuma retorted at him, clearly irritated because of Fudou’s bad attitude towards Handa.
“You say what?!”
Sakuma and Fudou came to blows. Coach Kidou simply let them do as they pleased—he knew better than anyone that arguments between them were constant and unavoidable.
“All right, boys. Koutei Penguin San Gou is a technique born from another two: Death Zone and Koutei Penguin Ni Gou. But seeing as we do not have time to work on the basics, we will aim straight for the final result. I know first-hand that you have the ability that is needed to master it, so do not worry.”
Handa, Miyasaka and Megane nodded. Kidou clicked his fingers and, at once, Sakuma and Fudou stopped fighting in order to get together with him. A ball lying opportunely nearby did it for the trio to perform a perfect ultimate Koutei Penguin, much stronger than any Handa and the rest had ever seen before due to Coach Kidou taking part in it, whose strength was outright stirring.
Handa, Miyasaka and Megane were mesmerized. How power! Such control! How… horribly difficult to perform!
“Will we really be able to do that ourselves…?” Handa asked, distrustful. Fudou and Sakuma didn’t take long to start walloping each other again.
“I am certain. If you work hard enough, at least.”
The three of them nodded, albeit some of them more enthusiastically than others.
“All right, Handa. Try calling the penguins with a whistle. That’s the lure we always use.”
Handa put two fingers in his mouth. He placed his tongue over them. He blew.
The only sound he produced was a middle point between a raspberry and a snort.
Kidou frowned as he massaged the space between his eyebrows lightly.
… It is going to be a really long day.
“Death Zone… 2!” Shadow, Kidou and Endou shouted in unison as they kicked. The shot seemed correct, but Genda could easily clear it with his Full Power Shield.
“Hmm. I’m sorry, captain.”
“That was close!”
What might have failed?
“What kind of disastrous coordination was that?” Coach Hitomiko shouted. What in anyone else’s eyes would have seemed like a perfect shot was not perfect at all for her and her heavily trained eyes. Her adeptness to dissect in a flash a rival team’s plays, along with her on-point analysis of the movements of each and every one of the players, made an extraordinary coach out of her. “Shadow, you’ve spun at least one and a half times more than your teammates. You all didn’t even start moving at the same time! Dear God—you all sure are green.”
The three of them lowered their heads, disappointed.
“What are you doing standing there? Quick—one more time! Prepare yourself, Genda! And you all, if I see you making such a mess again, I’ll send you to clean the whole Ohisama-En, see If you buck up and get some team spirit!”
‘Death Zone 2…!’
“Let’s see… Place the index finger and thumb together, between the fore teeth. Press with your tongue. That is right. Wrinkle your lips, but—oh, come on, do not close your mouth completely, Handa!”
Shinichi was getting more and more nervous. His partners had made a circle around him, practically hampering him from breathing while Yu-san gave him indications about how to whistle. They had been there for more than one hour already.
“No, no, no. You must open your mouth more.”
“What’d you say? The secret’s in the tongue!”
“What if you try moving your fingers?”
They were all giving him their opinion, but none seemed to be the key to success despite the inhuman efforts Handa was making to produce a sound that wouldn’t sound like a flatulence.
“Tch. What a useless guy. He can’t even whistle and he intends to summon! I’ve enough good-for-nothings with this bunch of idiots I call ‘team.’ Oh, but, of course, even they already know how to do this. I think we’ve found in Handa a new level of ineptitude never seen before. Congrats.”
Fudou’s sarcastic and wounding comment keenly irritated the midfielder, who relaxed his mouth unconsciously and snorted. Miraculously, he produced a sound that, although wasn’t exactly a whistle, was certainly a very good start. The whole group got surprised, since most of them had begun to think he would never manage to do it.
“Wonderful, Handa-kun! You almost have it!” Megane cheered.
“Han-Da, Han-Da!” Miyasaka cheered.
Nevertheless, it was Miyabino, who still hadn’t said a single word, the first one who realised Handa’s biggest achievement.
“Hey, guys, check this out…”
“Full Power Shield—V2!”
Genda’s efforts were, finally, inefficient. The shot hissatsu that Endou, Shadow and Kidou were practicing finally broke through the defence the goalkeeper had built.
“Good job, guys!” Genda exclaimed. “That was way better already!”
“Good job? It’s not even half as strong as it should be!“ The coach complained. “Shadow, being a forward as he is, gives you a lot more power than the one Domon used to give you, and I won’t let you leave until you don’t reach the level you should have! Genda, go and call two teammates—we won’t go anywhere until they break through Mugen no Kabe!”
The four players began to fear the stiffness that would be waiting for them the next day.
Chapter 3: Koutei
Old chapters galore! This still counts for Inavember, though.
First of all, many, MANY thanks to Heather, who checked this chapter for me again and again back in the day (2012, I believe?) and supported me as I struggled to make it sound as good as possible. Also, if the new character has a London Cockney accent (which I totally love), it’s all thanks to her. Thank you, dearest! And even more thanks to my girlfriend Roxy, who fixed mistakes not even a native speaker could. She's super awesome and I love her sooo much.
Besides that, this chapter's dedicated to two people. The first one is the only person who had honoured me with a review by the time I finished translating this chapter: my dear kouhai, Rae. She's such a lovely and talented little girl who deserves a lot of love and readers--too bad she doesn't have an account here as far as I'm aware. The second person is my friend Py (MimiFlieder), whose work I really admire and enjoy and who graced me with a review while this chapter was being corrected. Thanks to you both!
And that's pretty much it, so I'll close my big mouth and simply refer you to this very old chapter, which will offer you some sort of… moderate excitement, I assume. Enjoy it!
Everyone’s attention turned to the place where Miyabino had pointed.
“Whatcha’ lookin’ at, yer dimwits?”
For some’s surprise and some others’ disappointment, a green-coloured penguin had emerged from the ground and was standing in the place, staring at the group with its flippers folded. Handa couldn’t believe it; he had managed to make a penguin appear. He had finally summoned an animal, which brought him a step closer to creating his new hissatsu technique. Nevertheless, he started worrying as soon as he looked at the adult Kidou, who closed his eyes and snorted.
“…Well, it’s a start.”
Handa’s fragile spirits crumbled again. What was wrong? Hadn’t he done it right? What had failed? And how could he fix it? All these questions crossed his head like lightning, but the only thing that came out of his mouth were some pitiful babblings. Luckily enough, Megane was very curious and he took the initiative.
“Hasn’t he done it properly?” Raimon’s winning ‘ace striker’ asked.
“It is not that you have not done it properly, Handa…” The adult said, placing a hand in Handa’s shoulder, trying to comfort him. “It is simply that… perhaps it would be better for you guys to explain it to him. Sakuma?”
“Yes, Commander!” Sakuma said, diligent.
“I told you to close your trap, Fudou. Let me talk once and for all! Tsk…” Sakuma gazed at Handa. “You see, here, in Teikoku we have managed to summon seven different kinds of penguins: the green ones, the orange ones, the yellow ones, the cerulean ones, the red ones, the indigo ones and the violet ones. As you already know, the reds are the ones we used for Koutei Penguin Ichi Gou, which are fairly aggressive but really strong. The indigo ones are used for Koutei Penguin Ni Gou, since they are more docile and easy to control. And the violets are the ones we are trying to summon now, which are necessary to use Koutei Penguin San Gou; in other words, the ultimate penguins, seeing as they are strong, obedient and perfect to be used for advanced techniques.”
“And… the green ones? What do you use them for?” Handa asked.
“For… nothing, really. Up to the red ones, the rest are useless.”
“Who ya callin’ useless, yer patch-wearing freak?” The penguin answered back. ”The problem’s yer don’t know how to use us properly ‘cause yer a bunch of idiots!”
“You don’t have the strength to be used alone in any sort of shoot hissatsu.”
“Yet ya call us for yer Koutei Penguin 7, yer moron.”
“Yes, along with the other six types.”
“Ya can get by without us, then! I'm still wonderin' wha tha Hell ya've called me fer now…”
Handa raised his hand timidly.
“E-excuse me, mister penguin… I was trying to summon violet penguins for Koutei Penguin San Gou, but it hasn’t come out very well…”
The face of the penguin turned into an expression of annoyance and even repugnancy.
“…Who’s this bloodless dolt?”
“S-Shinichi Handa! I-I’m really sorry…”
“Yer even worse than these,” the animal snorted. “And ya hope to control a penguin squad with that attitude? Don’t make me laugh; we’ve got our pride, ya know! We’d never let a feeble like ya boss us ‘round!”
The young midfielder got totally dejected.
“Once again, come on! I don’t want to see you lazing around!”
Raimon’s three players took their positions again to fire another Death Zone 2.
“Oono, Kennya! Get ready!”
“Yes, Genda!” They both said in unison, placing themselves at both sides of the goal. They raised their arms in the air while Genda, impassive and with his arms folded, felt a gigantic rock wall appearing behind his back.
“Shin! Mugen no Kabe!”
The ball strongly clashed against the rocky barrier, but, once again, it was no use. The technique was too powerful to be surpassed with an incomplete hissatsu like that. And, even if they could master it, the foe hissatsu had already reached the limit of its power, while theirs was still so green. It used to take weeks, sometimes months, to evolve a hissatsu to its next level; it was impossible for them to break that wall in a single day. Or that’s what they thought, at least.
“Coach Hitomiko, I don’t think we can do it…” The young Kidou said, exhausted. The coach just frowned.
“And this is the Raimon that never gives up? Come on! I thought you were a little more daring! How disappointing.”
Endou stood watching his mate for a few seconds before talking.
“Come on, Yuuti. The worst we can do is lose heart! Trust coach, she knows what she’s doing!”
“…You’re right, Endou. Come on, let’s keep on trying.”
“Yes, captain. Let’s go,” Shadow said quietly.
“Wait a second, guys. I’ve just come up with something…”
The three of them gathered together while Endou explained them his plan.
“Come on, Handa-kun, get out of there.”
Raimon’s midfielder was sitting on a corner, facing the wall, absolutely depressed.
“That penguin doesn’t know what he’s saying,” Megane continued. “Don’t you think that, if he knew you couldn’t do it, Kidou-san wouldn’t even have taken the trouble to try to help you?”
“That’s it, that’s it!” Miyasaka said vigorously. “Also, you have come so far already: you have finally summoned a penguin! Although it’s a nasty piece of work. But if you manage to control him, you’ll be able to control all the others!”
Shinichi finally gave a sign that he was alive: he turned his head and stared at his mates.
“…Do you really think so? I dunno if I’ll be able to do it…”
Megane adjusted his glasses, which shined brightly for a second.
“Think about it, Handa-kun. No one has ever been able to make use of those penguins. It’s your chance to show your talent to the world!”
“Yeah, you will surely manage to make good use of Koutei!”
“…Who’s Koutei?” Handa asked, as disconcerted as usual.
"That's how I called the green penguin! Now run; if you take too long, he'll go again!"
Still apprehensive, Handa stood up again as he followed Miyasaka, who broke into a run and moved away from there, with his eyes. Megane leaned on Handa and sighed deeply.
"See, Handa-kun? That's what happens when you let a kid do the work of a professional. 'Koutei'… Hah! So lame!"
"How'd you've called it, Megane-kun…?"
Megane blinked a few times and quickly averted his gaze to the opposite direction.
"…W-who cares anymore, anyway? But I'm sure I could have come up with something much better!"
Handa let out a light guffaw before breathing deeply and going out to meet the penguin.
"Look what you have done. Do you enjoy saying such things to someone you do not even know?" The adult Kidou scolded.
"Bah. He's useless without a backbone; he so is an’ that's that."
"That 'useless without a backbone' might want to give you the recognition you deserve. He might be the only one in here who is actually willing to do it."
The penguin stood watching the coach, curious.
"Handa has been fighting hard to become a great soccer player," Kidou went on, "and if someone can use you properly, that is him. He may not have much Teikoku spirit, but he definitely has great game vision. Maybe not being as obstinate as us with the attack will help him hit on an idea."
"Tsk, okay, fine!" The penguin sighed after a pause. "I'll give him a chance. But I’m outta ‘ere if I see he ain’t worth it!"
“…I’ll try my best, Koutei-san.”
Handa, who had just come to the penguin’s and the other Teikoku members’ encounter, had listened to the whole conversation. His look, more confident than before after knowing of the support his ex-teammate was offering him, gave the aquatic bird some hopes. It folded its flippers before talking.
“I won’t go easy on ya, punk.”
“…I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Kidou nodded, smiling a little.
“Sakuma, Fudou; take charge of Megane and Miyasaka. I will train with these two.”
“What? Do I have to take care of the four-eyes and the girly-boy blondie?”
“No complaining, Fudou.”
“…You owe me a really big one, Kidou,” Fudou growled.
The adult Kidou took the penguin and Handa out of there, still looking back from time to time, worried about what Fudou could do.
“It’s a quite strange idea, captain,” Shadow said with his always impassive voice.
“But it makes sense per se. In fact, that’s how we first created Death Zone 2.”
“Then quit doubting and let’s give it a try!”
The three of them stood up again and looked at the front. Their determined gazes made Hitomiko smile.
“Come on, guys, this is it!”
The ball shot out upwards at the same time as the boys jumped. This time, nonetheless, the coordination between them wasn’t the predominating factor; instead, they let their own impulses guide them. The will to improve, to achieve a common goal; all their individual efforts were giving birth to the strongest Death Zone 2 of them all. The triangle formed by the three boys sparkled more than ever before, even though each one kept his own time, speed and style. And, eventually, all being one, they broke up their deathly formation, jumping even higher and kicking the ball all at once from above. An enormous dark sphere was generated after that collision.
That was not a hissatsu where the players would have to restrain themselves or act like their teammates. Their individual strengths and styles were what fed that strange evolution of Teikoku’s original Death Zone; that was something that they had forgotten with time. But, when they all understood that that was what the technique was lacking to excel itself, they shouted triumphantly:
“Death Zone 2… G2!”
The glow of the ball was even bigger than the goal or the wall made by Genda, Oono and Kennya. It wasn’t easy, but, finally, the ball broke through Mugen no Kabe and strongly pierced the goal, leaving the goalkeeper and the defenders lying on the floor, totally beaten.
“Well done, guys. You’ve finally understood it,” Kira celebrated with a smile on her lips.
“It was all thanks to your support, coach Hitomiko” Mamoru answered cheerfully.
“Thank you, coach,” Kidou and Yamino said at once.
“Not at all. It’s my job, after all. Genda, Kennya, Oono!”
“Yes, coach!” The aforementioned shouted, standing very straight and almost in a military position.
“Good work on your part too.”
“Thank you so much for the flattery, coach Kira!”
Kidou and Endou couldn’t stop getting surprised every time they saw how perfectly controlled their former coach had Neo Japan’s players and, hence, Teikoku’s as well. Shadow wouldn’t get surprised. Never. Ever. Or so it seemed, at least.
“Come on, head to the showers; you stink like wild baboons,” the talented tamer ordered, laughing softly. Her pupils would have laughed too if it weren’t because they were too surprised by the fact that the always cold Hitomiko Kira had made a joke.
Handa finished scribbling on the paper.
“I must admit I like tha idea, punk.”
“I would have never thought of it that way, Handa. You have pleasantly surprised me.”
Handa flushed and laughed nervously; he was rarely congratulated like that.
“Are you really okay with it, Koutei-san…?”
“Yeah, sure. It’s at least a better use than wha this bunch asks of me.”
“Are you ready to give it a try?” The coach asked.
“What? So soon…?”
“Let’s go for it, I can’t wait to put it into practice! An’, by da way…”
Without saying a word, the penguin placed one of its wings in Handa’s mouth; the boy, although incredibly surprised and even scared, let the bird do as it pleased.
“Keep calm, punk! Feel a pro’s flipper in yer mouth,” the penguin calmed down, moving its flipper around until it finally properly placed it in Shinichi’s mouth. “Can ya feel how’s it settled?”
The disconcerted midfielder nodded lightly. Kidou didn’t know what the Hell that silly emerald bird was doing either.
“Blow now. Let’s see what happens.”
Handa obeyed, and a sweet whistle came out of his lips. The penguin frowned, telling him with its gaze to put it forward. Finally, Shinichi whistled strongly, just how Kidou, Sakuma or Fudou would do, and felt how, under his feet, the ground shook lightly. At that moment, a squad of portentous violet penguins emerged from the ground, taking up a stance in front of the boy.
“Have you called us, sir?”
The boy opened his eyes wide and nodded vigorously as Koutei withdrew its wing from Handa’s mouth.
“It… it was me, right? Was my whistle what summoned them?” Handa asked, still fearful that the answer would be ‘no’.
“That’s it, punk. A token of me gratitude fer… uh, trustin’ me. Yeah…”
Raimon’s player, moved, couldn’t help hugging the green penguin and, next, the adult Kidou. His eyes were equally filled with tears and gratitude.
“Let’s get down to work, Handa!” Kidou said in high spirits.
Shinichi, Koutei, the violet penguins and Kidou jumped into the field, leaving behind the papers where Handa had drawn. They didn’t need them anymore; the boy had the idea perfectly etched in his memory. Among that muddle of lines, doodles and hideously drawn penguins, a sentence could be partly identified. The name of the hissatsu Handa was about to create.
Fudou whistled unwillingly, but his experience allowed him to call violet penguins even like that. Sakuma and Miyabino were looking from the distance, as they weren’t able to do the same. They had decided to keep themselves out until Raimon players could shoot, be Fudou’s methods whatever they were to make them achieve that goal.
“Four-eyes, blondie, c’mon; I’ll teach you how it’s done.”
“Fudou-kun, you should be more respectful to us!” Megane argued.
“I’m in charge here, so if you don’t like my methods, you can get lost and abandon that bore of a chum of yours.”
Both Megane and Miyasaka averted their gazes, anxious. Fudou scared them, but they had promised to help Handa and, after all that he had already achieved, they didn’t want to let him down. Miyasaka was the first to decide to talk.
“Okay! I’m willing to do whatever it takes, Fudou-san!”
“Me… me too! We’re at your command!”
The bad-tempered former captain of Shin Teikoku smiled an evil smirk.
“Alright. Koutei Penguin San Gou’s generally a hissatsu performed by two midfielders and a forward. But, seeing how the blondie looks like, I’d say he’s a defender.”
Fudou hit the nail on the head. Miyasaka felt bad for not playing a more proper role for the hissatsu, but he chose his position to be able to be like his senpai, Ichirouta Kazemaru.
“Moreover,” he continued, “as every combination hissatsu, it unites the strength of the ones who put it into effect. And the four-eyes seems pretty weak to me.”
Megane tried to seem offended. How dare he tell Raimon’s ace player something like that, his eyes queried. But, deep inside, he knew he was completely right. He was a forward only technically and out of simple pig-headedness, but he would rarely play in that position. And that only when he played at all; if not because Raimon was a team where team spirit predominated, Megane would have been nothing but a benchwarmer.
“But…” Fudou ended, “I guess something can be done. Penguins, get ready! And you two, keep up with my moves if you can!”
They all rose in the air, but, despite Fudou’s and the penguins’ help, it was a shambles. Miyasaka couldn’t stay in the air, and Megane’s final heel kick, besides weak, barely brushed the ball. The sphere didn’t even aim at the goal, but it fell to the ground like a piece of lead.
“Pathetic,” Fudou growled.
Megane, hurt, stood up.
“O… once again! Let’s go, Miyasaka-kun!”
Fudou folded his arms and smiled slightly. Those idiots, although they didn’t have strength or talent, at least had some guts. Carefully thought, though, the original Koutei Penguin San Gou was already performed by a talentless and gutless idiot and would still come out quite nicely. Fudou directed a grim gaze toward Sakuma, who was slightly disconcerted, but retorted it anyway, frowning and angry although he didn’t even know why.
This affair of theirs might even work out well… What am I saying; they better work it out well. I don’t want to lose my precious time for nothing.
As usual, nonsense.
Chapter 4: Doubts
Welcome once again to a new chapter of the epic of Shinichi Handa! This one is still super old, but it's the last one of its kind. From here on, they should improve... a little.
I can't lie to you guys: I'm really excited about what's going to happen here, even if I shouldn't, because it's still worthless in every sense. All in all, I really didn't know how to deal with this exact chapter back when I wrote it. I racked my brains to make it remotely enjoyable and, at the same time, link it to what the real crux of the matter will be. Ideas won't stop coming to me about the main part, and I don't even know how I'll deal with them all, but, hey, that's what makes it fun, I guess.
Once again, I would want to thank Heather, since I can't always find a nice way to phrase my sentences and she is always there to lend me a hand with that or any other matter. Special mentions to Py (MimiFlieder) and Rae too for always giving me their opinion. Feedback is always cool. ;u;)b
Enough ranting for a day! Gosh, will I ever shut up. So, please enjoy the most random chapter so far. uvu
“Weren't there six of you?” The eternally bad-tempered Akio Fudou asked with a low voice.
A day had passed since, with the help of Yuuto Kidou and Koutei, Shinichi Handa had managed to learn how to summon penguins like a real professional. However, at the present time, only three of the six boys who had been training at Teikoku the previous day were there again.
“Exactly, Fudou. There were,” the young Yuuto Kidou answered curtly, accompanied by Kakeru Megane and Ryou Miyasaka. “The rest are already done with what they had to do here.”
“…Are you telling me I'm in charge of taking care of the dead losses? You'll pay for this, Kidou. You know I can't stand hopeless people, and you bring them to me in twos. So, what about Wishy-Washy?”
“Don't call him that—poor Handa isn't to be blamed for not standing out. He's done here and has stayed at Raimon with Endou; it seems like he had prepared one of his 'special trainings' for him.”
All those present bar one shuddered: that one was the young and innocent Reiichi Miyabino, who, for the better or the worse, knew nothing about the inhumanly brutal training sessions Raimon's energetic captain subjected his friends and teammates to.
“…Serves him right for whining for someone else's help. What an idiot,” Inazuma Japan's joker midfielder grumbled.
“Leave him alone; he's doing his very best, at least. That's very commendable.”
“Yeah, whatever. And what are you doing here, Kidou-kun?”
“I came to lend you a hand with Miyasaka and Megane's training. At the end of the day, they're learning our hissatsu.”
“Oh, this is just PERFECT. One more dead loss to take care of.”
“Hey, Handa! It's been so long since we last trained together!”
Ryuugo Someoka, both Raimon's and Inazuma Japan's forward, grabbed Handa round the neck very affectionately as he ruffled his hair.
“Y-you're hurting me…! Help me, capt'n!”
“Ha ha ha! You guys look so happy!”
The founding trio were in the middle of the incredible soccer field that the Raimon high school owned. When he knew of what Handa was trying to achieve, Someoka couldn't refuse to help him. After all, both he and the rest of those present were experts on the subject of summoning.
“Why did you bring me here, capt'n…?”
“To help you, of course! After all, we know how to summon too at Raimon!”
“I don't know if this is exactly what Handa needs, Endou.”
“Don't be silly, Shu-shu; help is always welcome! Right, Shin-shin?”
“Err… Well, sure, but… I-I'm not sure. I don't know if I'll be able to…”
“Don't worry, Handa-san! You'll see how, if we all club together, we'll pull it off!”
He knew he shouldn't, but Handa felt slightly frustrated. Soccer has nothing to do with age, but, even so, being helped by the young Toramaru Utsunomiya left a slight taste of jealousy and even depression on the already injured self-esteem of the only founder of the Raimon team that didn't make it to the FFI. It's not that he was ashamed of it; he would recognize that, despite his young age, Utsunomiya was much better than him, but he was upset to think that those who were once the best players of Japan had barely had any representation at all at the world championship.
“Let's go, Handa—I'll show you how it's done!” Someoka said, ready and willing.
“But how did you learn, Someoka-kun?”
“Heh, you know Dragon Crash isn't mine, but his evolved forms are. I only used what I learnt from others to make up my own soccer, just like you will have to do.”
“What 'bout you, capt'n…?”
“I learnt thanks to grandpa's notebooks, you know that. And Gouenji learnt from me! But, of course, each of us adapted it to his own style.”
“Well, yes; I based my Bakunetsu Storm on Endou's technique, but only because it seemed like a nice way to power my shot up. It's pretty simple, really.”
“Err… To be honest, what I do is more about powering the kick up. I'm not even sure why captain has brought me here, ha ha…”
“We all can help in some way, Tora-tora! What do you think, Shin-shin? Shall we give it a try?”
“Uh… Yeah. Let's go.”
From an objective point of view , Handa was the one who seemed to be in the lowest spirits out of everyone.
“That was actually pretty pitif-” Kidou cut himself short as soon as he saw his teammates' deeply disappointed faces after trying to perform, once again, the technique they were supposed to be practising. “…I mean, improvable. Do you want to go over the theory again?”
“We already have it at our fingertips, Kidou-kun!” Megane piped up. “Jump, spin and kick. What else would one have to know?”
“Well, that and the previous work.”
“Previous work?” Miyasaka repeated, disconcerted.
“Wait, what? Fudou, didn't you tell them what they have to do with the penguins before they can shoot?”
“Tch, of course not. I won't waste my breath on obvious remarks.”
“Gosh, what even…” Kidou looked down and sighed deeply at Fudou's attitude, shaking his head from side to side in pure exhaustion. He slowly rose his head again and gazed at Megane and Miyasaka through his goggles; the same goggles that, once, had allowed him to learn and master the same soccer he was now trying to teach those newcomers. Terrible and yet fond memories from the past struck him for a second, but his eyes were so perfectly hidden under those lenses that no one could have ever known. That was, after all, Teikoku's style. “Tell me, how do you expect penguins to help you if they don't trust you?”
“They don't… trust?” Miyasaka inquired again, tilting his head slightly. “Wasn't that what Handa had to do?”
“There's no point in him summoning penguins if you won't be able to help him shoot, guys.”
“And how does one make penguins trust them?”
“That's easy. Showing them your strength as soccer players will be enough.”
There was an uncomfortable silence at Teikoku's field until Fudou burst out laughing sardonically.
“…I don't get it.”
“There is nothing to understand, Shin-shin; everything comes from the inside!”
“And how am I supposed to bring it out…?”
“Um… I bring it out from my heart!”
“What I do is gather energy on my foot.”
“Just like my Dragon Crash.”
However much Raimon's captain was set on it, the players' meeting wasn't making the midfielder's ideas any clearer. In fact, the little he had learnt next to Kidou and Koutei seemed to be vanishing from his head with every word his teammates spoke. The silence that had been formed was broken by the person who talked last.
“Handa, what about my Wyvern Crash? Is it something like that that you want to pull off?” Someoka asked cheerfully, still resolute in helping his old friend.
“Hmm, yeah, I think so…”
“Hah hah, you should've started from there! I'll lend you a hand! C'mon!”
Ryuugo gripped Shinichi from the wrist and lugged him off to the closest penalty point, though not before picking a ball up. Mamoru, of course, didn't need a single word to realize that he had to go with them; he stood in front of the goal and got ready.
“Come on, Some-some!”
“Get ready, Endou!”
Someoka jumped and fell on the ball, bouncing on it and performing a somersault backwards. An almighty roar at his back was the only sign that anticipated the arrival of the powerful winged dragon that, as soon as it got next to the person who had called it, began to gather an enigmatic bright blue energy inside of its mouth. In perfect sync with the player, the dragon shot its powerful cerulean beam as soon as Someoka shot, imbuing it with all of the heraldic power the beast possessed.
“Wyvern Crash V3!!”
A broadside of explosive punches rained over the ball as soon as it got close enough for the Cerberus to reach it with his hands.
“Bakuretsu Punch Kai!!”
Although each blow would weaken the shot more and more, and despite the fact that Endou's hissatsu's speed had risen considerably since the last time he used it in a match, Someoka's shot ended up beating the goalkeeper's defence and pierced the net strongly. The author of the fierce shot laughed cheerfully and gave the keeper a knowing thumbs-up.
“It's amazing, Some-some! You keep getting stronger and stronger!”
“I'd better, Endou! I won't let anyone surpass me once I've gotten this far.” After proclaiming these words, he turned around and looked at Shinichi. “Did you watch carefully, Handa?”
The aforementioned nodded, sceptical. After witnessing the kind of power that, silly him, he had tried to achieve, he couldn't help becoming depressed. How was he supposed to ever do something like that?
Someoka didn't take long to wrap his arm around his friend's shoulders. The rest of the boys got closer too and smiled at him.
“You'll manage to do it.”
Their smiles didn't last for long, though; a powerful glare lighted up the already sunny soccer field, blinding all those present momentarily.
And they whistled.
Two full penguin squads, each made up of five birds, emerged from the ground as usual.
They stood watching the two boys.
A general laugh, similar to the echo of the quack of a duck, greatly discouraged Raimon's least recognized players.
“Are we really good for anything, Megane?”
“O-of course, Miyasaka-kun! That's what captain says, at least…”
“Come on, come on, don't be like that. You can do it. After spending so much time with Endou, you should already know that anything can be achieved with enough effort.”
“B-but…! We aren't like you, Kidou-kun! We don't have any talent whatsoever, and-”
“JUST QUIT BLUBBERING ALREADY, GODDAMMIT!”
Fudou exploded. He couldn't stand all those moaning idiots any more, and at that point, the situation had escalated into a parade where the real 'crème de la crème' of the world of stupidity had been exhibited. He clenched his fists and jaw, repressing the need to slap them both in the face.
“CAN'T YOU DO ANYTHING OTHER THAN WHINE? For fuck's sake, the other day you made a good impression on me, but I see that it was nothing but an isolated moment of lucidity! I'm through with helping these clots!”
“F-Fudou, wait! Give them another chance!” Sakuma yelled as Fudou left, more worried about Kidou's efforts ending up being useless rather than about Miyasaka and Megane themselves.
Fudou turned his head a bit and gazed at the newcomers.
“…So another chance, huh?”
Fudou hesitated, but he soon made up his mind. He pointed at a basket full of balls that was at the Raimon players' back as a curt 'help yourselves' came out of his lips. The aforementioned, although scared, followed the orders of the former captain of Shin Teikoku and each of them picked a ball up. With a simple gesture with his finger, Fudou indicated Miyasaka and Megane to leave the balls on the floor and, as soon as they touched the ground, he frowned, smiled a malevolent grin and pointed at the Raimon players.
Instantly, the five violet penguins Fudou had called plummeted viciously against Miyasaka and Megane, who, surprised and terrified, stood motionless in the place.
“What are you doing standing around, you morons? Show the penguins that you can face them! Come on!!”
Miyasaka, although insecure, took the initiative; he hurtled forward with a serious expression on his face, looking at the penguins intently and trying, somehow, to intimidate them. Following the newcomer's example, Megane, who was shaking like a leaf, hastened in his same direction.
“And… and what now, Megane?” Miyasaka asked while running.
“WHAT? Don't you know what to do!?”
“Not at all~! It's just that Fudou scares me!”
“…T-those penguins are going to eat us alive…!” Megane whined, on the very brink of crying while running.
An angry voice that came from behind the penguins told them in a yell to stop messing around and to worry about keeping the ball at all costs.
Miyasaka decelerated slightly and frowned a bit for a second.
“Maybe…! Yes! Let's dodge them, Megane!”
“That is the only thing we can do…! Let's show them we aren't just a bunch of good-for-nothings!”
“…Yes!,” Megane replied, suddenly pumped up. “Let's go, Miyasaka-kun!”
Kakeru Megane stopped dead and, with a quick glance, he analysed the three penguins that were coming straight at him. A series of panels full of data appeared before him, allowing him to interpret in a matter of seconds the birds' movement patterns.
Split seconds before the Arctic animals could charge at him, he managed to dribble the ball between them and go through the only chink they left; nevertheless, Megane's dreadful control made him lose the ball in the last second and it was sent out to the right, with no one to take over it.
Ryou Miyasaka accelerated as much as possible and began to zigzag quickly from side to side at such speed that one could hardly see him, just the way his senpai had taught him to do.
When the penguins caught up with him, he disappeared for an instant and appeared again behind them, but the ball wasn't at his feet anymore; his habit of running alone at the athletics tracks had made him forget about the sphere at the worst time possible, from focusing too much on the simple act of dodging the animals.
Miyasaka and Megane looked at each other as the expression on their faces changed. One could feel how sorrow was seizing them little by little and without fail. Finally, the youngest and yet the tallest of them both hustled to hug Raimon's 'ace striker' as he burst into tears. Nonetheless, a friendly hand placed over Miyasaka's shoulder brought them back to the real world.
Both players turned to the penguins, which they saw gracefully on their knees, offering them a subtle bow. Surprised and astonished, they stopped crying.
“What… what are they doing?” The everlastingly curious Miyasaka asked.
“Tch. Somehow, they've recognized your talent,” Fudou muttered as he moved closer to them along with Sakuma. “Even though I would have qualified that talent as non-existent.”
“B-but we lost! We didn't manage to keep the ball!” Megane whined, eyes still brimming with tears.
“It has nothing to do with beating them or not,” Sakuma hurried to say, through with keeping himself aside from the conversation. “The main thing is to show what you've got. And it looks like you managed to do it. They accepted you.”
“Really? W-we did it, Miyasaka-kun! We did it for real!”
That time it was Megane who hugged Miyasaka, but the excitement was violently rooted out by the insensitive Fudou.
“Of course you didn't do anything yet, you bunch of idiots.”
They had to cover their eyes so light wouldn't hurt them. In spite of the dazzling flash, Mamoru tried to catch a glimpse of what or who had caused such a shining explosion.
“Kanon? That's you, right?”
After a few seconds, when the light disappeared, the group of friends could see how, in fact, Kanon Endou, Mamoru's great-grandson come from the future, was standing before them.
“Guess what, Hii-jiichan~!”
“What? Will you explain me what's going on, Kanon? Quit all this secrecy!”
“Ah… Y-yes, sure. I know you don't like that.”
Mamoru, quite ashamed of hurting the feelings of his only known descendant, held him between his arms dearly before carrying on talking, to which the young one could only respond with a loving squeeze and a happy sigh, much similar to those that Mamoru would let out whenever he would meet his grandfather, Daisuke Endou. Mamoru's mates stood watching the scene with a smile on their lips; they all cherished that cheerful and scatterbrained boy that so greatly resembled their captain, both in looks and personality, even if some cherished him that bit more than others.
“Come on, spit it out. What brought you here?”
“You see…~ I wanted to propose something to you, I hope it won't sound too weird! Umm, do you remember that you told me about the Inazuma Eleven?”
“Of course I do! I have told you about them a lot of times. It was an awesome team, the best this high school has ever known!” Mamoru turned around and smiled nervously at his teammates as he felt all of their gazes nailing onto him. “…No offence meant, guys.”
“Well, I don't think that's true!” Kanon said, sullen. “I think you are the strongest of them all, Hii-jiichan!”
“Ha ha…! I think you're asking for too much, Kan-!” Mamoru stopped dead both talking and scratching his head as soon as he felt again the penetrating glances of his friends on the nape of his neck. The only one who wasn't looking at the captain any more was Handa, who thought that, at least when it came to him, Mamoru was right. He would never be a player worthy of Raimon. A player everyone could be proud of, a valuable member of the team. Thus, immersed in his own sorrow, he let out a soft sigh, imperceptible for the rest.
“Not at all!” The great-grandson answered back. “And you'll see it for yourselves!”
“And how are you going to do that, Kanon?” Gouenji said, coming closer to the boy and barging in on the conversation.
“I'm going to bring the Inazuma Eleven here in a week so you can play against them and see for yourselves that you can beat them!”
A rather loud 'what' came out of the mouths of all those present.
“Miyasaka, Megane. Are you ready?”
“Yes!” The aforementioned answered in unison.
“Wait a second, Kidou-kun,” Fudou interrupted, showing a mischievous smile. “These two are mine.”
After thinking about it for a few seconds, Raimon's strategist nodded, thus giving his informed consent to Fudou to deal with the matter himself.
“All right, idiots. Let's see what you can do. Oi, Miyabino! You'd better do your job properly!”
Miyabino, who hadn't moved from the goal at all, not even to watch Miyasaka and Megane facing the penguins, nodded nervously and got ready to face whatever could come. If anything at all came.
To Fudou's signal, Megane, Miyasaka, the penguins and Fudou himself hurtled towards the goal, him being the one dribbling the ball.
The icy animals followed and surrounded the trio as they rose in the air. They created a dimensional space that held the ball inside of it and injected potency to it; a clear influence of Teikoku’s game and its Death Zone. They all spun around the soccer ball to, eventually, hit it at the same time by a heel kick at the cry of ‘Koutei Penguin San Gou, G3’. The penguins took care of correcting the trajectory of the shot, sending it, finally, towards the goalpost.
Miyabino jumped and gathered energy around his hands, pounding immediately on the ball with a violent plummet as if he were a needle, while shouting 'Power Spike.' As hard as he tried, the young goalkeeper could do nothing against the impressive power of the shot that, clearly, had finally been completed.
Cheers and shouts of joy did not stop at Teikoku's field, while the most intense were, undoubtedly, Kakeru's and Ryou's. Yuuto, Akio and Jirou shared smiles of complicity between each other, while Reiichi, although sore, couldn't repress the need to join the lively celebration.
A rather cheerful melody about power in palms and putting in everything to protect it blasted out of nowhere all of a sudden.
Kidou, who recognized the ring tone of his phone, hurried to answer, asking his mates at the same time to keep their voices down.
“Tell me, Endou.”
“Yuuti! Quick, you guys have to come back to Raimon!”
“What the-? What happened?”
“I'll tell you in person! Hurry up!”
“If you say so… We'll be right there, Endou. See you in a bit.”
Kidou hung up and looked at his teammates, frowning slightly.
“Megane, Miyasaka. We're off.”
Not before duly taking their leave of their instructors, and especially Fudou, the three boys left Teikoku as quickly as possible. As Fudou smiled malevolently, Miyabino, from a distance, was flailing his arms and asking them at the top of his voice to come back soon. It wasn't everyday that he made new friends, after all.
“You are going to do WHAT?” The great-grandfather asked sceptically after hanging up, still unable to believe what he had just heard. Calling his old friend Kidou had been practically a reflex action.
“Is… Isn't it all right by you? They've already agreed, though!”
Mamoru didn't answer. He could not. He simply fixed his gaze on the floor and clenched his fists.
“Endou? Hey, Endou, you okay?”
“…Okay? Okay? I'VE NEVER BEEN BETTER, SHU-SHU! EVER!”
Mamoru cried out at the sky out of joy, hence surprising all of his friends. Nevertheless, what he saw next surprised him. Thus, he pointed at the place Kanon had appeared from, shrouded in a luminous explosion. He hadn't noticed it before, but there was a figure standing there. A silhouette that precisely he would never be able to erase from his mind.
“Kanon, what is he doing here?”
“Heh heh~! Well, I thought that, seeing which your opponent is, having Hibiki-san, Kudou-san or even great-great-great-grandpa would have given you an unfair advantage, since they know the team, so I've looked for someone who knows you all very well and who is also a great coach~!”
That man came closer slowly, and what at first was a silhouette kept becoming sharp until it finally gave way to a perfectly visible body, even though most of those present couldn't believe what their eyes were showing them.
“C-capt'n, that… That's…”
“Yes, Shin-shin. That man over there is me.”
Chapter 5: Duty
Here it is—my first Inavember post... from 2016. Man, about time I got around to posting it here. I always use Inavember as an excuse to continue my old projects instead of doing standalone stuff and I never get any attention whatsoever because of it, but it still feels nice to work and contribute to these things.
Anyway, here's the 5th chapter of The Roar of the Beast, the story of how Handa came to suck a bit less! The writing should finally start getting slightly better from here on, so please look forward to that!
I haven't worked on this fic in ages, so I'll be posting a chapter per week until I run out of finished material. I'm sorry to say it won't take all that long, but, hey, if it's successful (and it won't be), I might actually get down to work on new chapters sooner than expected.
And, as always, thanks to Heather (@IshidoShuuji on Twitter) for beta reading this for me and keeping my awful English in check! What would I do without her?
"I can feel his strength from here."
"Did you learn… many new hissatsus…?"
"Let me touch your hair, deyansu!"
The original players of Raimon surrounded and pestered Mamoru Endou's adult self with questions. In a desperate attempt to pay attention to everyone and not leave any of his old friends aside, the man commonly known as Do-san tried to, somehow, answer to all of his old teammates' questions and flatteries, even if all that admiration made him feel a little uncomfortable. Away from the group, the young Endou, who had already won himself the nickname of "Endou-chi," Kidou and Gouenji looked at the scene with different eyes. Contrasting with the captain's laughter, the midfielder and the forward stared at the person who was now their coach, unable to not feel a bit uneasy about having Endou being both the captain and the leader of the team. They also wondered what kind of person could the one who was once their best friend be, and, at the same time, what kind of people they may be in the time Do-san came from.
The boys of Raimon still hadn't managed to come to terms with everything they had seen themselves involved into in just a few days: the incoming match against the legendary Inazuma Eleven, the entrance of Do-san in the team as the new coach and Raimon's newest signing, Ryou Miyasaka, who replaced the injured Shishido and who, unfortunately, still hadn't managed to totally catch up with the rhythm of the group.
The whole team had suffered of collective insomnia that night. Those who had witnessed Kanon's announcement had spent the long small hours tossing and turning in bed, unable to fall asleep out of sheer excitement. The rest had to hear of the news from Endou-chi, who phoned them one by one and, amongst nervous babbles, explained the situation to them. Nevertheless, the captain's shaky voice and the way to tell the story had only made the players worried and made them think something was wrong, since none had been able to fully understand what he was talking about.
"Okay, okay, guys, calm down…! There's a lot to do—we can't lose time in stuff like this!" Do-san said, trying to make his players stop asking questions. "We'll be facing the legendary Inazuma Eleven, the team who, forty years ago, stirred passions amongst soccer fans all over the country. I'm not exaggerating when I tell you guys that it's probably the greatest rival you'll ever face."
"That's right!" Endou-chi added. "Guys, in a week we'll have the hardest match of our lives! This is what will really decide if we're the best team in Japan or not, so we have to do our best to win! We won't let anyone beat us, be them monsters, demons from the future or legends from the past!"
All Raimon players answered to his captain's and coach's cheers with a loud and fearless shout. Gouenji and Kidou snorted at the same time and shook their heads, calling themselves fools for even considering the idea that their captain, the always unpredictable soccer freak, may have changed.
After all, Endou would always be Endou.
A genius buried in the mind of a dork, but a genius, after all. Someone's whose attitude, personality and love for his own people could change the world without he even noticing it. Endou, their captain, was one in a million.
"Okay, guys, come here for a sec."
Raimon players had been training under the guidance of Do-san for about two hours when he ordered them to gather up. Their new coach had been staring at them the whole time, arms crossed over his stomach and a serious expression on his face. Just by looking at his face, a trained eye could know what he thought about each play: blinks, frowns, eyes more open than usual. Endou, ten years later, was still not fit to play poker, but, in his job, it was a quality that allowed him to make himself understood without having to give a single instruction. Nonetheless, what no one could know was what the new coach was planning to do with all the data he had collected up until then.
"Is everyone here?" Raimon's young captain asked. The fifteen players gathered there answered 'yes' in unison. "All right, then! What's up, Do-san?"
"I've bad news for you."
A shadow had clearly been cast over the coach's spirit, even if he had tried to keep a calm expression on his face. The members of Raimon looked at each other, worried. Endou-chi was the only one who didn't take his eyes off the coach. He gulped and, just before he could open his mouth, Do-san shook his head.
"I'm afraid that, at the level you're at right now, you guys can't win."
It was obvious. They were not Inazuma Japan; in fact, they weren't even close to the strength its members had. They had a handful of its members in the team, yes, but that was not enough to face a legend such as the Inazuma Eleven. Nonetheless, everyone had potential and could become much stronger than they were. Everyone but him. What did he have? He was not an ace player, nor a kung fu master, nor had any special talent, like the one of surprising his rivals. He was plain, simple, average. One more ordinary man from the crowd, without a special skill to contribute to the team. A midfielder so little imposing that goalkeepers would stop his shots without an ounce of doubt. He wasn't a bad defender, but his lack of practice in that position made him too easy to trick. His job during matches was limited to gathering balls that came from the defence and assist forwards so they could score goals. Pure filler within the eleven players that made up the team.
And, to beat a legend, a team can't afford filler.
Shinichi Handa's spirits dropped more and more sharply every passing day.
"What do you mean we can't win?! We can achieve anything if we give our best, Do-san!" Endou-chi shouted, stunned by what his adult self had just said.
"I'll give you that," Do-san replied, "but, no matter how much effort you put in it, if you were to play right now, you would have no chance of winning. Sorry to be so blunt."
"But we're the best team in Japan!" Megane screeched. "Also, we've gone through special training to become even stronger! How can you say we don't have a chance of winning?"
"'Cause my grandpa coached that team. The Inazuma Eleven wasn't made up of good players, but of true soccer-playing beasts. Players who were under my grandpa's guidance for a very long time and who, due to constant training and conditions very similar to the ones we faced, improved incredibly fast. He might not had coached the team for as long as he coached Little Gigant, but I'd bet the members of the Inazuma Eleven could beat Cotarl's national team without breaking a sweat."
The whole team crumbled down like a house of cards.
"Don't tell them that, Do-san! Come on; don't lose heart! One must never consider a match lost before playing it!"
"They're gonna wipe the floor with us," Max said calmly as he put his hands behind his head, as if it weren't his problem.
"Guys, don't be like that! I never said we should give up already. It's just that, at this exact time, we couldn't win. I'm not gonna lie to you: we ain't gonna win this match easily, so we'll have to work very hard if we want to stand a chance of taking it. But don't think of how hard it'll be—think of the reward. Thing is, if you reach a level that can stand up to the Inazuma Eleven, you'll play the most exciting and fun match of your lives!"
"And what're… we going to do…?" Jin Kageno asked from the last row, scaring half of the team with his sudden incursion into the conversation, with that tone of voice that could scare a ghost to dead again. Do-san, who was more used to it after so many years, smiled at him and stood up.
"You all know me perfectly thanks to Endou-chi," he said, smiling, as he stirred up his younger self's hair, "so there isn't much I can teach you by myself. You've been adapting to my style for so long. Now, to evolve, much like we did back then with Inazuma Japan, you'll have to open yourselves out to new styles. Guys, you're stuck right now. It's due time for you to step out of Raimon."
"Stuck?" The little Ayumu Shourinji, also known as Shourin, asked as he scratched his cheek, trying to understand. "But we improved so much everyday during the Football Frontier!"
"Exactly. I'd say that the problem is that you've already absorbed everything Raimon had to offer. Training's the base of improvement, and you'll keep improving if you train here, but we ain't got no time to wait. We need something… drastic."
"And where're we going to train if not here, huh, Endou?" Someoka asked—probably the only person who treated his captain and his new coach in the exact same way. "Soccer fields don't grow on trees!"
"Don't fret, Someoka," Do-san answered, smiling. "It's all under control. …Or it'll be soon enough, at least. No worries."
"…What're you gonna do, Endou-san…?" Handa asked, still quite depressed due to his earlier thoughts and scared of whatever the coach might have come up with. If the ideas of the Endou he knew were already misconceived, those of the adult Endou could be ten times worse.
Do-san frowned for a few seconds after Handa's question.
"…Let's leave that for later. For now, let's call the roll." He took a look at the small board he was holding and read, "Number one: Mamoru Endou!"
"Number two: Ichirouta Kazemaru!"
"Ready to win, coach!" Kazemaru replied, eager to face such rivals.
"Number three: Heigorou Kabeyama!"
"H-here…!" Kabeyama said, shivering and sweating profusely due to a sudden urge to go to the bathroom.
"Number four: Jin Kageno!"
"…Here… Hu hu hu…" Kageno whispered, raising a hand to be seen from behind Kabeyama, who had the fright of his life when he heard his sinister voice at his back. He was close to not having to go to the bathroom after all.
"Number five: Teppei Kurimatsu!"
"I'm here, deyansu!" Kurimatsu cheered.
"Number six: Shinichi Handa!"
Handa got out of the thoughts he was deeply immersed into when he heard his coach calling him, who scowled again when he saw his reaction. Handa shook his head and hurried to confirm his attendance. Do-san whispered a soft 'oh well' before continuing.
"Number seven: Ayumu Shourinji!"
"Yeees~!" Shourin said in a lively way from the top of Kabeyama's head.
"Number eight: Sakichi Shishido!"
"He's injured," Megane hurried to say.
"I see…" Endou pursed his lips. It was obvious that that caught him off guard and he didn't like it, but he faked a smile and said, "Then, number nine: Kuusuke Matsuno!"
"I'm here." Max smiled.
"Number ten: Shuuya Gouenji!"
"Ready, coach." Gouenji nodded.
"Number eleven: Ryuugo Someoka!"
"Ready to teach those old farts a lesson, Endou!" Someoka screamed, clenching his fists and happily greeting his teeth, eager for the match to come.
"Number twelve: Kakeru Megane!"
"I'm here!" Megane said, straightening up and raising his gaze slightly.
"Number thirteen: Toramaru Utsunomiya!"
"S-sir, yes, sir!" Toramaru stuttered, still nervous about seeing his idolized captain's adult self with his very own eyes.
"Number fourteen: Yuuto Kidou!"
"Here." Kidou said with his arms crossed and a confident half smile on his face.
"Number fifteen: Gorou Tamano!"
"I'm here, Endou-sama!" The little goalkeeper said, waving his arms to be seen.
"Number twenty-one: Kageto Yamino!"
"Ready to fight, sir," Shadow sprung as if he were a war machine.
"And, lastly, number twenty-two: Ryou Miyasaka!"
"H-here, here!" Miyasaka said restless, seeing how his first match would be a very important one.
"Perfect. Guys, take the rest of the day off. Have fun and rest to your heart's content; I want you all in top shape by the time the training starts tomorrow."
Shourin's little hands pulled the coach's sleeve.
"Coach, and that 'step out of Raimon' thing?"
"Let me get everything ready properly, Shourinji. You'll see tomorrow, I promise."
"Is it something good~?" Shourin smiled, fixing his cross-shaped eyes on Do-san's, who smiled back as he stirred the little martial artist's hair.
"You're gonna love it. Now, break it up! Training is over for today!"
They all went to the shower. Do-san sat on the bench again and crossed his arms, deep in thought.
"Are you okay, coach Endou?" Aki Kino asked politely after a few minutes.
"Oh, c'mon, Aki, drop the formalities, please," Do-san smiled. "Yeah, I'm fine, but I need some time to think. No worries—you'll know what I mean soon enough."
"If you say so, coa— I mean, Endou-kun…!"
"Trust me. And, please, tell him I wanna see him later. I'll be waiting for him at the club."
All four of Raimon's managers nodded. They could all imagine whom he was referring to just by looking in his yes.
The always sincere eyes of a soccer freak.
Step out of Raimon… It sounded strange. And, also, there were those gazes he would throw at him. It was impossible to not worry. Every ,time he said something, Endou would frown. He was giving him bad looks. Something about him was making him uncomfortable, for sure. Maybe… he had turned into a bad person? Did Endou hate him in his time? Had they had a fight? What could have happened for him to act like that in front of him? He didn't want to lose him. Not him nor anyone. He had to be whom everyone expected him to be so nothing would change.
At all costs.
They locked themselves up in the club room. They grabbed one chair each and placed them back to back. They sat backwards on them, staring into each other's eyes. They placed their arms on the backs of the chairs, and the older one rested his chin on his arms so his head would be at the same height as the younger one's.
"He worries me sick. He's acting in a very weird way. Know anything?"
"I think not being strong enough has him obsessed."
"No good. Soccer's to have fun, not to torture yourself like that."
"That is what I'm trying to explain him, but he is sticking to his guns…!"
"Have you noticed anything odd in his attitude? Anything at all?"
"He trains more than usual, but he doesn't seem to feel more confident."
"When did he start behaving that way?"
"Hmm… When he decided to create a new hissatsu, I guess. He seems so committed!"
"A new hissatsu…? What kind?"
"I think it's a shot. Why?"
"…Nothing, forget it. It just doesn't ring a bell."
"Handa developing any new shot hissatsus after the FFI. Though I dunno how much our history differs."
"Tell me, Endou-chi."
"Changing the subject, what do you plan to do so we can beat the Inazuma Eleven?"
"Can't you wait to know it either?"
"Come on, we're friends! Tell me!"
"Friends? …Heh, yeah. We sure are, Endou-chi." He smiled. "But you'll have to wait, just like the rest."
Endou-chi puffed up his cheeks and looked away. Do-san laughed as he pressed his younger self's cheeks with his fingers, forcing him to let out the air on them with a sound very similar to a raspberry.
"You're so mean, Do-san."
"It's a surprise for the team—a team you're part of. But I'll tell you that I'm truly worried about Handa and we'll have to do something about that if we want to win."
Endou-chi looked at Do-san again.
"I'm worried too. He's a great player, but he gets too frustrated."
"So true. Guess what? He's become a soccer coach in my time."
The younger one jumped on his chair.
"C-coach?! Like us? For what team?"
"The Inazuma KFC. But he's formed a terribly strong team considering their age. He's an admirable coach with a very unique style."
"Wow…! Shin-shin will freak out when I tell him!"
"No can do."
"What? Why not…?"
"Handa's case is different to ours. I'm a coach because Megane managed to sign me in as such. Handa had to strive for it, very much so. He's probably much more capable than me to carry a team, but he achieved that with effort and dedication. I'm afraid it wouldn't be the same if you tell him what's gonna happen. In this case, we must let time be the one who tells Handa what life has in store for him. Don't meddle."
"…O-okay, I won't tell him anything. But, then, what are we going to do?"
"Endou-chi, a coach must know when and how to act. This time, the best way to help is to offer him the chance to face his demons all by himself. After that, all we'll be able to do is trust him. Do you trust him?"
"Of course! Shin-shin has been here for me since I opened the club! He's a fantastic player that can do many things, and a great friend too! I trust him with my life!"
"That's the spirit."
Do-san caressed the boy's hair and smiled at him. Endou-chi, on the other hand, let out a little sigh.
"I can't help but worry, Do-san."
"It's only natural. You'll learn how to pull through with time, Endou-chi. You're strong too. And, as a captain, you must set an example."
Early in the morning, his phone began to vibrate inside his pocket. He looked away from his work and hurried to take it out. He looked at it and smiled for an instant as he saw the name of his old friend reflected on the bright screen. He picked up.
"Hey. Tell me."
"Think we could meet up tonight? There's something I wanna talk to you about."
"Sure. What's it…?"
"…Wow, that's straightforward. Okay. Shall we meet at the usual place and at the usual time…?"
"Sure. I'll wait for you there."
He pressed the red button and put the phone back in his pocket. After wondering for a couple of seconds what his friend might need from him, he gazed again at the little magnetic board shaped like a soccer field and kept taking notes as he moved the colourful counters.
"…fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. We're all here, right?"
The whole Raimon answered their coach's question with a 'yes' in unison.
"Have you got everything ready, deyansu?" Kurimatsu asked, impatient. If it hadn't been for the tough training session they had undergone the previous afternoon, none of them would have been able to sleep that night either. Do-san smiled.
"No worries. Okay, guys, we'll see each other off today. I won't see many of you again until the day before the match."
"What?" Endou-chi asked, disappointed. "But you're supposed to be our coach! What good is it to have you guiding us during the match if you don't get us ready first, Do-san?"
"I'll get you ready, but I told you already: there's nothing I can teach you. But I do know how to make you improve, and that's my duty, after all."
"…Is that 'step out of Raimon' thingy you were talking about yesterday, Endou-san?" Handa asked, making sure to speak before anyone else to verify that, indeed, Do-san would make weird faces whenever he talked.
"Precisely, Handa. Guys, as I already made clear, Raimon's nothing else to offer to you all, and that's why each one of you is gonna undergo a special training outside. I won't give you any order, except to obey those who will lead you in my place: they know what I'm expecting from every single one of you and they will try to make you meet my expectations, but they have their own style and they'll apply it to your training. Take each and every one of their orders as if it were mine and try to meet their expectations too. Is that clear?"
The whole team accepted the orders in a chorus.
"Come on, Do-san; don't make us wait anymore!" Raimon's captain urged. "Give us orders!"
"Okay, okay, calm down," the coach laughed. "Are you ready? I'll only say it once."
The whole team—except Shadow—gulped and stayed still. They all stared at their new coach, who, suddenly, gazed at Raimon's number six.
"Handa, you can leave. For now, I don't need anything from you."
The whole team was astonished by these words; everyone except Handa himself. He knew that already. He wasn't any good at this, and Endou, regardless of what good of a friend he were, had realised that much. Maybe he didn't hate him in the future, but, simply, he had had the time to realise that he was good-for-nothing, unable to compete with true adversaries on an equal footing. Average. A talentless player who didn't deserve to be part of the best team of the country. The black sheep who polluted Raimon's spirit.
A burden that the team, finally, had got rid of.
"But Do-san! How can you say something like that!?"
"…It's okay, capt'n. It… it doesn't matter. Now, if you'll excuse me…"
"W-wait, Shin-shin…! Handa!"
Handa didn't wait. He headed to the club room and locked himself up, resolute to let the hours go by among tears until the rest had to go in after the training was over. He would leave before the team could see him.
A team he wasn't part of anymore.
"That was too cruel!" Endou-chi sprung, worried sick about his friend. The whole team agreed.
Do-san shook his head.
"On the opposite. I did that for his own good."
"'For his own good'? What the hell are you talking about?!" Endou-chi was going apeshit. "Since when saying something like that does anyone any good?"
"Guys, I dunno if the rest of you has noticed this, but Handa's having a very bad time. He's feeling insecure, frustrated and bad about himself. As his coach, before giving him any orders, I must talk to him in private. But you must know what you have to do before that. When we're done here, get straight out of Raimon: we won't train here today. I'll stay here with him, so no worries. And no, you can't stay either, Endou-chi."
The coach had guessed instantly that the captain was ready to be game for everything for the sake of helping his friend. Endou-chi groaned and accepted.
"I guarantee you I'm the first one who is sorry to have to be so harsh. Handa doesn't deserve everything he has to put up with, but, if he can get over it, he'll become stronger than ever. His problem isn't being weak, but the fact that he doesn't know his true potential. Since he doesn't, he can't make use of it either. If we can get him to have faith in his possibilities, to see that he isn't a hindrance for the rest, the team will have many more weapons to win the match. And, above all, Handa will finally find what he's lacking not just to be a great soccer player, but also what he's lacking to be happy at last. But that's something we will all have to collaborate on. We'll subject him to a special training. Do you all agree?"
The original Raimon, close to tears, gave its go ahead. None of them could have imagined that Shinichi was going through such a rough patch, but their coach, in barely a day, had managed to detect it perfectly. Indeed, Endou was and would always be exceptional.
"Good. Now, let's continue."
He looked at the number as his fists squeezed the shirt. How many times had he worn that uniform without being worthy of it? How many adversities had the team went through due to his negligence? Despair-driven ideas thronged in his head as he stared at that number. Raimon's six.
He threw the shirt to a corner of the club room and began to put on his school uniform instead. Once dressed again, he stood looking at what had been his soccer kit for so long. He couldn't fight the temptation to go closer and pick it up again, even though he had promised himself he wouldn't. In that same corner, without moving, Handa covered his face with the shirt and began to shed bitter and frustrated tears over it. And, regardless of that, he smiled. Because, despite all, he had managed to be a player of Raimon and had found out that, regardless of how many rough patches he had to pull through, no matter how hard it was to stay on his feet, in spite of being useless, he loved soccer. And then he understood he didn't want to ever stop playing, whether he was the best or the worst player of them all. Even if he couldn't keep playing for Raimon, he would keep playing, just as his heart asked him to.
He kissed his shirt and left it on the club's table, perfectly folded. He didn't want anyone to think he had left angry. After all, he wasn't. Not anymore.
"Stop making us wait, deyansu!" Kurimatsu complained, impatient to hear his coach talk about his plan once and for all. "We're all sick and tired of this excessive secrecy!"
"Okay, okay, calm down!" The coach laughed. No one else did. "Let's begin, then."
The whole team stared at Do-san's lips.
"Let's go in numerical order. Numbers one, three and five: Endou-chi, Kabeyama and Kurimatsu."
"What… what's wrong with us…?" Kabeyama asked, nervous.
"Until the day of the match, you'll train at Nosei."
"At Nosei Junior High, deyansu? You mean that team that looked like a petting zoo?"
"Exactly. I've talked to their coach and he's gladly accepted to have you. I think you all could learn heaps from Nosei's style: many of your skills fit in with what they practise there."
Kabeyama and Kurimatsu were a wreck. Endou had just called them animals.
"C'mon, don't make that face!" Endou-chi cheered. "Nosei is a very strong team that we had many troubles beating! I'm sure we won't go there in vain!"
Those who would be Endou's companions in that trip let out a weak and not-so-energetic 'yes' as they raised their fists unwillingly.
"…Well, moving on. Numbers two and twenty-two: Kazemaru and Miyasaka."
"Tell us, coach," Kazemaru begged. Miyasaka, for his part, was totally overjoyed at the idea of being able to train for a full week with his senpai.
"You two will go a bit further: I managed to get you two accepted at Hakuren."
"Hakuren? Isn't that at Hokkaido?" Miyasaka asked, tilting his head slightly, hoping to be wrong.
"Yes, that's where it is. But we'll get to see Fubuki again like that!" Kazemaru smiled. Suddenly, Miyasaka's hopes of being alone with Kazemaru vanished, but he was happy to train with him nevertheless.
"Glad you like the idea. Furukabu-san will take you there as soon as the meeting is over."
Kazemaru and Miyasaka nodded silently.
"Let's continue. Numbers four and seven: Kageno and Shourinji."
"Come on, come on~!" Shourin asked happily.
"You two will spend the week at Ohisama-En with the former members of Aliea Academy. I'll take you to the train station."
"With coach Hitomiko…? Training the way you did while we were injured might be good…" Kageno whispered.
"You'll see how much we improve, Kageno~!" The little martial artist said, holding the sinister defender's hands and bouncing happily. Kageno would just show a minuscule smile and leave his arms hanging so his teammate could play with them. Do-san couldn't help but smile when he realised his friends were all just the way he remembered them.
"Next up are numbers nine and ten: Matsuno and Gouenji."
"I'm with Gouenji? Well, this is gonna be interesting~" Max said among laughs. Gouenji, with his arms crossed, smiled at his forward friend.
"Something good might come out of here, Max. We have never trained together even though we are both forwards."
"I know putting you two together will lead to amazing results! You'll go to Kidokawa Seishuu."
"…To Kidokawa Seishuu?" Gouenji said, clearly uncomfortable. Going back to his old high school didn't seem like the best idea ever to him.
"No worries. The Mukata triplets have accepted without a word of complaint, and your old coach is really looking forward to seeing you again."
"Coach Mikaidou…" The fire striker sighed in an almost idyllic way. "Fine. I'll go."
"That's what I like to hear! Best of luck, guys."
Both of Raimon's forwards nodded. They seemed to be in a great mood all of a sudden.
"The next group is made up of the rest of the forwards. Numbers eleven, twelve and thirteen: Someoka, Megane and Utsunomiya."
"What? I-I have to go too?!" Megane whined, who thought he wouldn't have to go through those strange practices.
"Of course you're coming with us, Megane!" Someoka said in a loud voice, showing a thumbs up to try and cheer up his not-so-brave teammate. "Aren't you the one who is always bragging about being the best player of Raimon?"
"We'll do great, Megane-san!" The team's youngest forward encouraged.
"Heh, perfect! You'll spend the week at Zeus."
"At Zeus?!" Megane weeped again. "They're going to eat us up, they're going to eat us up…"
Unlike the so-called ace striker, Someoka and Toramaru seemed more than okay with the idea.
"Okay, let's continue. Number fourteen, Kidou. You, as an exception, will stay here at Raimon with me."
"May I ask the reason why?" Kidou inquired with a little distrust in his voice.
"You and I will cover one of Raimon's weak points. I need you to help me shape an idea I've in mind and that I'm sure will be of great help to us."
"…Of course, coach."
Do-san and Kidou exchanged a knowing smile.
"Okay. Now, numbers fifteen and twenty-one: Tamano and Yamino."
"Do we get to stay with you too, Endou-sama?" Raimon's reserve goalkeeper asked with hope in his big and round eyes. Do-san let out a little guffaw and shook his head.
"I'm afraid not. I've thought of a special training for you two with two coaches that I trust. Tamano, you'll train with Aki."
The young Aki Kino, who, along with the rest of the managers, was looking at the coach and the players in complete silence, was surprised to hear her name.
"With me, Endou-kun?"
"No, Aki, not with you, but with the Aki from my time. She's the coach of a street soccer team, though it's more of a hobby than a job. Anyway, as years pass, you'll turn into an expert goalkeeper many people could learn a lesson or two from, and that's just what Tamano needs right now. I'm sure they'll achieve something great together."
"I'll try my best to meet your expectations, Aki-san!" Tamagorou yelled at the young manager.
"…B-best of luck, Tamano-kun!" Aki smiled, confused and nonetheless glad to be of help.
Do-san nodded approvingly and looked at Shadow.
"On the other hand, Yamino will go with Haito Jikiru."
"I'm not familiar with that name, coach." Shadow said with a dry voice.
"I-I remember him!" Kabeyama stuttered. "It's that weirdo that coached Occult…! The one trying to give us evil eye! D-don't go with him, Shadow—he's dangerous…!"
"Will he help me become stronger, coach?" Shadow asked, staring at Do-san as he ignored Kabeyama.
"Definitely! Jikiru-san is a… visionary: he used hissatsu tactics when no one even knew how they worked. It was a pretty early and imperfect version, but it was effective, that's for sure. He's a genius and one of my mentors. I learnt heaps from him when I was getting ready to be a coach."
"In that case, I'll go. I'll become stronger at any cost."
"Heh! Don't push yourself too hard, Yamino," Do-san said with a calm voice as he caressed Shadow's fluffy hair. For the first time since they met him, the members of Raimons could see how the dark forward blushed, even if it was just slightly. "I'll take you with them myself before taking Kageno and Shourinji to Ohisama-En."
"At your service, coach."
"Perfect! Last, you four, girls." Do-san smiled as he looked at Raimon's managers. "I hope you won't mind going one with each of the groups. Kidou, Yamino, Tamano, I'm sorry, but you'll have to be alone."
"Wait a minute, coach Endou!" Haruna said, who had been taking notes of everything he said. "Nosei, Hakuren, Ohisama-En, Kidokawa Seishuu and Zeus… Those are five groups, and there's just four of us! Who will be the ones without support?"
"No worries, Haruna—that's been taken care of. We've got ourselves a new signing in Raimon on whom we can rely. She's getting everything ready as we speak. I'll let you meet her in person instead of talking about her."
"That's not fair, deyansu!" Kurimatsu complained. "If we're going to have a new manager, we want to meet her!"
"And you'll meet her! But she asked me to keep quiet for the moment. I can't disobey, guys. I'm very sorry."
There was a collective groan, but they all agreed to the terms and conditions.
"Then, we'll do this. Aki, please, go with the Nosei group."
"Of course, Endou-kun…!"
"Good," Do-san nodded with a smile on his face. "Haruna, would you mind going to Hakuren?"
"Of course not, coach Endou!"
"As lively as ever!" Do-san laughed. "Natsumi-ch— I mean, Natsumi."
Endou-chi raised a single brow.
"You'll go with the Zeus group," Do-san continued. "I think Megane's gonna need some firm hand."
"As you wish, Endou-san."
"…As dry as ever." The coach sighed, smiling. "And you, Fuyuka…"
"Kidokawa Seishuu, is that right?" The girl smiled and tilted her head a bit.
"You're a smart one!" Do-san returned the smile. "Okay, guys, is everything clear?"
The players answered 'yes' as one. The coach gave the order and everyone headed to their respective new training locations.
Time passed much faster than what Handa would have expected. Deep in his memories and with his eyes fixed on his shirt, each lived match brought smiles and yearning sighs out of him. Suddenly, the handle of the door made a sound: someone was trying to open it. Shinichi was surprised, since, even though he had been there for a while, he didn't think the three or four hours Raimon's practice sessions usually lasted had already gone by. He walked up to the door and pressed his ear against it.
"Handa? You're there, right?" A voice asked from the other side.
"…Capt'n?" The midfielder answered with a shaky voice.
"Almost. I'm, uh, well, 'Do-san.'"
Handa didn't reply. After a few seconds, Do-san could hear the bolt backing down and the door opening.
"C-capt'n-san," Handa whispered as soon as he had his friend face to face. "You'll… always be my captain, Endou-san."
The midfielder looked around. He was alone.
"Where are the others…?" He asked in a thin voice.
"They left. I wanted to talk to you in private, Handa. I hope you don't mind."
"N-no, of course not…!" Shinichi said as he looked down. He couldn't stand looking at Endou in the eye.
The coach closed the door after him and hurried to hug the young player tight. Shinichi, surprised and almost scared, blushed furiously and hugged back.
"I'm truly sorry."
"C-c-capt'n… I… am sorry I'm not stronger…" Shinichi stuttered as he hugged tighter.
"Handa, you're an exceptional player, but you must trust yourself more. With enough training, you'll play on the same level as the best, and, as your coach, I promise you'll achieve that goal. But you too must promise me something."
"…Y-yes?" Handa sobbed, looking up at Endou's face.
"Promise me you'll never forget that you are a Raimon player, and that means there's nothing you can't do. Trust your chances and you'll overcome any obstacle."
"Does that mean that I'm n-not… kicked out of the team…?"
"…What?" Endou asked, scowling slightly. "Of course not! Since when do we leave anyone behind? We improve and face our rivals together; that's the spirit of Raimon."
"I… thought you didn't want me in the team, capt'n-san…"
"Each and every one of you is important. The only thing I regret is that Shishido can't play the match, but you know Kanon makes decisions without prior notice." Endou let out a little guffaw. Handa had no other choice but to smile, more because of the relief he got from knowing his old friend wasn't mad at him than because of the little joke. "You all must make up for his absence by giving your very best."
"Yeah…! I'll… give it my all!"
"That's what I like to hear," Endou said with a calm voice as he caressed the boy's hair. "One last thing."
"Don't call me 'captain-san.' It sounds so lame!" He laughed. "And, also, I have a special training saved for you. If you're up for it, that is."
Handa rubbed his eyes and nodded. In a few minutes, Do-san explained him every detail about his plan and asked him to keep it a secret for the moment.
He may not be a genius, nor a star, nor even special, but something deep inside his chest begged him to keep going no matter what. His body let out a furious roar that resounded with more strength every passing day and confirmed all of his suspicions: the brave Shinichi Handa, without anyone ever noticing it, had become a soccer freak.
Do-san walked out of the club. Handa, with renewed spirits, faith in himself and in his captain recovered and a growing desire to carry out his purposes, before following him, picked up what was his, firmly determined to honour that number that, long ago, had kept him company as he became one of the best players in the country.
"Sorry for making you wait," Endou laughed as he scratched the nape of his neck. His friend was sitting at Rai Rai Ken's bar, the ramen restaurant that, ten years ago, had served them as a meeting point.
"Welcome, Endou," Seiya Tobitaka greeted him from the other side of the counter. "The usual?"
"Yep! Thanks, Tobs."
Tobitaka let out a guffaw—it had been way too long since he last heard that nickname. He turned around and began to cook the food, letting the two friends who had met up there talk in peace.
"Well, Mamoru, you'll tell me…" Shinichi Handa said, resting one of his elbows on the bar and looking at his old teammate with a little smile on his lips.
Endou sat down on the stool left to Handa's and looked at him with a serious face.
"You see, Shinichi."
In a few minutes, Mamoru told him all about what had happened during the last few days, since Kanon's arrival until the training sessions. He discreetly omitted the part regarding his friend's young self.
"I see… So your great-grandson can't sit still, huh…? Just like you."
"He's a little rascal! Look what he's done! If mixing up our worlds wasn't bad enough…" Endou chuckled. "But I'm not here for him."
"Yeah, you told me. What's up with me, Mamoru…?"
"The whole team's bursting with energy, but Shinichi seems to be having lots of doubts about himself."
"…Hah, yeah, I went through a phase like that like that a few years back. Don't worry; I recovered… with time. And here I am now."
"I know, but we don't have that time at our disposal. Everyone must be in top shape for the match! I heard he was trying to complete a shot hissatsu related to summoning. Know anything about it?"
Handa turned and faced the bar. He rested both elbows on it and joined his hands together in a serious expression.
"…Unfortunately, I do."
"Anything wrong with that hissatsu?"
"Yes, Mamoru. …I worked on that technique for a very long time and tried to complete it in every possible way."
"Tried…?" Endou asked, scowling.
"…Exactly. But, despite all the effort and hours of work I put into it… I could never complete it. You ought to make him stop working on that shot, Mamoru. That hissatsu is… unworkable."
Chapter 6: Manager
Let's keep the notes simple and related to recent news. I've been studying journalism, you see, and that kind of rubs off on me. Not like I mind some quality writing for once.
And Ootani in Ares, while nothing like my portrayal of her here (I wrote this ages ago, after all, when all we knew about her were her in-game descriptions), is so adorable.
Also, thanks to Heather (@IshidoShuuji on Twitter) for always, always, always helping me with this yucky crap.
That's all. Enjoy yourselves. uvu
"Here we are, Handa. Can I trust you'll be alright?"
"Yeah, capt'n-san. I'll give it my best…!"
"That's the spirit!" Do-san smiled as he pushed Handa gently between his shoulder blades, encouraging him to move. "Remember that your training'll be different than everyone else's, so you'll have to make the most out of every second. If you ever need something, anything at all, call me and I'll help you as much as I can, though I don't think you'll need it."
"O-okay. Gotcha," Handa nodded, smiling back and trying to instil confidence to his new coach. "…Thanks for trusting me."
"Not at all. And now, go! In for the kill!"
Shinichi Handa said goodbye to Endou and headed to the entrance of the Ohisama-En.
Endou couldn't stop thinking about the conversation he had had the previous night. Shinichi Handa, even as an adult and in spite of all of his effort, had never managed to complete the technique that the young Shinichi Handa, temporary under his care, was working so hard on. He should have told him to stop trying since he would never manage to do it, but something inside him kept him from doing so: the memory of his younger self, whom he had affectionately nicknamed 'Endou-chi.'
It was shocking. They were the same person, but they could see, touch, talk to each other. They were two different people and a single one, linked by a bond that went beyond flesh or blood. The thoughts and life experiences of his young self, when they differed with his, would usually reach his mind as new memories. But, despite all, he wouldn't receive one hundred percent of what Endou-chi lived through. The rift between them was big enough for each one to have his own free will and independence in relation to the other. Ever since the worlds became one, Endou-chi had experienced countless things that Do-san could have never thought would happen, and the adult wasn't even aware of them all. It was fascinating.
Hope came back to life in the heart of that former legendary goalkeeper and, now, coach for both Raimon teams. And, then, he made his mind up.
The beast had to roar.
"I CAN'T STAND THESE COUPLE OF IMBECILES! GET THEM OUT OF MY SIGHT AT ONCE!"
"Wait, Reina-chan! Come back, please—we need you!"
"I FLATLY REFUSE TO DEAL WITH SUCH WEIRDOS! Have you even seen them?! You can't even see one's face behind so much hair, and the other one's a damn midget with a ponytail and feet the size of boats!"
"Come on, don't be like that…! I know Endou-kun's friends can seem a bit special the first time you see them, but there's no need to get up in arms."
"I'll get however I—! …Oh, God, not yet another one."
Reina Yagami, midfielder and The Genesis's second-in-command, had left the Ohisama-En's garden like a shot, chased after by a grown-up man with red hair, green eyes and dressed in a suit. A little pair of glasses with rimless frames and a shiny whistle hanging from his neck, which bounced on the man's chest with every step he took, stood out over the rest. The very moment Yagami was about to leave through the main door, she found that, at the entrance, Handa was placing his shoes with the utmost care in front of the stair that led to the rest of the house. When he looked up and saw the irate and unfriendly face of Yagami staring at him, he had to give his best and repress his survival instincts to not put his shoes back on and leave the place from where he came in without uttering a single word. Or he would have had to do it if the most absolute horror hadn't rendered useless each and every one of his motor skills.
A much more amicable face showed up above Yagami's head and offered the frightened midfielder a warm smile.
"Oh, good morning, Handa-kun. I didn't think you would arrive this early. Say, do you remember me?"
Handa blinked a couple of times before answering.
"Very good! I didn't know if you would recognise me. Well, welcome to our home. And excuse Reina-chan, she's a tad… irascible," laughed Hiroto, former member of Inazuma Japan and captain of The Genesis, as he patted Yagami's head, who immediately blushed and slapped his hand, forcing him to stop.
"Shut up, imbecile! And you, sissy, if you're staying, you could at least introduce yourself," the girl snorted, more and more irritated by the second. "My name's Reina Yagami."
Handa, still nervous, stood up and bowed quickly with his eyes closed, making it look more like a plea for his life rather than an introduction.
"My… my name's Shinichi Handa and I'm a player for Raimon! N-nice to meet you, Yagami-sama, ma'am…!"
Yagami showed a faint smile. She didn't like that reserved attitude, but that "Yagami-sama" thing sure was nice. At least, the pushover in front of him knew his place and how to treat her if he wanted to keep his life. And, at least, he didn't look as weird as his teammates.
"I guess it's my turn," the adult said unhurriedly and with a bit of happiness in his voice, smiling as he noticed Yagami was calming down. "You may call me Hiroto Kira."
Handa scowled slightly and tilted his head: something was off. Hiroto, who noticed the disconcert that his words had caused, let out a small guffaw and explained himself:
"I'm sorry—I should have supposed that would seem odd to you. My name was Hiroto Kiyama when I was your age, but Father adopted me and turned me into his legitimate son, so I inherited his surname as well."
"Say it all: his surname, his favour and his whole multinational. Lucky bastard."
Handa nodded. He wasn't sure he had got it right, but that was enough to get the gist of it.
"Well, you came here to train, didn't you?" Hiroto said, smiling kindly. "Let's go, then. Are you coming or are you staying, Reina-chan?"
"Stop calling me… t-that, cretin! Just being a couple centimetres taller than before doesn't give you the right to take such liberties!"
"I'm sorry, Yagami," Hiroto smiled as he patted her shoulders instead. "But the question is still there."
"…I guess I'll stay," she replied dryly. "I'm curious about what this guy here can do. Worst case scenario, I'll have a good laugh."
Shinichi Handa, for the better or the worse, had already mastered the fine art of taking nasty comments of that kind.
"Ah… Hello, Handa-kun… I didn't know you were coming; that's great…"
The three Raimon players who had been sent to the Ohisama-En met up and greeted each other happily. Jin Kageno and Ayumu Shourinji had arrived there the day before, but they had barely managed to practise at all due to Yagami's short temper, who was the main person in charge of supervising their training.
"Okay, I'll give you one last chance, you incompetent bunch," Yagami growled. "You'd better meet my expectations!"
A happy laughter resounded inside the big orphanage. Suddenly, a young Hiroto Kiyama showed up at the garden, still laughing.
"Don't be so harsh to them, Reina—it takes time to get used to your style."
"You shut up, Hiroto! It's Mamoru-kun who insisted on having them go through an intensive training!"
"I know, I know, but everything has its limit. Come on, let's take it easy."
"…Whatever. Hey, you, insects! Start warming up at once!"
All three Raimon players obeyed without question and began to warm up, moving around the whole garden. A simple sign from Yagami was enough to tell them to get away from there and leave the three coaches alone.
"Well, fill me in," Kiyama asked. "How are they doing?"
"The long-haired freak and the shrimp are a couple of knuckleheads," Yagami snorted. "Seeing the others, the new one will follow the same route, I assume."
"Don't get so worked up, Reina-chan," Kira laughed, Kiyama's adult self. "They're great players, but they have a very… Raimon style. If we want to teach them anything, we'll have to loosen them up a bit."
"I ain't working as a babysitter, mark my words!"
"Come on, come on, Reina, don't be like that," Kiyama smiled. "I swear we'll let you leave if you can't take it anymore. But make an effort, okay?"
Kiyama moved closer to the girl and kissed her cheek, making the young girl's face turn bright red all of a sudden and forcing her to push the boy away in fear. Kira laughed as he looked at them.
"Y-you're a pair of pigs…"
After everything that had happened between that couple, Reina had become much softer. Too soft for her own taste.
"Okay, guys! Let's start by taking a look at your hissatsus. Shourinji, Kageno, you're first. Hiroto, Yagami-chan, try to stop them. Handa, just observe and don't say a word. The objective is for Shourinji and Kageno to get with the ball where I am. Are you ready?"
All five of them nodded and got set. Shourin faced Yagami as Kageno did the same with Kiyama. About 10 metres away from their rivals, the Raimon players hurled towards the former players of The Genesis as soon as Kira blew his whistle. Shourin and Kiyama had the soccer balls, because the work of a defender is to steal the ball and a midfielder's is, above all, to hold on to it in front of the rival's attacks.
Shourin, being smaller and faster, met with Yagami before Kageno did with Kiyama. As soon as he had the girl close by, Shourin placed his feet on the ball and, with a quick, circular motion, made it spin at high speed, raising a cloud of dust in the shape of a whirlwind.
"Tatsumaki Senpuu V2~!" The little Shourin shouted as he saw how Yagami flew off backwards. Without losing a single second, Shourin kept on running forwards, now free of mark.
Motivated by his teammate's success, Kageno began to run faster towards Kiyama. As soon as he caught up with him, Kageno began to spin around his rival, who couldn't even follow him with his eyes.
"Coil Turn Kai…!" Kageno exclaimed, raising his voice a bit more than usual. That shout was the ultimate warning: as soon as he was done naming his hissatsu, Kageno spun round right next to Kiyama, making him lose his balance and thus stealing the ball from him with the utmost ease. The same way his friend did before, Kageno kept on running forwards. When they both got to where Kira was standing, the match was terminated.
"Splendid!" Kira congratulated them, clapping happily. "Your techniques are looking great. What do you think, guys?"
Kiyama scratched the nape of his neck as he tried to look for the appropriate word to describe Kageno's performance. Yagami was much more incisive and curt.
"They're not totally bad, but I can't believe they call Raimon 'the best team in the country' if these are their players and these have been their best techniques."
Kageno was crestfallen, but Shourin's cheerful and happy-go-lucky attitude saved him from depression.
"We managed to pass through both of you, though!" The little player exclaimed, unable to understand such a harsh judgement.
"Because we didn't even try to confront you with our own techniques. Hey, 'Kira,' let us show these two what a real hissatsu is."
Kira nodded and ordered Shourin and Kageno to go back to where they were standing before. Nonetheless, The Genesis's players switched their places. Kira made a sign and the match restarted.
Once again, the first one to face his rival was Shourin and, once again, he created a whirlwind by making the ball between his feet spin. But, this time, his opponent counterattacked. Kiyama raised his right arm and summoned a humongous planet over his hand.
Kiyama threw the immense land mass over Shourin. Not only was the whirlwind smashed, but Shourin had to pull back quickly to avoid getting crushed against the ground. Kiyama made the most out of that to grab the ball with the utmost calm and walk away.
Kageno, although scared after seeing such a technique, didn't back out. He got ready to steal the ball away from his rival, but, as he spun around Yagami, she jumped with the ball and kicked it from above.
"Learn who's boss here! Meteor Shower V3!"
After hitting it, the ball turned into blazing meteorites that fell on Kageno and hit him harshly. Kageno's hissatsu was completely nullified by the sudden attack from above. Much like her partner, Yagami managed to walk past Kageno easily, without him being able to do as much as smell the ball.
Handa was terrified. Despite all of their training, Kageno and Shourin had been overcome smoothly. Kiyama and Yagami had wiped the floor with them and they hadn't even had to try hard to do so. Handa had always considered Kageno and Shourin to be great players despite the little recognition they had had with regard to the world cup, and he tried to keep up with them and improve whenever they did.
But all of that didn't matter now. Kageno and Shourin were lying on the floor, knocked down. They could barely move and, meanwhile, the old members of The Genesis weren't even short on breath. They never stood a chance against such power.
What could he do, then?
"Enough. They're hopeless," Yagami finally proclaimed while looking at Kiyama. "God, they couldn't even bear a simple Meteor Shower! It's not even my best technique!"
"…That wasn't our limit either!"
Yagami scowled and looked back. To her surprise, Shourin was slowly standing up from the ground, with one of the most serious expressions he had ever seen on him. Likewise, Kageno began to get on his feet too, ready to keep on fighting.
"We haven't said… our last word…!"
Yagami turned around and faced away from the tireless players.
"But I have. The deal was that I could leave whenever I wanted to, and I can't stand any longer this pathetic attempt of making us believe you're any good for anything beyond warming up a bench."
"Are you really leaving, Reina-chan?" Kira asked with a serious expression.
"No. I'll invest my valuable time on something that is really worth it."
A single look from the girl burnt to ashes all right of reply from the boys. Nonetheless, to everyone's surprise, she grabbed Handa by his arm and tugged at him.
"You, sissy, whatever your name is! You're coming with me!"
Shinichi's expression mixed horror and confusion in equal shares. What did she want from him… and why did she look so angry?
"Did… I do something bad, Yagami-sama…?"
Yagami showed a faint smile when she heard that name again.
"Not yet. But I'm sick of dealing with your useless teammates. You're coming with me—I'll train you."
Shinichi turned his eyes towards the two Hirotos. They both shrugged, helpless: when Yagami made a decision, there was no way to change her mind. Shourin and Kageno were clearly upset about not being able to show the violent girl what they were really capable of, but they bit their tongues and decided to wait for now.
When he found himself unsupported by the rest, Shinichi gave up.
Yagami leant over Raimon's scared midfielder. The Genesis's vice-captain had forced Handa to get into the house and to sit down next to her by the kotatsu at the living room. Curious, she inspected the boy from head to toes. Shinichi didn't just feel observed, but terribly uncomfortable too.
"…Anything wrong…?" Handa managed to ask. Yagami shrugged.
"I was wondering why Mamoru-kun was so interested in you and in having me train you personally."
"…W-what? The capt'n… asked you to do that?"
"Uh-huh," Yagami nodded. "After your new coach called, Mamoru-kun gave me a call in private. He asked me to take care of you alone and to keep it a secret."
"…So that's why you left Kageno-kun and Shourin-kun in the lurch?"
"Pretty much. Though, honestly, it wasn't difficult to find an excuse to get the hell out of there."
"I can't say I'm okay with how you treated them, but… I didn't know the capt'n and you were such close friends, Yagami-sama…"
Yagami squinted in a menacing way and threw a death stare at Shinichi.
"…That's none of your business."
The boy was shaking like a leaf.
"I-I'm sorry, I… I didn't know that you… but it struck me as odd and, w-well, I…! P-please forgive me!"
"…Repeat your name."
"Your name. Now."
"A-ah… H-Handa. Shinichi Handa," the boy nodded as he gulped.
"I knew it rang a bell. So you're that guy Mamoru-kun's always talking about, huh…"
"…He… told you about me…?"
"You bet," Yagami sighed, rolling her eyes. "Whenever he's late, that idiot always comes with that stupid excuse of, 'sorry, I was with Shin-shin,'" she said, mimicking Endou's voice in a scornful way. "I hadn't realised it was you because he simply called you 'Handa' on the phone. But, duh! What a disappointment. Judging by what he always said about you, you looked like a moderately interesting player, but I can see that, as usual, that idiot was exaggerating. You're nothing but yet another average weakling."
Shinichi's self-esteem plummeted to the floor for the umpteenth time during the last few days. He already knew he wasn't especially good, but he had started to believe that he actually had something to offer to the team. He must had been wrong.
"Shinichi is no weakling!"
Shinichi turned around. He had been told that a new Raimon manager would be waiting for them at the Ohisama-En, but he could have never imagined that. He couldn't get over the shock of seeing that silhouette again. It had been a long time, but she hadn't changed one bit.
It was her.
Tsukushi Ootani, fifteen years old. Former classmate of Shinichi, Mamoru and the rest during their first and second years, who had gone abroad soon after the FFI ended.
Ootani had always been a very popular girl. Her sweet face and her angelic smile dazzled all the boys and, every day, a new pretender would show up and ask the young girl to date him. Or, failing that, one of her many admirers would leave a love letter on her desk or in her locker where he confessed all of his feelings for her. Nonetheless, with the utmost delicacy, Ootani would reject each and every one of those proposals, generally very shallow and banal.
Amongst all the boys, there was one in concrete who saw her in a different way. While everyone else thought of her as a cute and kind girl—except Endou and Someoka, of course, who only had eyes for soccer—, she was much more for him. In his eyes, Ootani was intelligent, funny, a person to trust and rely on. And, even though he thought of himself as being weak when it came to that kind of subjects and imagined that he was just exaggerating, Shinichi Handa would have sworn over and over that he was absolutely in love with her. And, nonetheless, he never said a word.
Ootani was very social and she would often approach any of her classmates to greet and talk to them. Handa, Someoka and Endou, who used to be together, smiled at her whenever she asked them how things were going. The eternal soccer freaks, cheerful as usual, would tell the girl about all of the ups and downs of their soccer club, but Handa would usually stay quiet and let their friends talk on his behalf. As usual.
On those occasions, Ootani would usually look for him afterwards, when he wasn't with the boys. 'You're very quiet today,' the girl would tell him. Handa would laugh nervously and nod, adding that he was usually like that and to please excuse him. She would smile and tell him that she didn't mind, that she liked it when each person was the way they should be. And, in private, Ootani would easily manage to do what many people greatly struggled with: make the shy and silent Shinichi Handa talk. He enjoyed being with her, and she seemed very happy to talk to him, much like she did with everyone. Ootani enjoyed knowing her friends, but she wouldn't usually talk about herself. Handa, on the other hand, was dying to know how she really was.
Once, Handa plucked up the courage and asked her why she would reject every boy who was after her. The girl shrugged and, blushing slightly, she simply said that she was waiting for a different boy. The ethereal answer took away all of his strength to make any other personal questions.
'A girl like her wouldn't match someone like me,' he would think. 'She's too good for me and, also, the other boys would be mad at me if we were together,' he would repeat to himself. And, then, in front of the whole class, she said she was leaving. The United States were calling for her. She would study at a prestigious school and would work hard to achieve her dreams, which she never revealed to anyone. Then, and only then, when Handa found himself between the devil and the deep blue sea, he tried.
Desperately, he wrote a letter. Simple and ordinary, just like him. He asked her to come to Raimon's soccer club in the afternoon, when everyone would have already gone back home. Ootani, however, wouldn't usually pay any attention to those invitations. That was why Handa was so surprised when he saw that the girl turned up to the appointment at the agreed time and place.
'Handa, I'm here,' she said as she approached him. The boy's heart began to beat violently and blood rushed to his head. He was a bundle of nerves and he couldn't think clearly.
He was stuttering, hesitating, shaking. Words seemed to not be able to come out of his mouth. Ootani, with love and delicacy, closed her eyes and placed her hand on the boy's chest to feel his heart clearly; a heart that, at that moment, Handa would have sworn that was beating for her. She caressed the scared midfielder's face, got close to him and, with a tender and melancholy voice, she slipped in an 'it was you from the beginning' in his ear.
The boy couldn't react. Tears began to roll down his cheeks and a stupid and unsettled smile appeared on his lips as he learnt that his feelings were returned. He got a lump in his throat. With his mouth open, he was breathing heavily. Ootani gave him a light kiss on the ear and tried to walk away, but she couldn't: as if he were a spring, Handa wrapped his arms around the girl's body as soon as he felt her lips on his skin and he pressed her against him with strength and resolution. He buried his face on her shoulder and let his tears wet her uniform. She returned the hug carefully and kept on kissing the ear of whom she had been waiting for for so long.
After a few minutes had passed, Handa finally managed to let go of Ootani. She looked in his eyes, but he could do nothing but look away. She begged him to gaze at her one last time. And, before saying goodbye for the last time, before leaving his life and staying as a mere memory in his mind, Ootani told him something. Something that, until that precise moment, Handa had forgotten.
'Handa… No, Shinichi. Shinichi… I know you will never realise this unless someone tells you, but you are worth so, so much. Please, always remember it. If you ever have to remember me, if I ever come back to your thoughts, remember that I have always believed and I will always believe in you, wherever I am and whatever happens. You're incredible, Shinichi. Different. That's why it's you and no one else. Shinichi… All I want is for you to eventually discover who you are. Do it for me. If you really feel something for me or you have ever… Be a Shinichi that you yourself can be proud of and whom I can be proud of too.'
Handa tried to whisper the girl's name, but she stepped forwards and stole his first kiss, shutting him up. It barely lasted a second, he hardly managed to feel it or enjoy it, but it was already much more than he could have ever expected.
Tsukushi turned around and disappeared in the evening light, without ever letting Handa release that 'I love you' that he was zealously keeping in his heart.
"B-b-but what are y-you doing here…?!" Shinichi yelled, stuttering constantly as he talked.
"What? You know her?" Yagami asked, crossing her arms.
"Of course he knows me! Shinichi and I were classmates long ago! Right, Shinichi?"
Shinichi, looking like he had seen a ghost, nodded as best as he could.
"Whatever," Yagami sighed with a wry face. "Are you done with what you had to do, Ootani?"
"The question here is whether you're done picking on poor Shinichi!" Raimon's former student scolded her. "Haven't you seen him play yet or what? I'm sure he could teach you a thing or two!"
"…If you say so. Okay, Handa," Yagami said, fixing her eyes on the boy, "tell me what that 'project' Mamoru-kun told me about is."
Shinichi gulped and tried to straighten up.
"I… I want to develop a new hissatsu!" He said, trying to look as serious and calm as he could.
"…Uh-huh. And how's it going?"
"W-well… They taught me how to summon penguins, although truth is that what I want is—"
"Wait, wait. What do you mean, 'taught you how to summon penguins'?" She asked.
"E-err, well, you see, they taught me how to whistle and stuff and…"
Yagami crossed her arms again and snorted.
"Tell me, 'Shin-shin': what are you planning, exactly?"
"I'd like to summon, eh, well… p-pandas…"
"And what keeps you from doing so?" Yagami inquired, arching an eyebrow. "You can summon, right?"
"Well, yeah, but… I can only summon penguins…"
"…In other words: you've only learnt how to summon penguins. Only and exclusively penguins."
Shinichi nodded. Yagami massaged her brow, trying to calm down.
"…What a bunch of incompetents. They taught you how to summon a concrete animal when you should have learnt how to summon in general. Now I understand why Mamoru-kun asked me to train you myself. For the love of Father Seijirou, why am I always lumbered with this kind of crap?!"
"Then, will you help me, Yagami-sama…?" Shinichi asked.
"…I've got no choice. And, going back to the previous subject, are you done with what you were doing, Ootani?"
"Certainly! Everything is ready for Shinichi to train peacefully and in optimum conditions!"
"Very well, then," Yagami said, and she stood up. "Come on, 'Shin-shin.' If you're only going to be here for two days, we'll have to train hard or you won't achieve absolutely anything. If I were you, I'd get ready."
Shinichi was already crying inside.
Ootani brought the master and her pupil to a park not far away from the orphanage. Bottles and a couple of lunchboxes rested on a nearby bench, waiting patiently for someone to make good use of their content.
"This park…" Yagami began. "Mamoru-kun used to bring me here to play soccer together. How did you find it, Ootani?"
"Endou himself told me about it. He said we would be fine here."
"…At least I know how to make it here no problem," Yagami said as she cleared her throat. "Okay, wait here—I have to go get ready."
Without saying another word nor waiting for any kind of good-bye, Yagami began to walk towards the Ohisama-En.
They were alone.
"You're still the same, Shinichi," Ootani smiled.
"Don't be silly," she interrupted, placing her index finger on Handa's lips. "You know you can call me by my name!"
"I… I can't…" He said, averting his eyes and avoiding all contact with the girl. "Ootani-chan, you… you shouldn't be here…! What 'bout the United States…? What 'bout your dreams…?"
"Haven't you realised it yet?" The girl asked, frowning slightly and staring at him. "You're my biggest dream."
Handa couldn't stand it. It had taken a lot of effort to forget Ootani. He didn't miss her anymore; he didn't cry because of her at night; she didn't appear in his dreams no more. He was smiling afresh and he had found the affection of another girl. Another girl.
Yes, another girl. It wasn't just his battle against Ootani's memory anymore. It was also Touko, the girl who had taken him out of the darkness and brought him back to the world. The girl he protected over everything else, whom he didn't want to get involved in any of his problems just so he wouldn't make her suffer too.
"Ootani-chan… Why did you come back…?"
"It's Endou's doing. You told him, right?"
"…Yeah. You know the capt'n: he can't see anyone suffering without asking about it."
"Suffering…? Oh, Shinichi, I'm so sorry…!"
"…No, don't apologise. It's… it's probably my fault, as it always is. I'll be okay. Now… leave, please. I… I couldn't bear having you close after what happened, and… Touko-chan…"
"…She's your girlfriend, right? Endou told me about that too," she smiled. "Shinichi… I didn't come back because I want to take you away from her, far from it. I came back because Endou told me you had problems. I want to help you! Because my dream isn't to turn you into my partner or anything of the sort—my dream is for you to be the best Shinichi you can possibly be! You're still very important to me; you were and will always be my best friend, even though you didn't know it or you didn't want to see it. I could only be myself with you and, even if it didn't seem like it, I told you more about myself than I ever told anyone else. You're very important to me. And, if I can help you, I'll move heaven and earth so your dreams can come true!"
"Are you really here… just for me…?"
The girl ran to the bench where she had previously placed the food. From behind one of the lunchboxes, Tsukushi took a notebook out. She quickly went back next to Shinichi and handed it to him with a smile.
Shinichi inspected the notebook without saying a single word. It was clearly very worn out, and the English word "NOTEBOOK" was written on the cover with print letters. At the bottom, over a line of dots placed on the right side of a little "By," Shinichi saw a name written in poorly drawn Japanese characters.
"Kazuya… Ichinose…" He read with difficulty. "K-Kazuya Ichinose!"
Shinichi stared at Tsukushi, who smiled.
"When I told him I was coming over to help you, he insisted on giving this to you. He thinks about all of you a lot and he wanted to do his best to lend you a hand. We study together in the United States, you know? He's and incredible and brilliant boy."
Shinichi was perplexed. Not just Tsukushi, but Ichinose, his old friend and former teammate, was worried about him and was doing everything he could to help him from so far away. Raimon's midfielder was about to burst out crying.
Shinichi ran his fingers through the rugged cover of the notebook, feeling the familiar warmth that it emitted. His thumb looked for the edge.
Tsukushi placed her hand over his and stopped it. They looked at each other and she shook her head.
Shinichi nodded. Tsukushi smiled.
"Tsukushi-chan, I… T-thank you. You still worry so much about me…"
"You still haven't seen it all," she said. "Shinichi, I've seen your matches on TV. I studied hard while I was abroad and I've learnt a lot about soccer, all so I could help you. Also, I know how you play and what your style is. That's why I've spent so much time getting something ready so you can be even better. Shinichi… Would you like to learn the hissatsu that I designed for you myself?"
"Of… of course!" Shinichi smiled, mesmerized. Few people had ever worried about him to that extent.
"Well, you seem to be in better spirits now," Yagami said all of a sudden. She had got changed and came back wearing an orange soccer uniform. "Are you ready to train?"
"Yeah…!" Handa replied with much more energy than usual.
"Wow, such an abrupt change. I don't know what the hell you did, Ootani, but I hope it works for something. Okay, sissy, start warming up."
Handa nodded and began to stretch his muscles out. Ootani smiled in relief.
Somewhere, two very different Mamorus showed two smiles that looked exactly the same because of reasons none of them could understand.
Chapter 7: Goals
Well, it took ages to write this chapter and ages to translate it. It left me exhausted, but oh well. I just need to translate one more chapter and I will have successfully caught up with the original version in Spanish. And while that's going to be a blast (a very time-consuming blast, but a blast nonetheless), not everything is good.
As usual, I want to thank my sister Heather (@IshidoShuuji on Twitter) for proofreading the crap I've written up to this point. I always said that, without her, this would be a super convoluted mess instead of just a regular convoluted mess, and, this time, you will be able to see it for yourselves. Heather hasn't proofread this for me because of some personal issues and she won't be doing so from now on. So, even if she probably won't read this, I want to thank her from the bottom of my heart for being a wonderful beta reader and an absolutely perfect friend. I wouldn't be here without her. I owe her more than I could ever explain. So thank you very, very much, sis. For absolutely everything. I miss you so much.
And, this time, I would also want to thank my Roxy too, because she's the one supporting me all day and every single day. Without her, I wouldn't get anything done. Ever. And I would feel miserable and sad about 30 times more often. If you get a single thing from me every 6 months, it's all thanks to her. (But even her support couldn't bring me to re-read this after what I just went through. I just want to be done with it. I might recheck it... in the future.)
With that said and with my heart still aching even though it's been months since she left, welcome to the 7th chapter of The Roar of the Beast. This one's a very heavy chapter. It's long and has a lot of backstory to it, hence making it one of my personal favourites. Handa gets some development, but, most importantly, a question that has been hanging over our heads since the very first chapter is answered. I challenge you to spot it.
"All right. Are you ready?"
Handa nodded with renewed strength. Knowing that his friends supported and kept helping him despite being so far away gave him a feeling of self-assurance that he hadn't felt in a long time.
"Very good. Show me what you've got."
Handa brought his hand to his mouth and closed his eyes, trying to remember Koutei's teachings. He got his fingers into position and blew strongly, producing a loud and perfect whistle. Seconds later, a squid of five purple penguins emerged from the ground and lined up behind him.
Yagami crossed her arms.
"Purple penguins. Not too bad."
Handa showed a little smile of complete happiness.
"And?" Yagami asked with a pinch of sarcasm. "You called those penguins all by yourself. What's the problem, then?"
"Well…" Handa cleared her throat while rubbing the nape of her neck. "It's great to have penguins at my disposal and all, but what I want are… pandas."
"And, according to what you told me, you don't know how to call them."
"N-no. They only taught me how to whistle the right way to summon penguins."
"'Whistle'," Yagami repeated drily. "I think I'm starting to see the problem. Tell me, do you have the slightest idea of what the Hell you're doing to call those penguins to the field?"
"And don't you dare say 'whistle'." Yagami cut him short before Handa could talk. He, therefore, went completely silent, since that was precisely the answer he was going to give. He looked down and gulped.
"Is that all you can summon," Yagami continued, "or did they teach you how to call any other kind of animal?"
"Well, I know how to make green penguins appear…" Handa said as he petted one of the purple penguin's head. Afterwards, he thanked him for coming so fast and told him he could leave. The penguins bowed slightly and sank in the ground again.
"Oh, yeah? And how do you do that?"
Handa was about to put his fingers in his mouth again, but Yagami stopped him by holding one of his arms.
"Enough," she snorted. "If you're going to whistle again, it's useless."
Handa was surprised and opened his eyes a bit wider than usual. He didn't quite get it. How was he supposed to call his penguins without whistling?
"You're clinging way too much to that stupid idea, 'Shin-shin'," Yagami asserted, clearly annoyed. "I don't know what the Hell they put in your head, but you better than anyone should know that there are many ways of borrowing an animal's power: Raimon has countless techniques based on fauna."
"But each animal is summoned in a different way, no…?" Handa asked in a whisper. "Isn't whistling the way to call penguins…?"
Yagami clicked her tongue.
"There isn't such a thing as a concrete 'method'—each looks for their own way of achieving their purposes. If Teikoku decided to use whistles is because it's a simple method, but it's by no means the only one. What attracts an animal is not a sound or an action, but the user's own power." She made a small pause, took a step back and said, "Eyes peeled."
Yagami looked down, tensed her muscles and clenched her fists. Instantly, a circle of a bright blue colour appeared around her and, seconds after, it burst into flames, creating a small barrier and surrounding Yagami completely. Then, one by one, five dark green penguins dressed like small astronauts poked their beaks out of the ground and shot out into the sky. After performing a series of aerial acrobatics, they landed one by one and lined up behind Yagami, much like purple penguins had fell in behind Handa minutes earlier.
Handa stared at the scene. Yagami's power was incredible and… frightening. The princess stood up straight, folded her arms and spoke seriously:
"These are the space penguins, a kind of penguin Teikoku can't access. It takes an exorbitant amount of energy to call and control them, so they prefer more docile penguins in order to make use of their strength more easily and not be harmed while performing their techniques. Now, tell me, 'Shin-shin'—did I whistle in order to make them appear before me?"
Handa shook his head.
"Summoning doesn't mean finding the appropriate decoy for each animal," Yagami continued, "but being able to control the power you intend to use. Once you earn the respect of the animal you're looking for, it will appear before you just by being intent to do so. Being able to summon is, therefore, synonymous to having the suitable skills—or minimum, at least—to control said power."
As soon as Yagami finished her explanation, a series of effusive and quick claps began to sound from the bench where Ootani was sitting. From afar, the manager congratulated Yagami for her master class with her characteristic sweet and kind tone of voice, and asked Handa if he had understood everything.
"Uh… I-I think so," Handa said as he nodded, "but there's something I don't quite get yet." He turned his head towards Yagami and asked, " If it's one's own strength what attracts animals, why wasn't I able to make penguins appear until I learnt how to whistle?"
"How do you expect me to know if I wasn't there, goofball?" Yagami hissed, folding her arms again. "I can only conjecture, but I guess it was a matter of self-confidence. You blindly believed you wouldn't be able to do it without whistling, and that got you blocked. Being strong isn't enough—you must be able to externalise that strength and show the necessary confidence to make a correct use of it. …Reason why you're still so dramatically pathetic."
Handa sighed in a way that could have well been a sob.
"You heard it!" Ootani said, coming close to Handa and Yagami, and continued in a slightly recriminatory tone, "I keep telling you you have to trust yourself more, Shinichi!"
Handa gave her an unconvincing nod and turned just in time to see Yagami seeing her penguins off just like he had done before. The penguins shot off vertically at full speed thanks to their jetpacks and got lost in the firmament.
I guess it makes sense for them to go to space, Handa thought as he looked at the penguins, but, then, how come they come outta the ground when you call them…?
Handa couldn't wait for lunch time and, before training, he got the content of one of the lunch boxes down his throat under Ootani's attentive look and tender smile, who watched satisfied how her friend enjoyed at almost ecstatic levels the food she had cooked for him herself. Yagami was beginning to grow impatient: not because Handa was eating slowly—which was, in fact, the exact opposite case—, but because such an attitude predicted that the boy could happen to be even more useless than he looked at first sight. The appetite he was exhibiting wasn't even nearly normal for someone of his physical build.
Once done gobbling down, Handa puffed and scratched his stomach. He looked quickly to his right, where Yagami ate in silence, and began to sweat buckets when he realised the girl was shooting a deadly look at him.
"Excuse Shinichi," Ootani said with a slightly contrite tone. "Theory makes him hungry."
Handa forced a laugh to try and play the subject down, but it sounded so pitiful that it only managed to irritate Yagami even further. He looked at the ground for a few seconds and, immediately after, he asked in a shaky voice:
"Tell me, Yagami-sama… What're we doing next…?"
"You ask too many questions." Yagami took her time to bring a piece of meat to her mouth and munch on it conscientiously, showing total indifference towards Raimon's poor midfielder. After swallowing, she continued, "Mamoru-kun didn't give me specific orders, so we'll do things my way. If developing a summoning hissatsu is what you want, you would best prepare yourself to be able to call the animal. Let's focus on making you stronger… if that's at all possible."
Yagami put the remaining food of the lunch box in her mouth and gave it to Ootani without even looking at her. The manager picked everything up, stood up and headed to the orphanage again to wash the dishes, pointing out that she would be back as soon as possible.
Handa and Yagami were left alone. Suddenly, the boy stared at the floor and whispered:
"I'm… I'm so sorry, Yagami-sama. I'm sorry you got sucked into all this. It must seem very selfish for me to come here all of a sudden and hope you'll help me just like that…"
Yagami looked at Handa without saying a word. Eventually, she breathed in and let it out as a soft sigh.
"Quit that nonsense, sissy. If I'm doing this is because I want to. Whichever my relationship with Mamo—" Yagami interrupted herself and coughed on her hand, blushing very slightly, "with… your captain may be, he knows he could never force me to do anything I didn't want to do. In fact, he wouldn't have asked for my help if he hadn't known for a fact that I would be ready to give him a hand. And if in this case helping him means helping you, I don't mind for now, I guess." She shrugged. "After all, those who tried to help you before didn't do a single thing right."
Handa unstuck his eyes from the ground and turned them to Yagami. In his face, a small and grateful smile could be seen.
"Also," she continued, "no matter how useless you are, you aren't worse than those two. Taking care of two imbeciles is always far worse than taking care of a single one, so you serve as an excuse to lighten my work a bit."
Handa's mood dropped again, and his body showed it by collapsing on his legs as if he were dead weight. Yagami sighed again.
"Hey," she said eventually, thrusting her right toe into Handa's ribs to make him react, "I have a question for you."
Handa let out a suffocated howl of pain and made a hesitant face to invite her to ask.
"You have already learnt how to summon penguins. They're versatile, powerful and fast animals. Why not settle with that? Where does that interest towards pandas come from?"
Handa calmed down mysteriously upon hearing that question. He leant forward and rested his arms on his legs. He stared at the horizon for a few seconds: it had already been hours since they arrived at the orphanage and the sun that had lightened up their first day there was now getting lost among the mountains along with its dim light. Time was definitely against him.
After that small pause, he turned his head towards Yagami and, with a much more solemn voice than before, he said:
"It's… 'cause I don't wanna give up."
Yagami blinked, surprised.
"I wanna be able to reach my own goals without shortcuts," Handa continued. "I was intent on summoning a panda and developing an incredible hissatsu thanks to it. I've always been Raimon's weak point, y'know…?" Handa let out a forced guffaw. "I'm a veteran in the team and one of its first members and, in spite of all, I've achieved nothing. I've never been helpful of stood out in the slightest. I've always been the 'normal' one, the average duffer no one pays attention to… I couldn't even become strong with the Aliea Stone.
"I've felt like a hindrance for the rest more than a few times. Raimon is an incredible team, but I… am not at its level. I've always been there, but nothing would've changed if I hadn't been. And… I don't wanna end this way. This is my last year at Raimon and I don't wanna keep being a burden to the rest. I wanna help, be stronger and get to be useful both on the forward line and the defence…! And I don't care how much I must exert myself to achieve that! Someday, I'll achieve what I put my mind to, and then… everyone'll see what I'm capable of!!"
Yagami stood up.
"I see. I think I judged you wrong, after all. You may be one useless sissy, but you have a goal and you're ready to achieve it no matter what. I like that."
Handa's face lit up as he saw little and soft smile appear on Yagami's lips. He hadn't realised until then, but, at that moment, Handa couldn't help but think that, when she smiled, Yagami was truly beautiful.
"Okay, Handa: I know what to do with you now. Since you want to be useful in any position, I'll show you what your own skills can achieve. There is no need to be faster or kick better to achieve new strength—you only need to make the maximum out of what you can already do."
"Sounds great…!" Handa exclaimed. "But do you think I'll be able to do something like that…?"
"Hey, hey! Where did all that resolution you showed me before go?! You will never achieve anything if you doubt, sissy! You must trust you can do it!"
Handa couldn't hold back a very short giggle.
"…You sound a bit like capt'n, Yagami-sama," he said, still smiling. Yagami blushed all of a sudden and, trying to keep her usual cold and indifferent façade, she looked away.
"Q-quit that nonsense, imbecile."
Ootani came back, so Yagami decided to have her pupil look after the manager as she got ready to train him under extreme conditions. She felt she had been too soft while dealing with Handa and she wanted to make it up to herself by subjecting him to the toughest possible practice. That was how she and the rest of the members of her team came to be so incredibly powerful, after all.
The Genesis's second-in-command went back to Ohisama-En in a run. She opened the door with a slam and went into the orphanage like a runaway hurricane, devastating everything in her way and shouting at the top of her lungs. She went out to the garden and, under the surprised looks of all the people training there, she grabbed young Hiroto from the neck and got him out of there like lightning without as much as explaining herself.
"May… may I ask what all this is about?" Hiroto managed to babble, surprisingly relaxed despite being dragged across floor for reasons he couldn't even understand.
"You know where the Hell Wheeze is?" Yagami said drily and without bothering to look at him.
"Oh… I think he isn't here. I think he and Saginuma-kun went train somewhere. And, Reina, I think he would be grateful if you were to begin to call him by his real name instead of by his alien name. No one here wants to remember that time."
"And I don't feel like learning his name!" She shouted, clearly pissed. "Damn it! Does everything have to go wrong today or what? I have to train that Handa idiot!"
Suddenly, a boy poked his head round a nearby door.
"Did you say 'Anda?" He asked with his eyes wide open.
"Oh, Segata-kun!" Hiroto exclaimed. "You are just in time. Yes, Handa-kun is around. Do you feel like coming train with us? We need someone else, apparently."
"Sure!" Segata smiled in an almost evil way even though he was truly happy deep inside. "Heh, this takes me way back. Right, Kiyama?"
"Huh? Do you know him, Zel?" Yagami enquired, arching her brows.
"Would you mind learnin' my name already, Yagami? I ain't Zel—I'm Ryuuichirou Segata. I don't think it's all that tough."
Yagami disagreed peacefully by rolling her eyes.
"And yeah. We met a few months ago, when he came askin' for Kiyama's help. That one weird guy, don't you think?" Segata laughed.
"I would define him as… 'peculiar'," Hiroto smiled.
Yagami was nibbling on her right thumb's nail.
Does everyone here know him or what?!
The night had already fallen over Inazuma. Shinichi unscrewed the lid of his money box and took out all the money he had in it. He counted it carefully and sighed: his little personal safe wasn't going to keep much to itself after the travel. But it was something he had to do, and he was ready to spend his last yen if necessary.
He woke up very early and looked out of the window. Grey coloured clouds extended as far as his eyes could see and it was raining cats and dogs. The sky seemed about to fall on him, but he didn't want to put off his travel a single day more. He put on his usual soccer tracksuit and, with no more luggage than an umbrella, he stuck to his guns and went outside. The storm greeted him by slapping his face with a wet newspaper that was flying around, but Shinichi didn't back off. He removed the blessed newspaper from his face, dried himself with his sleeve and, pushing through the gale thanks to his umbrella, he headed for the city's train station.
He had to run like never before, dodging people among slips caused by his wet trainers and trying to not swallow cement in the attempt, but he finally managed to get in the first train of the day and he even found a nice place to sit at.
After a long hour, a harsh braking woke Shinichi up all of a sudden, who saw himself flying towards the sir sitting in front of him and felt his skull cracking slightly as it hit the man's hard jaw. Shinichi apologised many times, but the string of drool that was still on his chin didn't say much in his favour. The man left cursing and sat somewhere else. Trying to ignore all the people who kept their eyes fixed on him after that unfortunate hitch, he checked where he was and he sighed in relief. At least, the braking arrived at a good time: the next stop was his.
He got off as discreetly as possible to avoid more accusing gazes, but he had to rush back inside and push every single passenger in his way because he had forgotten his umbrella, thus ruining all of his efforts to not attract the gazes of the whole car in such a negative manner again. The train almost left again with him inside, but he managed to exit in the last moment. The umbrella, however, got stuck in the car's door and was in a pretty bad way afterwards. He pulled it out and tried opening it: a couple of its ribs were hanging from a threat, but at least it could still shield him from the rain… for a while, at least.
He sighed. His life was composed of a disastrous error after another, but that was something he wasn't ready to accept. It was time to change, to become better and fight tooth and nail against the destiny that he had got. And more firmly decided than ever before to remodel himself, he went outside, he protected himself from the increasingly violent storm with his battered umbrella and he broke into a run towards his goal.
Facing the terrible wind and freezing cold of the morning, Shinichi managed to push through the weather and spot a huge building that rose among the fog. He did it: his final goal was just a few minutes away. From one moment to the next, the wind ceased and the rain ceased to fall, as if they gave up; or, at least, that's what it felt like to Shinichi, who considered that feat his first step towards the goal he had set for himself. He folded his umbrella and sprinted through the few metres between him and the orphanage that showed off on its entrance a wooden sign with the name "Ohisama-En" engraved on it.
He knocked on the door and, seconds later, a boy opened. He had orange eyes, suspiciously pointy ears and hair white as snow, shoulder-length and combed sideways. His gaze may seem wicked, but it actually just showed some innate naughtiness.
"W-who're you…?" Shinichi asked. The boy crossed his arms and leant against the door frame.
"Don't you think I should be the one askin' you?" He answered with a snort.
"Ah, y-yeah, I'm sorry. My… my name's Shinichi Handa," he said with a little bow. "Is Kiyama-san home…?"
"It's eight in the mornin' on Saturday; it'd be strange if 'e weren't 'ere. Actually, I think he's still asleep, like pretty much everyone else. But may I know where the heck you come from at this hour, lad?"
"I, eh… Well…" Shinichi stuttered, but then he stood straight and firmly said, "I must talk to him. It's… very important for me."
"I see," the boy said after a small pause. "Oh well, I guess you're serious. C'mon, come inside."
The boy led Shinichi to a spacious living room. The corridor was full of pictures of small children, among whom he thought to have recognised his host a couple of times.
"By the way, my name's Segata," the boy said. "Ryuuichirou Segata. And you were… 'Anda, right?"
The guest nodded with a small smile.
"I'll try to remember, but no promises 'ere." He shrugged. "I'm goin' to look for Kiyama. You sit by the kotatsu if you want."
Shinichi made himself comfortable in the kotatsu's little table and let himself be seduced by its delicious and relaxing warmth. When he was about to fall asleep again, a voice coming from some adjoining room woke him up.
"Handa-kun?" The voice asked. Shinichi looked in all directions and eventually found Hiroto, who came from what seemed to be the orphanage's kitchen loaded down with a tray where he brought a teapot and a big number of containers to serve its content.
"That was your name, was it not?" He said with a little giggle as he left the tray on the kotatsu's table. "Excuse me if I got it wrong, but my memory isn't especially good."
"No, no, Kiyama-san—you got it right…!" Shinichi exclaimed, happy to see that he still remembered him despite all the time that had passed. "How come you aren't asleep…?"
"For the love of Father Seijirou, you're soaking wet!" Hiroto said, paying no attention to Shinichi's question. "I'll bring you some clothes right now so you can get changed before you catch a cold or something worse."
Shinichi stuttered and tried to stop him, but seeing as there was no way to change his host's mind, he decided to let him do what his manners dictated him to. And he might indeed need to dry himself up a bit after such a flood.
Hiroto came back minutes later with a red and orange soccer uniform that Shinichi grimaced at.
"…Not a big fan of Lycra, are you?" Hiroto sighed with an understanding look on his face. "I'm very sorry, but I'm afraid I don't have any other clothes at hand. We left our laundry to dry under the sun and… well, nothing you don't already know. The others need what's left, and I wouldn't like to steal anyone's clothes either—please understand. I'm sorry I'm such a bad host, I truly am."
"I guess… I guess it doesn't matter. They're just clothes, right…?" Shinichi made an effort to smile as he stretched his arms for Hiroto to give him the spandex change of clothes that so greatly reminded him of Aliea's uniforms, along with everything that meant.
"I'm glad you're taking it so well. Should I leave you alone so you can get changed?"
"…If you don't mind…"
As soon as Hiroto left the living room, Shinichi took off his soaked tracksuit, folded it and left it on the floor as he put on the Lycra suit he was borrowing. Despite the bad memories it brought to him, he had to admit that it was incredibly comfortable and that it fit his body like a glove.
Minutes later, when Hiroto came back, he too was wearing a uniform like Shinichi's—according to him, so he wouldn't be the only one dressed like that and wouldn't feel so uncomfortable because of it. As he saw Shinichi was about to object, he hurried to add that, also, he had run out of dry clothes too, that he wasn't doing any kind of sacrifice for him and that, therefore, he shouldn't worry about it.
Hiroto took Shinichi's clothe somewhere where they wouldn't get in the way and, after that, he sat by the kotatsu next to him.
"I'm sorry you've to take so much trouble, Kiyama-san… The boy who opened [the door to?] me, Segata-san, told me you were probably still be sleeping…"
"Oh, Segata-kun?" Hiroto guffawed again. "He tends to ignore everyone and everything the rest do, but I actually wake up early almost every day to get the breakfast ready. He wakes up early too, but he spends his time lazing around in a variety of ways without paying the slightest attention to what the others do or don't do." Hiroto brought a cup closer to Shinichi and began to pour a steaming green tea in it. "What brings you here so early in the morning?"
"Well, you see… It's 'cause of something that's got me all obsessed for a while now, and… I think you're the only one who can help me."
"Oh, am I?" He asked with a smile on his lips as he poured tea in his own cup. "Please, tell me."
"I'm…" He gulped. "Useless."
Hiroto blinked, surprised, and left the teapot aside. He pushed Shinichi's cup towards him a bit more and said, "Come on, drink up. I think it will be better if you tell me once you have completely warmed up."
Shinichi nodded and took a small sip at the tea, burning his tongue up in the process.
"Oh. Sorry. I ought to have warned you that it is a bit hot."
Shinichi swallowed back his tears and his need to scream in pain and he carefully placed the cup on the table.
Hiroto brought him a glass of water and Shinichi drank it all up in one go.
"Better?" Hiroto asked. Shinichi nodded.
"…I think I've warmed up for a whole month."
Hiroto let out a shy giggle.
"I'm glad you are taking it with humour. I didn't know that, in addition to being a great soccer player, you were so funny too, Handa-kun."
Shinichi instantly threw his eyes downwards, redder from embarrassment than from how much his tongue burnt.
"No… You're wrong, Kiyama-san. If I came here's 'cause… I'm worthless. But I can't stand it anymore. I wanna stop being a filler player at Raimon, contribute something to the team that it doesn't already have…! I don't want the weight of the matches to keep on falling on capt'n, on Gouenji-kun and Kidou-kun… I'd like to help them, be useful to the team and… be recognised as a true player. I'd like to stop being just a zero."
Hiroto crossed his arms and, after a small pause, he said, "It's natural to feel that way—I perfectly understand. But why did you come to ask me for help? Don't you think you should talk it out with your teammates or with your coach, Handa-kun?"
Shinichi shook his head.
"No. If I asked them for help, I'd only turn into… into a bad copy of one of them, and that wouldn't help the team nor… me. If I came to ask for your help's because, during the match against The Ogre, you covered my position way better than I ever have…! The team felt very comfy, you took part in the offence and the defence… You contributed something to the match. And I thought you could teach me to, well, to play like you…"
"I would rather it if you followed your own path than tried to mimic me."
"B-but Raimon needs your strength, Kiyama-san…! Mine's not… not enough."
"You know, Handa-kun?" Hiroto asked. He took his time to hold the cup in his hands and take a drink. He stared at the cup and muttered to himself, "That's some good tea. I wonder where they bought it…" He turned his eyes to Shinichi again and continued, "It doesn't matter how strong you are, what you can do or the amount of goals you can score. What really makes the difference between a player useful to their team and a simple filler player is the confidence and courage, and I know only too well that every player at Raimon is brimming with talent in that sense. If you are able to bring up your nerve, you will find your own way to help your team."
"Then, won't you help me…?" Shinichi said, displeased and with downcast eyes.
"Quite the opposite. I would love to help you and teach you the little I know." Shinichi raised his head and a relieved and grateful expression appeared on his face. Hiroto continued, "I know what you are going through because I used to be the same, and nothing would make me happier than to help you bring out the strength sleeping within you. Also, much like you, I want some recognition too. Picture this: Hiroto Kiyama, the man who helped the great Shinichi Handa find his way and become a top-class soccer player! Don't you think it sounds great? I bet girls will chase me like an idol!" He laughed.
"What're you sayin' about 'ookin' up with girls?" A surprised Ryuuichirou Segata said, suddenly poking his head out the living room's door. Hiroto snorted.
"You only hear what you want to, huh, Segata-kun?"
"Enough with the lecture, Kiyama!" Segata answered. "Then, what do you say we 'ave to do for chicks to chase us?"
"N-no, Segata-san, it's not…"
"We would need to help Handa-kun," Hiroto cut him short. "I'm sure we will get many fans if we can turn him into a great player."
"But, Kiyama-san, what're you saying…?" Shinichi whispered.
"Please, play along for now," Hiroto answered, keeping the low voice. "Segata-kun is lazy as can be, but a great player nonetheless, and it would come in very hand if he lent me a hand at the time of helping you. We must offer him something that will motivate him or he will refuse to collaborate, and I'm afraid women are the only flank we can attack from for now. We mustn't waste this chance."
"What the 'ell are you whisperin'?!" Segata yelled. "C'mon, slacker, ain't no time to lose! CHICKS ARE WAITIN' FOR US!"
Segata broke into a run outside without paying the slightest attention to his two new practice pals nor to the fact that he was still wearing his pyjamas.
"Well, it looks like we got away with it," Hiroto laughed.
"Hey, Kiyama-san… What kinda training are we gonna do…?"
"Truth be told, I don't know," he answered very seriously. "So I think that I will simply keep my word and teach you the little I know."
"Didn't you say I didn't have to mimic you…?" Shinichi asked, confused.
"Teaching you is one thing, and mimicking me is another. The advice I may give you is nothing but that: advice. How you make use of it or how you put it into practice is your affair alone. I want you to turn it into something yours."
"Is it really okay to try to… change what you teach me and appropriate it? Isn't that like stealing…?"
"Don't think that way! I teach you because I want to and because I have faith that it will eventually serve you to improve. Let's say that I… hand over what I know. I have already given it plenty of use, and I don't think I will be able to cash in on it anymore. I think it will be better off in your hands: consider it a piece of clay that you can model as much as you want."
Shinichi made a confused grimace. He wasn't quite following Hiroto.
"But, uh… What… what are we talking 'bout, Kiyama-san…?"
"I warn you," Hiroto said very seriously, ignoring, once again, Shinichi's questions, "I'm not going to go easy on you. Mastering it isn't easy whatsoever, and you may never be able to do so, but it's a risk you must take. Are you ready to sacrifice yourself and train hard to achieve it?"
Shinichi gulped, trying to stay as serious as him at least in looks: under the kotatsu, where Hiroto couldn't see him, his hands and legs shook in pure fear.
"…Yeah! I've decided that I'll do anything to change and turn into a better person, and I'll do whatever it takes to achieve that…! I'm… I'm not gonna give up after coming so far!!"
"That is exactly what I wanted to hear," Hiroto smiled, going back to his usual attentive and kind self. "Tell me, Handa-kun, would you like to learn my Ryuusei Blade?"
Shinichi's face lit up like never before and he nodded like crazy.
"You will do great, Shinichi, you'll see! I'm sure you'll be able to face any challenge she brings up!"
"W-well, thanks for trusting me, Tsukushi-chan, but I'm not so sure…" Handa laughed as he scratched his cheek.
Then, he saw Yagami come back to the park accompanied by two figures he didn't take long to recognise.
"Hiroto-san, Segata-san…! What're you doing here…?"
"Yagami was lookin' for someone to 'elp 'er, and when I 'eard it was you, I didn't even think about it," Segata smiled. "Then, Kiyama 'itched 'imself to us uninvited. That gall though."
"Quit distorting reality, Segata-kun. It's you who tagged along because Izuno-kun was not here."
"Details, details!" Epsilon's former midfielder grumbled. "Trainin's what's important 'ere! Right, 'Anda?"
"Yeah…! Let's do our best, guys…!"
Yagami stared at the scene with a frown.
"They seem to get along fairly well, right?" Ootani noted.
"I guess so. At least, we might finish faster this way." She rose her voice and shouted, "Hey, Handa! Stop goofing around with those two and come here!"
Handa obeyed diligently and approached her, followed by his two training mates.
"What do you have in store for him, Reina?" Hiroto asked.
"If it's true that he wants to be a better forward and defender, he would better learn how to combine both facets." She turned her eyes to Handa and asked, "Do you already know how to block shots with shots?"
"Block shots with… shots?" Handa asked, tilting his head.
"I see you don't know your ass from your elbow," Yagami snorted. "Listen up, 'Shin-shin,' for I will only say this once. There are some shot techniques that, when used appropriately, may serve to block a foe's shots and even return them. But any rubbish won't do—just a limited number of hissatsus have the required strength and are precise enough to be used that way. I know it's useless to ask, but do you think you have any shot that may be used that way?"
"It sounds amazing, Yagami-sama, but…" Handa whined, crestfallen. "I doubt any of mine works, indeed…"
"Hold on, Handa-kun," Hiroto interrupted. "I think this might be the opportunity we were looking for."
"Of course! You lose nothing for trying!"
"What do you think, Segata-san…?"
"Sure, why the 'eck not? It might be a matter of fate. Everything started 'ere, and 'ere it shall end. Sounds almost poetic, uh?" He snickered.
"May I know what the Hell you're talking about, imbeciles!?" Yagami shouted, sick of feeling left out.
"Yagami-sama, you think Ryuusei Blade could be used that way…?"
"What do you mean with Ryuusei—?" Yagami stuttered. "Does this useless punk know how to use your Ryuusei Blade, Hiroto?!"
"And masterfully so, too," Hiroto said with a certain air of pride. "Who knows, Reina. He might not be as useless as you think him to be."
Handa stared at the floor and scratched his nose in embarrassment.
So this idiot has been able to mimic Hiroto… Not half bad. He might actually be interesting, after all, Yagami thought. After a pause, and avoiding Hiroto's comment, she stated:
"It should work perfectly, yes. It all depends on how fast you learn how to do it."
"You would be surprised, Reina," Hiroto smiled. "Trust me—he is very talented."
"…Ootani, the ball. Handa, head to the goal. You two, with me."
Ootani threw the ball at Yagami's feet with a precise kick while everyone else got into position.
"Ready or not, Handa, here we come!"
With a movement of her arms, Yagami indicated to them to jump. She crouched down, tensed her muscles and clenched her fists. Instantly, a circle of a bright blue colour appeared around her and, seconds after, it burst into flames, creating a small barrier and surrounding Yagami completely. Then, one by one, five dark green penguins dressed like small astronauts poked their beaks out of the ground and shot out into the sky under Yagami's command, who directed and coordinated their flight through the movements of her arm much like a conductor guides their orchestra. The penguins, flying in formation, carried the ball in the middle of the pentagon their formation drew.
"Space Penguin!" The three of them shouted when Hiroto and Segata, in the middle of the air, kicked together the ball the penguins were carrying with them. The ball, overflowing with power, went out of control and began to fly around aimlessly, but the penguins took charge of correcting its trajectory and line it up towards Handa.
The ball hit Handa on the face and made him fall on the grass head first.
"'Ey, gorgeous, what's a beautiful girl like you doin' in a place like this?"
"Me? I came to help Shinichi. That's all."
"Are you datin' or somethin'?"
"Oh, no! Why do you ask?"
"Nothing, nothing~ Listen, babe, since it's your first time 'ere, would you like to remember it forever?"
"Yes, of course!"
"Heh heh heh…~ Then, y'know what? I'm an expert at creatin' unforgettable memories. And… I've a couple of suggestions for the two of us to 'ave a great time, if y'know what I mean."
"…I actually don't know, but I don't need it, thanks. All I need to have a good time is help Shinichi!"
"I… I see. And what 'bout me, beautiful? Are you gonna leave me 'ere starvin'?"
"No, of course not!"
"Sure! You have food in the fridge. Oh, I know—you can't cook! Then, don't worry—I'll get something ready for in a moment! Wait here!"
"No, wait! That's not what I—!"
Segata could only sigh as he watched Ootani be off like a shot downstairs without paying him the slightest attention.
"You try too hard, Segata-kun," Hiroto smiled.
"Y-you shut up, Kiyama! And this guy 'ere, until when's 'e plannin' to sleep? Wake the 'ell up already, 'Anda!"
Segata hit Handa in the face and he woke with a start.
"BLAAAADE!" He shouted, sitting up as soon as he woke up as if he had a spring on his back. "Wait, what…?"
Handa looked around. He wasn't in a soccer field, but in a small, classic style room, lying on a futon and properly tucked in it.
"Finally!" Segata snorted, exasperated. "Man, whatta way to sleep! You've been snorin' for 'ours!"
"But, what happened…? Where are we?"
"What 'appened? The ball dotted you one on the face, you fell and fainted from the blow—that's what. It's a miracle you didn't break anythin'. You're made of stone!"
Segata gave Handa a loud pat on the back. His spine just barely stayed in one piece.
"We had to bring you here on our backs," Hiroto added. "We were worried—especially your friend."
"There's no way to 'it on 'er! Who must I sell my soul to so she'll pay some attention to me, man?"
Handa blushed slightly and shrugged. Segata snorted angrily and lay down on his futon with his hands behind his head.
"Thanks for bringing me here, guys," Handa said eventually.
"Reina did almost all the work—thank her when you see her," Hiroto replied.
"Yagami-sama… did that?"
"Few times have I seen her act like that. You should feel lucky, Handa-kun."
Segata began to sniff.
"Can you smell that?" He asked with a smile. "My mouth's waterin'. What the 'ell could that be?"
"Didn't Handa-kun's friend say she would cook something for you? That might be it."
"That's true! Hah! Well, if I ain't gonna get anythin' goin' with 'er, might as well pig out. Smell you later!"
And he strode away to the kitchen.
"He's hopeless," Hiroto laughed.
"What time's it?" Handa asked.
"About… 3 in the morning, give or take."
"W-what?! And why aren't you sleeping…?"
"We were waiting for you to wake up. As I said, you got us worried."
"Ah, I… I'm sorry. We lost a full afternoon of practice because of me. I'm only gonna be here for one more day, and…"
Hiroto patted Handa's shoulder.
"Don't say that—it was a productive day. At least you learnt things, didn't you?"
"And we now know that it's your tempo that's flawed. We will have to work on that coordination… although, after that mistake, Reina will get even tougher. Beware."
"I feared that…" Handa sobbed.
"Cheer up!" Hiroto exclaimed. "You have already gone through difficult practice before, right? And it isn't the first time a Raimon player excels himself when time is against him. You carry that in your genes, so don't worry. Everything will work out."
"Yeah… Hope so. Thanks, Hiroto-san."
"No need to thank me. Now, come on, sleep. I don't know if fainting counts as sleeping, but judging by how you woke up, I would say you didn't rest at all."
"You're right. I feel even more tired than—"
Handa's belly roared loudly.
"…You think there might be any of Tsukushi-chan's food left?"
"The smell of food is still reaching me, but you should go down and check."
Handa flashed out of the room and headed to the kitchen. Hiroto, from the top floor, could hear how Handa swept with the leftovers to the chagrin of Segata.
He lay down on the futon, tucked himself in and closed his eyes. A rough day was waiting for him, but he did it all for the sake of his friend.
Now, it was his time to find his way, much like he had found it when he met Endou.
And, right before falling asleep, an idea crossed Hiroto's mind. And it was that Endou and Handa, somehow, were very similar. Although he couldn't tell in what sense nor how.
"I… I can't keep going…"
"Stand up, Handa-kun! You promised me you wouldn't give up!"
"But, K-Kiyama-san… I can't move! My… my whole body hurts…! I can't even stay on my feet…"
"Let 'im be, Kiyama. This guy ain't worth shit. I'm afraid there'll be no chicks for us."
Shinichi lay face down and struggled to stand up and face his destiny again, but his legs were not responding. The rain had come back minutes earlier, but that changed nothing: his spandex uniform was already drenched in sweat. Hiroto, standing next to him, frowned and looked at him with bad eyes. Segata, from the goal, shook his head and clicked his tongue, looking down on the newcomer's skills.
"And you really expected this fella to turn into a great player? 'E ain't even able to stay on 'is feet! I'd 'ave liked to see this guy withstandin' Neo Japan's practice! Hah!"
"I might have been wrong with him, Segata-kun. He promised to do his best and now he can't even stand up. How… pathetic."
Shinichi closed his right hand around a tuft of grass and squeezed it, trying to let go of some rage. He was trying his hardest, following Hiroto's indications and even Segata's to the best of his abilities, but he wasn't achieving absolutely anything. He had spent hours jumping, shooting, failing and falling on the hard floor from great heights, and his body couldn't take any more. His muscles, bones and skin were in pain. It was tough to breathe and his heart was pounding so hard that he thought he would escape from his chest any minute now.
He closed his eyes, clenched his jaw and let tears roll down his face and get lost in the grass, hidden among the rain drops that besieged the area. He was about to faint from sheer pain, but it wasn't pain what was making him cry. It was frustration. He had put his mind on changing, improving and turning into someone better through effort and guts, but he had failed right at the beginning. He had barely taken one step before falling to the ground, defeated by his own demons. He didn't have what it takes to fulfil the incredible purposes he had set on himself.
Then, he thought of his Raimon teammates. Those who had always helped him fight all of his battles no matter how tough they were. Those who had been the surge of his strength for so long. And then he began to cry not only due to frustration, but also due to loneliness, because none of them were there now to support him, to cheer on him and to watch his back.
It was him against the world, and the world had won.
"Heh… And to think Endou-kun had spoken so nicely about you…"
Shinichi opened his eyes and stopped crying.
"I had understood that you were amazing," Hiroto pointed out. "Endou-kun used to talk very nicely about all of the Raimon teammates he had left behind, but you were his favourite. During the FFI, he always lamented the fact that you hadn't been selected. He would have loved it if the three founders of Raimon had faced the world together."
"Really…? Capt'n… thought of me?" Shinichi whispered.
"Yes, but I am not able to understand why. He used to say you had so much potential, that you would eventually make it to the national team, that you were more than qualified to face anyone… And look at you now. Lying on the floor, unable to stand up to persevere in fulfilling the promises you made to yourself nor respond to his hopes. And to think that he trusted you so much… Endou-kun, you are too passion-driven. You shouldn't get carried away by your feelings when it comes to judging someone's capacities."
Shinichi looked at the ground with a sad face and tried to gulp, but he couldn't: he had a huge lump in his throat.
Capt'n trusted me… No. He still trusts me; he always has. He's been waiting for me for such a long time, convinced that I'd grow stronger, but I… I'm betraying his trust. I gave up and stopped fighting…
Shinichi pulled out the tuft of grass he was grabbing and he squeezed it tightly. He opened his hand and stared as the wet earth and the grass blades fell on the ground again.
"Cap... t'n…!" Shinichi wailed, dragging his knees across the floor. Hiroto raised his brows, surprised.
He set his hands on the earth and dragged a foot until he could set it on the floor properly. He lightly propelled himself upwards with his hands and set his other foot on the ground. He wasn't standing up straight yet, but at least his two legs were holding him again.
"The capt'n's still… waiting for me…"
He rested his hands on his knees and he straightened his back slightly, although his body was still curved.
"I want… I want to face anyone! I want to face anyone…!"
Shinichi broke into a run towards the ball, tripping constantly at first, but improving at every step, straightening up, increasing his speed and stability as he repeated his personal mantra again and again.
"I want to be a valuable member of Raimon!!"
He began to sprint forwards, being observed by Hiroto at all times.
"Segata-kun, beware!" Hiroto shouted.
Shinichi kicked the ball hard, sending it flying.
He leapt as high as he could and he spun, placing his body almost horizontally in mid-air. He took a quick glance at the ball, which was already coming back down to the floor after his kick, and then he fixed his gaze on his objective, the goal, just like Hiroto had taught him to do.
Shinichi kicked upwards extremely hard, making full contact with the ball and sparking off a blinding violet light that condensed within itself and tuned into a true universal explosion.
"…Blade!!" Shinichi shouted with all of his might.
Making use of all of the strength left in his legs, he dragged that enormous amount of energy towards the goal through a volley kick and turned it into an extremely powerful shot that, shrouded in a flickering energy, spawned huge explosions and rifted time-space in two in its path.
"C'MOOON!" Shinichi shouted as he fell to the floor, staring at the explosion intently.
Segata raised his hand and an electric ball appeared on it, which turned into the link between his body and the gigantic drill that had suddenly appeared on its other end.
"Drill Smasher!!" He shouted, facing the tip of the drill towards the huge explosion that was falling on top of him and making it spin at full force to try and stop the shot.
Impossible… Hiroto thought as he saw how the drill broke into pieces and the ball hit Segata before lodging into the back of the goal. How… how did he manage to master the Ryuusei Blade in just a few hours…!? Endou-kun, is this what you were talking about?
Shinichi fell on his butt and ended up plumping down on the ground, almost unable to move. After letting out some whines and making a titanic effort to sit up even halfway, he took a glimpse at the goal. Segata was lying on the floor and the ball was right behind him.
Hiroto tried to repress himself, but ended up bursting into a happy and loud laugh as he approached Shinichi slowly.
"Impressive, Handa-kun," Hiroto smiled. "Truly impressive. I knew you were astonishing, but I didn't think you could reach such levels."
Shinichi stared at him from the ground, still somewhat dazed. A few seconds later, a smile poked out on his face.
"Oh, and I beg your pardon for being so harsh to you," Hiroto mumbled eventually, looking away slightly and scratching his neck. "I thought it convenient to push you to keep practising somehow, but I'm afraid I went a bit too far. My apologies."
"'Sokay…" Shinichi puffed, looking at his chest. His uniform was drenched in mud and getting stuck to his skin due to the rain. "It was nice to think all of that was true, even if only for a second…"
"Hmm? And who says it isn't?"
Shinichi looked at Hiroto again.
"I didn't make anything up, Handa-kun," he continued. "I would never put words they haven't said in anyone's mouth, not even in a case like this. I'm sorry to have twisted his words to put pressure on you, but I can assure you that I haven't said anything that he didn't tell me directly before. Endou-kun might be passion-driven, but he can appraise talent when he sees it, and he always told me that Raimon, his Raimon, the original one, was full of true geniuses. Your talent may not be as visible as Gouenji-kun's or Kidou-kun's, but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. Your talent is born from your passion, from your teamwork and from your love for soccer, not from a natural gift the universe has gifted some with." Hiroto made a pause and let out a guffaw, surprised of himself. "Well, that was odd. I think I spend too much time with Endou-kun, ha ha!"
Shinichi smiled softly and asked:
"Then, what you said about me, was that also true…?"
Hiroto stopped laughing, but kept a small smile on his face.
"But of course," he added. "Endou-kun told me many a story about the team's first year. Kino-san, Someoka-kun, he and you, all together in the club room, training day after day under the rain or on the snow. That's why he was so terribly sad to see nor Someoka-kun nor you made it to the national team from the get go. When Someoka-kun was chosen later, he was greatly overjoyed, of course, but they both missed you very much still. Endou-kun always thought you would have been of great help in the world tournament—truth is, Someoka-kun and he sang the praises for you. It's quite funny, because none of the others had any idea of who you were…" Hiroto laughed again, but he stopped immediately as soon as he saw Handa hadn't tagged along this time. "T-thing is… Thing is that he was convinced that you were an extraordinary player, and he would end up telling me all about that, of course."
"I'd no idea capt'n and you were so close, Kiyama-san…"
"Oh, no… I mean, yes, we are good friends, but, actually, Endou-kun is, let's say… very unselective in that sense. He thinks of all of the members of his team as close friends and he doesn't hesitate to share his joy and his despair with the first person who crosses his way, but I'm sure you already knew that." Shinichi nodded weakly. "I simply happened to be in the right place at the right time, it seems, although I'm not complaining: I found his company very pleasant from the very day I met him."
"Yeah… I get what you mean. Capt'n's… special, as if he were the piece that keeps the team together and pushes us to improve. I don't think any of us would be what we are now without him… He's one incredible person. I think… I think meeting him's the best thing that's ever happened to me. I wish I could be like him sometimes…"
"Do you envy him, by any chance?" Hiroto asked, looking at him in an inquisitive way.
"I… used to envy him, y-yeah. He's what I've never been and I'll never be, and that… made me feel weird, as if I was worthless next to him. …I've never been very useful, y'know? People ignore me and think I'm useless just 'cause I don't stand out. Still, capt'n never goes unnoticed: whenever he arrives somewhere, all the gazes end up turning his way for some reason." He let out a silly laugh and continued, "But, y'know what…?" Shinichi looked at the floor and smiled to himself. "I don't care about that anymore. Capt'n's special, but he's special 'cause he's himself. If I tried to be like him, I'd be being who I'm not… and that wouldn't take me anywhere. I've ended up understanding that I must try to be someone important… for who I am. And being able to think like that's something I owe to capt'n. I wish I could repay him for everything he's done for me throughout the years…"
Hiroto nodded, satisfied by the answer he had just heard. Shinichi's words were shaky, but firm and convincing, and that was all Hiroto needed to know that he was being sincere with him and with himself.
"Come on, get off the ground," Hiroto said, stretching his hand to Shinichi. "You're getting covered in mud, and let me remind you that I'll be the one washing that uniform."
Shinichi looked at Hiroto again, but he could barely see him: his eyes were half-closed and glassy from tears. Despite that, he held Hiroto's hand and stood up. Once he had it by his side, Hiroto ran a thumb through his left eye and said in a solemn voice:
"Be strong: heroes don't cry. What would Endou-kun think if he saw you now?"
"Y-you're right…" Shinichi whined, wiping the tears from both eyes with his fists. "…Thanks, Kiyama-san."
"Oh, come on, drop that formality. We are friends, aren't we? You may call me Hiroto."
Hiroto sighed and shrugged.
"Oh well… I guess it's a beginning."
Shinichi turned his head towards Segata, who was uselessly trying to wring the mud out of his hair with his hands. It was certainly obvious that he used to ignore everyone and everything everyone else did.
The snores of a stuffed and satisfied Segata filled the Ohisama-En with their calm resonance, lulling softly those who were already used to his rhythmical breathing and inducing chronic insomnia on Handa, who had to put up with them from just a few millimetres away. Raimon's midfielder ended up eventually giving up and got up again; this time, unseen by anyone.
He thought he could use some fresh air, so he went downstairs and headed for the sliding door that led to the garden. He was hoping he could enjoy some peace and quiet—something he hadn't been able to experience for a few days now.
He wasn't expecting it, but he wasn't too surprised either when he saw that Kageno and Shourin had had the same idea as him. The friends greeted each other in silence, as if they took the others' presence for granted, and Handa sat down quietly on the porch, right between them.
"How'd that go, guys…?" He asked.
"Not too well, but what can we do… We'll keep trying, hu hu hu…~" Kageno said with his always deep and frightening voice, which sounded even more sinister when he laughed.
"Yes~!" Shourin added. "When Yagami took Kiyama, it was Kira-san who trained us, and he sure is strong~! We didn't stand a chance despite being two against one! Right, Kageno?"
"No… He might be a businessman now, but he is still amazing…" Kageno convened.
"I'm really glad you think so, truth be told," said Hiroto Kira's happy voice at their back. He came closer and sat down next to the group of young guests.
"What're you doing awake at this hour, president Hiroto…?" Handa asked.
"President?" Kira laughed. "Well, I guess I can't ask any more from you, can I, Handa-kun? You have always been so formal in that sense." He looked at the starry sky and continued, "Midorikawa kept me busy until now. I'm his superior and he is the one treating me like a slave…! It's kind of depressing when you think about it." He let out a happy chuckle and turned his head towards the boys. "And what about you?"
"We were too excited to sleep!" Shourin exclaimed. Handa nodded in silence in order to not admit that the cause of his insomnia were Segata's monstrous growls, thinking that, deep inside, he must had been the only one who was really bothered by them.
"Yes…" Kageno continued. "We have been here for two days now and we haven't achieved anything… It looks like it is our destiny for our presence to be hidden in the shadows forever…"
A chill went down Handa's spine as he heard Kageno's phantasmagorical voice pitying himself once more due to his lack of presence.
"He's right. No matter how hard we try, we don't manage to improve our hissatsus!" Shourin, sulking like a kid, crossed his arms and wrinkled his nose.
"Where in the world did you get that idea from, I wonder?" Kira said out loud even though it was actually a question for himself. "Of course you have improved, boys! In fact, I am surprised by how extremely fast you are moving forward. It's something out of this world… and that's a lot coming from an alien," he laughed.
"But we haven't managed to dribble you a single time, and we have been trying all day!"
"Well, boys, I would appreciate it if you gave me a certain… vote of confidence. I'm older than you, and I still got it even though I haven't played in a while!" He laughed. "Modesty aside, I'm no pushover—it's only natural not to be able to beat me off the bat. But trust me if I say that Yagami and the young Hiroto would have to exert themselves much more if they wanted to take the ball from you now; I'm amazed by what a few hours of training achieved. Also," he stretched and began to massage one of his shoulders, "you left me shattered. And Midorikawa scolded me for starting my work late. A total twofer."
Kageno approached Kira and began to massage his back.
"Goodness, that feels nice…!" Kira meowed. "You have got some miraculous hands, Kageno-kun. What was I saying? O-oh, right. You must always remember that you are teammates, and that if you are in the same team is to support each other. If your strengths are ever not enough on their own, put them together!"
Without anyone noticing, Handa looked down.
"In fact," Kira continued, "it surprised me a great deal that you didn't come at me together, boys. It's likely you would have been able to beat me if you had worked together."
"Really…?" Kageno whispered, making the most out of his strategical position.
"Of course! You are extraordinary players, but your strength is born mostly from teamwork. You must always keep that in mind."
Once the massage was over, Kira Company's new CEO thanked Kageno repeatedly, he stood up and went to sleep, where he went out like a light. Handa and his teammates stayed awake for a bit longer—among other things, because Handa could still hear Segata's snores thundering from the top floor and he wouldn't make up his mind to go back to bed.
"The sky's full of stars…" Handa whispered. His two friends nodded. Handa raised his arm to the sky and closed his hand, as if he were grabbing a bunch of different heavenly objects. "You can't see this many from Tokyo…"
"Do you think this training is really useful?" Shourin asked, not quite convinced.
Kageno pondered, but Handa nodded firmly.
"…Yeah. After all, it's a special training designed by the capt'n…!"
"That's true, Handa, but…" Kageno puffed, "I don't know just how strong we are becoming. I can't feel anything…"
"Y'know what…? I… I think it's not just a matter of becoming stronger. I think that if Endou-san brought us here's 'cause he wanted us to… open ourselves, to get to know soccer outside of Raimon, 'cause that'd make us better players. What's here's a soccer that's very different to ours, and there's a ton to learn from it in many senses. …I guess, at least."
"Did you think of a way to become stronger, Handa?" Shourin asked.
"…Kinda, but I need your help. Will you help me out tomorrow…?"
Shourin and Kageno smiled.
"No need to ask~!"
"We'll be with you until the end, Handa…"
"Guys…" Handa smiled.
Segata's snoring stopped all of a sudden, telling Handa that his day had officially ended.
Chapter 8: Talent
Well, first of all: happy Inavember, everyone! To celebrate this wonderful month full of amazing Inazuma art, I decided to translate because… hey, why not. Thing is, it’s taken some time to correct this one, so it’s not Inavember anymore, so, uh, I guess I’m better off wishing you all a very happy new year instead. May 2019 be kind to you, and best of luck on all of your endeavours!
Now, here’s ‘why not’. For the longest time (years, in fact!), when I felt like sitting down and writing, I always ended up thinking that I’d better translate instead. You know, to catch up with my Spanish stories and all. I only have a couple of friends who read my Spanish stuff, but… uh, no, actually, just a couple of friends read my English stuff as well. (Btw, shoutout to my faithful Spanish readers, Sam and Pao, and to my faithful English readers, Roxy and… Rae? Sometimes? Not all that often, but often enough to be mentioned.)
Anyway, congratulations, miga! You played yourself as the idiot you are! YOU COMPLETELY CAUGHT UP. There’s nothing else to translate. And the next time you feel like writing, you’ll actually have to write instead of doing something easier. Boy, 2019 is going to be weird. I haven’t been an active writer in years.
I hate myself for being so dumb and I love you all for putting up with me. It’s taken years, but I hope you’ll enjoy the 8th chapter of The Roar of the Beast! (And, even if you have already done so, please go check out the 9th chapter after this. It’s the most personal fictional story I’ve ever written, so it’d mean the world to me.)
And, as usual, thank you so much to Roxy for helping me out and proofreading this for me!
Handa pursed his lips and shut his eyes tight, reluctant to wake up. A sound that could have been ascribed to a pissed off lawnmower—had such a thing existed—had flooded the room minutes earlier and taken him out of his light slumber, but he refused to open his eyes. He murmured a pitiful ‘just five more minutes’ and he curled into a ball inside the futon, facing away from the noise.
As much as he tried to ignore it, the sound seemed to inch ever closer. When Handa got sick of it and turned around to check what it was, he jumped as he bumped into Segata’s bloated face, who was munching loudly right next to his ear. He was sitting with his legs crossed, leaning forward in a way that seemed unnatural and uncomfortable. Handa squinted at Segata, who returned the stare and began to munch abnormally slowly, but without ever ceasing to produce sounds that more closely resembled those of vermin belonging to the pig family than those of a normal person.
“…What’re you doing, Segata-kun?” Handa asked slowly, squinting even more.
Segata blinked a handful of times and put another spoonful of cereal in his mouth.
“Nothin’,” he babbled with a full mouth. A single cereal shot out of his lips and hit Handa in the cheek, trickled down unhurriedly and fell on the futon.
Epsilon’s former member averted his gaze quickly and sat up before swallowing loudly.
“Why were you making that kinda noise…?”
Segata left the bowl of cereal and the spoon on the floor and sighed bitterly as he scratched the nape of his neck.
“Please understand, bloke. I’m landed with takin’ care of the Snoring Beauty ‘ere whilst everyone else’s takin’ care of the interestin’ parts: get the trainin’ ready, set everythin’ up… and all ‘em lame things I’d never do even if they paid me for it.”
“Why’re you complaining, then…?” Handa snorted. Segata didn’t reply—he picked the bowl up again and put another spoonful of cereal in his mouth. “So, must I suppose you didn’t find a better distraction than to come bother me and watch as I writhed in my sle—?”
“Wow, bloke, this shit’s good,” Segata cut him short. It was dangerously obvious he wanted to avoid that question. “That friend of yours’s got it all, ‘Anda. She’s pretty, a good cook, and what shit do we give about everythin’ else?” Segata laughed frantically at his own sexist joke, but he stopped when he realised Handa hadn’t found it funny in the slightest. “Err… What’s ‘er name again?”
“Ah… Tsukushi Ootani.”
“Uh. Well, it sure looks like you two get on. You know, you’re shippable or whatever.” Segata leant over Handa again and whispered in his ear: “So, since she won’t even look at me,” and he added a ‘she doesn’t know what she’s missin’ ‘ere’ in a grumble, “why don’t you pull ‘er instead? You won’t tell me she ain’t a good catch, eh! And it’s clear there’s somethin’ between you two!”
Segata giggled as he badgered Handa with a succession of suggesting nudges. Handa’s face turned bright red.
“T-thing is, she and I, w-well, uh… w-we—”
“IF YOU’RE AWAKE, STOP GOSSIPING AND COME TO TRAIN AT FUCKING ONCE!!” Yagami screamed from the floor below. Segata grimaced.
“That bird should consider it’s 5 in the mornin’ before she starts screamin’ like that.” He picked on his ear with his little finger and sighed softly. “She ruined my breakfast, and I bet you she ruined more than one person’s sleep.”
“…Can I eat it, then?”
“’Course not!!” Segata blurted out, hugging the bowl. “If you’re ‘ungry, go tell your girlfriend to make breakfast for you.”
“S-she isn’t my—!”
The sliding door opened violently. A lock of shiny blue hair covered most of the beautiful features of a face that, unfortunately, was way too used to frowning. Or that was what Handa was beginning to suspect, at least.
“I TOLD YOU TO COME DOWN AT ONCE!!”
“Won’t you even let me finish my breakfast?” Segata gabbled. Yagami closed her eyes and Handa saw in horror how some of the veins on her neck swelled.
With firm and suspiciously delicate steps, the alien princess snatched the bowl from Segata’s hands in the blink of an eye and, before the boy could react, she shoved it into his head with all the love and care her nerves on edge allowed her to display.
“Enjoy,” Yagami hissed. She held Handa’s hand and forced him to stand up. “Take a shower for once in your life and then come train with us, Zel. And you would better hurry up or you can forget about having a single bite during the entire week.”
Yagami pulled Handa out of the room and slammed the door shut in a way that made the whole second floor shake.
“Charmin’ till the end,” Segata whispered in a neutral tone, still wearing the bowl as a hat and feeling the cereal and milk getting into nooks and crannies of his body that even he wasn’t familiar with.
Handa stretched under Ootani’s supervision, trying to not pay much attention to her. He had tried his best to keep Segata’s words from affecting him, but it was useless. What he felt for his current partner was strong enough to keep old feelings from germinating inside him again, but remembering their farewell and the millions of doubts about what could have happened between them if she had never left filled the young hero-in-training’s thoughts to the brim.
He needed her to know what he felt now. He needed her to understand those reactions that lacked any kind of logic.
The midfielder stood up and looked at Ootani, much more intently than usual. She returned the gaze. She had felt Handa was being distant and she knew him well enough to know something wasn’t right. Handa took a rigid step towards her and opened his mouth slowly, thinking thoroughly about how to formulate the next few sentences so that his need to vent wouldn’t make things even more complicated between them. Ootani was looking at him with expectation: her eternal and comforting smile suggested her old friend to talk without fear, for her work as manager was to listen to him and support him.
Since he wouldn’t reply, Ootani moved closer to him and held his hands.
She noticed it as soon as her flesh touched his friend’s, and Ootani’s smile disappeared: despite his firm steps, Handa was shaking like a leaf. But that was not some nervous trembling, nor was it anything like what he had shown a year ago, when they had parted ways for the first time and the boy was left with a broken heart and an ‘I love you’ on his lips.
No. Handa was terrified. Ootani could clearly see how cold sweat ran down his friend’s hands and fell on hers, drop by drop. She looked at his face again, worried, and his expression was completely different from that from a few seconds ago. Ootani was startled as she saw her friend’s eyes, glassy and lacking in life. His shaky breathing contrasted with his cold hands, and it hit Ootani like the suffocating wind from a barren desert.
“Shinichi, what’s wrong?” She asked slowly, twisting her gentle face until it turned into an anguished and worried grimace. “What do you want to tell me…?”
Shinichi squeezed Tsukushi’s hands carefully in a desperate attempt to hold onto her, to create a link between them both that would allow his friend to understand the unintelligible and would give him the strength he needed to explain it all to her. It wasn’t just her comeback that troubled him. It was the helplessness of being unable to get her out of his mind and focus on what was truly important. The feeling of being unable to meet everyone’s expectations of him—especially his own. The lack of time to fulfil his many purposes. And, above all, the fear brought upon him by the idea of confirming that, as he had always thought, he really was absolutely worthless. The tireless efforts of his friends had made the seed of hope germinate, and, as weak as the sprout might be, it had become tightly ingrained within him. He now truly believed in his chances to turn into something he himself could be proud of, but if his efforts were to be useless despite all, he knew he’d never be able to recover from that blow.
Shinichi wanted to tell Tsukushi about all that, and about much more. However, whenever he looked her in the face, all of his words would fly away.
There was something in her eyes, on her face, in her very essence, that would make any man falter if he dared look at her from that short a distance. A paralysing sensation; a poison that seemed to seep in through every pore of the body, that polluted the air and pierced into the organism through the mouth and the nose when breathing, corrupting the boy’s movements in an indescribable way.
He had never felt anything like that while being with her in the past, not even during their farewell. Was that proof of them having grown apart, or was it simply that America had turned her into a person that, deep inside, he was no longer able to recognise?
A tragically inopportune Segata stormed into the field shouting at the top of his lungs, drawing the attention of all the people who were there. Despite being far away from everyone else, Handa and Ootani were startled as well.
“Mothers, ‘ide your daughters: Ryuuichirou Segata, master amongst masters, ‘as arrived!” He proudly proclaimed, smiling at himself as he rejoiced on each and every one of his words. He scanned the area with his eyes until he spotted the former couple and screamed: “Quit pullin’ girls and move your butt, ‘Anda! This master needs ‘is disciple in order to shine!”
“A master ought to be able to shine on his own, Zel,” Yagami said in a neutral tone that would only come naturally from someone too used to dealing with Olympic-level idiots. “Although you’re the most pathetic thing I’ve ever had the disgrace of laying my eyes on, so I don’t know why it comes as a surprise to hear you need to feed your ego comparing yourself to those who are worse than you.”
Handa made a superhuman effort to not take that as a personal attack. He failed.
Ootani let go of Handa’s hands, and the last snippets of the link they seemed to have created together finally dissolved. They hadn’t finished talking about what they were thinking of, though, and Ootani only managed to trouble herself.
Handa shook off those bad thoughts by shaking his head; a habit that had rubbed on him from spending too much time with his captain, most likely. Ootani, as she was much demurer, deeply inhaled and softly exhaled, letting out a great deal of nervousness along with the air. Nowhere near as much as she would have liked to, but just enough to be able to talk to anyone without raising suspicion.
After all, that’s what her dream was all about.
Without looking at each other one last time, the couple met with the rest of the group at the centre of the park.
“Listen carefully,” Yagami said, addressing the group in an authoritarian tone. Even though she tried to hide it, those who had been under her command in the past could feel in her voice the immense pleasure she took from being in charge. According to her, everyone present was an absolute lost cause with whom wasting one’s time wasn’t worth it, but that didn’t change anything. She turned towards Kageno and Shourin and began to talk: “You two, whatever your names are. Since Ma—" Yagami closed her eyes and pursed her lips, cursing Raimon’s captain under her breath for getting her used to calling him that way, “…Since Endou only asked me to take care of that sissy teammate of yours, I refuse to play babysitter with you two as well. Kira will take care of you two by himself if his patience allows for it.”
“Sure. It will be my pleasure,” Hiroto Kira replied kindly, smiling at his new pupils and at Yagami. “Although I would have loved it if you had seen for yourself how much they have improved. I’m sure you would have been pleasantly surprised, Reina-chan.”
Yagami blushed in a second and gave a murderous look to the new CEO of Kira Corporation. Even for a full-fledged adult, playing with Yagami’s nerves like that was a risky bet where the possible rewards were ridiculously low in comparison, but a part of Hiroto had always liked risk, be it when it came to soccer, when it came to business or when it came to women. And playing with Yagami meant always walking on the thin tightrope that divided success and failure.
“Let’s continue,” Yagami said as she saw that the deep stare from her eyes, blue as the sky, had managed to push Kira to the side of the tightrope his business rivals wished to see him at, although they had never had the chance to. “Once the trash has been taken care of,” Shourin was about to make a comment about that, but Kageno put a hand on his mouth at the speed of light to keep him from making things worse. Yagami looked at the scene with curiosity, but it only took her a few seconds to look at Handa and Ootani again, “I suppose we will finally be able to focus on the matter at hand. Are you ready?”
Handa took a deep breath and raised his hand. It took Yagami a few seconds to let that reaction sink in, more suitable of a Math class than of soccer practice, but she didn’t dislike the feeling it left on her body.
“…Yes, Sissy?” Yagami said eventually, dragging her words harshly.
Handa was still a bag of nerves and kept looking at the ground. He knew what he had to say, but no words were coming out of his mouth. The lump in his throat caused by thinking of Ootani had grown bigger under Yagami’s gaze, which was still as intimidating as ever. He could have easily burst into tears at that time, and he’d have loved to. But tears would be counterproductive in front of someone like her. And, above all, it would make his following words lose all credibility.
Handa puffed up his chest and emptied his lungs very slowly: he was trying to shrink, at least slightly, the lump that kept him from talking. He opened his eyes just enough for Yagami to be able to see them, but what she felt went far beyond anything she could have ever expected to see in him.
Handa’s eyes were roaring. They roared despite how glassy they still were. They roared with the fury of the fiercest of beasts, with the determination of a warrior facing their worst enemy. But they roared desperately. That roar wasn’t for Yagami, but she was the one who had to see that Handa’s eyes were roaring against himself. His eyes reflected his own struggle: a struggle that the beast sleeping within him had to win, no matter how much the victory, supposedly sweet, may end up hurting him.
For the sake of them both.
Yagami nodded slightly. Handa closed his eyes and took a small step forward.
“Yagami-sama…” He began.
“It’s decided, Handa,” Yagami cut him short with a gesture. “Ootani and you won’t train together today.”
“Whatta witch, bloke!” Segata grumbled, making sure Yagami couldn’t hear him. “What’s up with not lettin’ you train with your girlfriend?” Segata paused to rejoice on Handa’s reaction to the word ‘girlfriend,’ but his body didn’t react as usual. Raimon’s midfielder was gazing into the distance, facing Yagami and Hiroto, who were chatting about how to refocus the training session without Ootani. Trying to appear natural in spite of his confusion, Segata continued, “If she thinks your friends need ‘er ‘elp more than you or somethin’ like that, I could let it slide, but she didn’t even scorn to give us a reason.” Suddenly, an evil smile appeared on his face, and his tone went from carefree to mischievous. “Y’know? I think she’s jealous of ‘er. She can’t stand not bein’ in the limelight amon’ men. That gynecocracy shit—” Segata turned to Handa expectantly, eager for his friend to ask him about the meaning of that word so he could boast about his extensive knowledge, but Handa, once again, didn’t show any signs of moving nor replying. Segata put his hands in his pockets and grumbled, “…That gynecocracy shit’s only funny to ‘er when she can be a tyrant and govern on ‘er own, but when some competition shows up, she gets rid of it by force. …Whatta witch,” he repeated.
“No,” Handa said eventually with a voice that sounded much more serious and firmer than usual, without even looking at him. “Segata-kun, you may not believe it, but Yagami-sama’s… amazing. I didn’t have to tell her a single word: she read my feelings in a sec and helped me without thinking about it twice. She knew I couldn’t do it on my own, and she pushed Tsukushi-chan away from me herself. I think she also did it to protect me and keep her from being mad at me…”
“Hey, hey, hold your horses,” Segata begged, opening the palms of his hands as he scowled. “You mean it’s you who did in with my chances of gettin’ la— I-I mean, who didn’t want to be with Ootani?”
Segata stood in front of his friend, clenched his teeth and punched him in the face. Handa flew a few centimetres away and fell on his back, pushed by Segata’s tremendous strength. Yagami and Hiroto turned around upon hearing the ruckus and ran up to them.
“What the fuck’s your problem, asshole?!” Segata screamed with his fist still raised and a grimace of rage no one had seen since Raimon beat Epsilon Kai during their fight against the Aliea Academy. Hiroto arrived just in time to hold the arm he had raised, but Segata continued to scream as if nothing had happened: “Do you think that’s a worthy way of treatin’ a girl who cares so much about you?! I may not be as good at pullin’ girls as I wish I were, but even I can see that girl’s crazy about you! The stink comin’ from ‘ow much she loves you can be smelt from Hokkaido, and everyone there’s got a cold and a runny nose! And what’s worse—you ruined my last chance of pullin’ ‘er!! And what’s it all for, uh? Uh!? ‘Cause you got tired of ‘er or somethin’? Answ—!”
“Shut the fuck up already, Zel!!” Yagami shouted, asserting her authority over Segata’s bawling with her cold and firm voice. Segata stared at her, mute as a grave, and she proceeded: “It’s clear that you’re as exceedingly bad at understanding your friends as you are at understanding women. Do me a favour: look at the poor wretch you just punched and tell me what you see.”
Segata turned his eyes towards the floor and dragged them across it until he found Handa’s face, who was still lying face up. He hadn’t noticed before, but, beyond his bruised cheek, his expression reflected tension and concern, and his eyes didn’t seem happy at all with the choice he had had to make. Segata thought that, if selfish reasons had pushed Handa to avoid Ootani, he sure was good at concealing them.
“It’s… tough to define,” Segata grumbled like a kid. “But ‘e doesn’t look too happy… and it isn’t only ‘cause I punched ‘im.”
“You did better than I expected,” Yagami told him. A hand gesture was all she needed to make Hiroto let go of his arm, “but I doubt your minuscule brain is able to surprise me with a more thorough explanation, so give it a break and let me explain it to you myself.
“I admit Sissy here has some merit. His eyes are much more interesting than what one would expect, even if it’s simply because everything else is pitiful. In them, I’ve seen a passion that many of you could really use, but there was something else.
“This sissy… is fighting himself. What he forced me to do to him has destroyed him inside, but he has yet to complain or lose heart at all. He’s managed to win the fight and to render himself unfeeling to the pain he must be going through. “
“I still don’t get it,” Segata recognised, scratching his head. “What’s the point of all of this? Why’d ‘e want to get rid of ‘is girl?”
“You ought to be able to answer that question yourself, Zel.” Yagami crossed her arms and snorted, sick of the incompetency of those around her. “Sissy is here for a reason: to grow. He wants to stop depending on his teammates and be able to stand up to any rival alone if it comes to that. He’s always been a nonentity who’s been used as nothing but a link between offence and defence and, because of that, all he knows how to do is assist his more skilled teammates. He’s never been good enough for anything else.
“However, at some point, something within him… resounded, I suppose. Not even he knew what it was, but it already pushed him to come here once and ask for Hiroto’s help, apparently. Time and his own efforts have made the sound louder and louder, and he can hear it clearly now. The echo of that sound has spread all over his body and, now, you can even notice it in his eyes, much like it happened to me before.
“But that sound, that… roar that pushed him to improve himself, has stumbled upon something he wasn’t expecting. Something dangerous for him, because it’s a battle he already lost in the past. And the same wolf, disguised as an innocent sheep, has come to get in the way of this new path he’s chosen to take.
“Now, tell me, Zel,” Yagami said very slowly upon seeing that Segata was having a terribly rough time understanding the situation. “Would it be any good for Sissy to have stepped away from Raimon if he’s going to get hooked to playing under Ootani’s supervision and care?”
Segata, without even complaining about Yagami calling him by his alien name constantly, lowered his head and tried to reflect.
“Whatever is causing that sound is getting closer and closer to the surface, and Sissy must train it thoroughly so it’ll be ready at the moment of truth. If he lets his potential develop under the influence of third parties, his beast will be little more than a domesticated puppy, unable to roar by itself. What he needs isn’t a lapdog that will follow his orders word by word, but a wild beast that scares his rivals off without anyone else’s help and will still accept to follow his instruction. If he ends up relying on someone again, he might never stand up again. And I doubt such a weakling would be able to withstand a hit like that.
“It’s his last chance, Zel. Handa is betting everything on one card, and as much as it may hurt him now, he can’t risk losing.”
Handa was happy to see that, although for just a second, Yagami had acknowledged his value and had called him by his surname instead of “Sissy.” When The Genesis’s second-in-command finished talking, Handa nodded, still under the influence of his inner beast. If it hadn’t been for that, he thought, he would have broken down and cried halfway through that talk, but he managed to hold himself back and all he had to do was rub his eyes to keep his composure.
“Yagami-sama,” Handa said with a low but firm voice—a voice unlike his, “I’m ready.”
The princess smiled.
“About time, Sissy.”
Ootani was unable to understand and, hence, she roamed about the Ohisama-En looking for the answer to a question she didn’t even know. All she knew was that Handa wanted to tell her something, but she couldn’t imagine what that might be, and her frustration only spawned more doubts. What was troubling him all of a sudden? What could have caused such a drastic change in his attitude overnight? Those were questions she didn’t know how to answer and, for as long as she were there, far away from the boy for whom she had crossed half the world, she wouldn’t be able to solve them. But she couldn’t approach him just like that; they had banned her from doing so. It was a vicious circle there was only one obvious escape from: to wait. Although that was something she could not allow herself the luxury of doing, for later could be too late.
But she had never been the kind of person to let herself be overwhelmed by trouble. Her brain worked fast, efficiently and logically: the brains of an Einstein and the looks of a Garbo, as many had recognised in the past. If he couldn’t just approach him, she thought, she would need a great excuse. An infallible excuse.
She opened the door of a random second-floor room, one of those at the end of the corridor. She saw a bed pressed against one of the corners of the room, and as soon as she stepped in, she felt a very specific kind of darkness, old and forgotten, engulfing her. A person less familiar with such feelings might not have noticed a thing, but she was able to recognise the pain stuck to the walls, fluttering in the air. Even when it was clear that a long time had passed since that darkness had disappeared, Ootani could feel the traces of sadness that still hadn’t left that room completely. It was a sticky kind of darkness, a difficult one to ignore when it’s present; a feeling only natural to the sorrow that comes from guilt. Ootani got worried, but only until she took a second step forwards. Only then could she finally notice the warmth of the light that had shone in that place, and it felt as if her body had been freed from all sorrow in an instant. It was impossible to know what had happened there, but she had no doubt that the problem was in the best possible hands.
Her suspicions were confirmed when she took a look at the desk. There, she found a notebook open at the first page which looked quite old by then, but with only a few words written on it. Most of them were crossed out or violently scrubbed.
At the top of the page, underlined as a title, one could see a single name she knew well, but, obviously, not quite as well as the author of that notebook.
Ootani smiled with motherly love and an ounce of guilt for not recognising that feeling earlier. She sat on the chair next to the desk, borrowed a pen and a page from the notebook and began to write down her infallible excuse.
The sun had reached its zenith, and a heat wave typical of the first compasses of summer mercilessly fell over the Ohisama-En. Although those inside the orphanage would need nothing but to get rid of a blanket or two to feel comfortable, those unlucky enough to find themselves at the big garden, the ground of which was still marked by the impetus and violence of some of the inhabitants of the orphanage, would have to face much more unpleasant temperatures. Despite that, it felt like something normal, because Kira’s skin tone, which was white as milk during his youth, had noticeably changed throughout the years. Nowadays, it showed a colour that, while not tanned, was still much healthier than it used to be back then. Nonetheless, Kira had had to take off his always unpolluted branded jacket and throw it on the ground before the training began in order to face the unexpected climate that razed the area.
The president of the big Kira Corporation faked a puff. He wanted to make them believe he was having a hard time keeping up with them now that they were attacking together, but Kageno and Shourin hadn’t put up much of a fight that day. The previous day’s progress had vanished in the ether, and they seemed to be even worse than they were when they first arrived at the Ohisama-En. Kira’s experience in taking care of kids told him something was wrong, and it was that same experience that urged him to make use of his best diplomatic skills to solve it, for negotiating with business rivals was, to a great extent, like dealing with a sulky baby.
Also, he thought, there was a chance that the moment might have come.
“That… wasn’t bad, guys,” Kira lied, trying to not make it too obvious, “but I think you’re acting strange. Is everything all right?”
Kageno and Shourin looked at each other, but it was the much more outgoing Shourin who spoke up.
“You see, Kira-san… We talked about this last night and neither Kageno nor I think we’re getting any better with this training. Raimon players never give up, but—!” Shourin tried to find the right words, but he couldn’t continue.
“Handa told us… it might not be about training, but about… discovering something…” Kageno said, minutely weighing each and every word that came out of his mouth. “Something we’ll never see… if we only play at Raimon… and like Raimon…”
Kira slowly let the air out through his nose, composing a soft smile as his lungs emptied. He breathed in again and said, “So that’s what Handa-kun told you, eh?” Kira’s smile grew bigger. “Then, what do you see?”
“I don’t know…” Shourin admitted, downcast. “I don’t even know what it is I’m supposed to see.”
Kageno shook his head, feeling just as helpless.
“I see…” Kira tilted his smile and tapped his chin, pretending to be intrigued. “Why do you think he said so?”
“He asked us to help him…” Kageno muttered to himself, but loud enough to let them hear it. “But he didn’t tell us what he wanted…”
“What did you answer, then?”
“We told him to count on us, of course!” Shourin jumped. “Whatever it is that he needs, we’ll be with him! We’re friends!”
“So he asked for help,” Kira repeated, now giving his voice an intriguing tone. “That seems hard to believe, to be honest.”
“W-we can help him as well as any other member of the team!” Shourin grumbled.
“That’s not what I meant,” Kira laughed, shaking his hands to play it down. “But, if he was so interested in training with you, why isn’t he here now… or why aren’t you with him?”
“We’d like to, but it was Yagami-senpai who sent us here!” Shourin remarked, but Kira shook his head.
“I know, but Handa-kun could have said anything to avoid that: talk to Reina-chan, object… or, well, pout like he did yesterday. Anything. But he didn’t. He allowed himself to be isolated without a complaint, even when Reina-chan has kept him away from that girl who came here solely to help him. Yesterday, he was begging you to not abandon him, but, today, he seemed to be the one who tried to stay away from you all.”
Kageno averted his eyes quickly—although no one noticed it—and whispered, “…He already saw it… While he was alone, Handa discovered the reason why Coach sent us three here… and has been sending us signals all this time so we’d realise it…” Kageno shook his head and clenched his fists, furious at himself. “How could I be so blind…?”
Shourin, oblivious to everything else, tried to explain him exactly how he could have been so blind, but Kira managed to pounce on him in time to cover his mouth before he could say something inappropriate.
“H-have you found anything out, Kageno-kun?” Kira struggled to ask while struggling with Shourin to keep him quiet.
“Kira-san… You knew from the very beginning, didn’t you…?”
Shourin stopped struggling and looked up. Kageno wasn’t moving in the slightest, and his eyes were aiming at Kira. The powerful president quickly let go of Shourin and adjusted his glasses as he looked in every possible direction. After a few seconds, he pretended to be surprised in a very unconvincing way and pointed at himself.
“Who, me? O-of course not! Endou-kun never tells me about anything, ha ha…!”
“Because he doesn’t need to…” Kageno argued, lifting his head slowly until it was completely upright. “You’re a world-level soccer player, Kira-san… I’m sure you knew what Coach was up to as soon as he phoned you… And in spite of that, you’ve made us train blindly all this time… instead of telling us directly… All this training… all this wasted time… was just a… worthless cover, right…?”
Kira started laughing nervously and pulling the collar of his starched and terribly uncomfortable executive shirt, which was suddenly hotter than ever before. He couldn’t see them, but he could feel Kageno’s dark eyes drilling his vital points with the accuracy of a surgeon. Despite having dealt effortlessly with Yagami’s extremely hateful gazes for almost twenty years, he had never felt something like that. He didn’t know his body could produce such cold sweat, nor tremble so much from sheer fear in such an imperceptible way to the human eye. Every muscle in Kira’s body tensed and heated up, getting him ready for a danger he could feel on his flesh, but couldn’t explain or even imagine.
However, all those feelings ceased at once, leaving no other trace than a wet back full of sweat. When Kira gathered the courage to look at Kageno again, he was surprised to find him bended forward in a deep bow meant for him. His long, purple hair was touching the ground with a few centimetres to spare, which created a thick curtain around his face that covered him even more than usual.
Kira blinked and adjusted his glassed, for real this time. He opened his mouth to say something, but Kageno got ahead of him with a whisper:
Shourin tilted his head and wrinkled his tiny nose, unable to understand the situation in the slightest. Kira breathed in deeply and held his breath: he didn’t know if Kageno would want to say anything else, but he didn’t want anything to interrupt him in that case—not even his breathing.
“The point was to find that out ourselves… to understand on our own what we are lacking…” Raimon’s gloomy defender whispered eventually. “It’s the same thing Handa wanted… and I’m sure it has something to do with his idea, too… You knew that; that’s why you made us train that way…” His voice began to shake, and his hair trembled along. “It seemed so… normal…”
Kira tried to force a guffaw that ended up turning into a long sigh of relief. He didn’t know if Kageno had done so consciously, but he had caused a reaction on him that hundreds of seasoned executives had been trying to achieve unsuccessfully. It had been as hair-rising as spectacular: he had felt himself on the ropes even before engaging in battle, and that was anything but normal.
Kira couldn’t help but remember the words Endou had said ten year ago during the FFI—words that, at long last, had begun to make sense: ‘You might find it hard to believe, Hiroto, but every single player at Raimon is incredible in his own way. The problem is that you need to get close to them to realise how much they’re worth.’
Kira smiled at Kageno when he straightened up and, then, looked at Shourin, who was still unable to understand what all of that was about. Kira squinted and continued smiling, but for a very different reason: at that moment, what he wished for the most was to be able to get a glimpse of the true power lurking within that small, big-footed body. The curiosity was killing him, but, now that he had begun to believe Endou’s words, he knew the wait wouldn’t disappoint him.
Kira picked the ball up and tossed it at Kageno. All he had left to do was wait.
Ootani went down the stairs quickly and ran across the entire Ohisama-En towards the door, ditching her exquisite manners for a minute in order to arrive at Shinichi’s side as soon as possible. In her right hand, she held a carefully folded sheet of paper, for she didn’t want the presentation of her infallible excuse to be ruined by a couple of wrinkles on the paper.
Ootani left the orphanage with a long jump and sped up even more. She moved way faster than anyone would’ve expected from a girl with the face of an angel: it felt as if she had grown the wings she very much deserved and were flying above the pavement thanks to them, gracefully, like a butterfly dancing with the wind. Her movements were beautiful, as well as efficient and precise: she wouldn’t take a false step nor make any movement in vain. That run was nothing but a perfectly measured choreography, studied, practised and memorised until it turned into yet another movement of her own body, as natural as breathing. However, no one did she find while offering such an angelic show, and no one saw what Ootani was truly capable of.
She heard voices a few metres ahead and she braked as delicately as she had started. Not a sigh, not a puff, not even the slightest trace of tiredness on her face. That was part of her dance as well, for a brilliant start is worthless without an ending that will make it justice. Ootani began to walk again like the lady she was, and a distant voice took over her frenetic rhythm.
“No, no and NO! You’re completely WORTHLESS!”
Ootani gave a sudden start and hid behind some bushes, looking at the scene from a prudent distance.
The sun was already shining with an orange colour, and its light casted long shadows upon clashing against the items and people at the park. Light makes no distinctions, but Handa, lying on the ground, casted a much shorter shadow than Yagami, who stood in front of him with the might of a mountain in front of a mere man, and whose shadow stretched, or so thought Ootani, way farther than those of Hiroto or Segata, even though they were all pretty much the same height. Only the humongous trees that flanked the park could put Yagami’s palpable grandness in the shade, and even their shadows seemed less spectacular than hers because they all merged together, creating a swirl of light and darkness that, rather than impress, offered a little and peaceful shelter to all of those who decided to rest next to them.
Handa staggered as he tried to stand up. Once on his feet, he clenched his fists and hammered his feet in the ground, like he had already done so many times, and with an increasingly weaker voice, but just as determined as ever, he exclaimed:
“Once again, please…!”
Yagami gave Raimon’s midfielder a look of deep rancour and turned her back on him.
“Come on, Reina, give him another chance…” Hiroto begged. Yagami made wild gesticulations to be left alone and folded her arms.
“You’re so mean, bird,” Segata huffed. “’E almost got it, too…”
Yagami looked daggers at him and took all of his will to complain away, turning him, at the most, into a scared puppy.
“Handa.” Yagami’s voice, although melodious by nature, resounded like thunder when she was angry. She was trying to keep her calm, but the din of her voice reflected her true mood. “I won’t sugar-coat it for you, because I don’t want to give you false hope and you don’t deserve me to do so either. I admire your goals, but you’re a lost cause. You’re nothing, you’ve never been anything, and, all things considered, you will never be. You haven’t even been able to improve nor grow in the slightest under my tutelage, and that requires some off-the-charts levels of ineptitude.”
“Maybe you’re just bad at teachin’?” Segata answered back sarcastically. Yagami looked daggers at him again, with even more fury than the previous time.
“Stepping away from Ootani to try and become stronger on your own has amounted to nothing: you’re still as helpless as you were when you arrived here,” Yagami continued. “You can only grow by clinging onto others, and it’s obvious you get lost as soon as you’re left alone. You’re nothing but a parasite that takes advantage of others to be of any worth.”
Ootani opened her eyes wide from her hiding place. She wasn’t able to catch a glimpse of all the details yet, but understanding Handa’s feelings and the reason why he had decided to step away from her calmed, partially, her heart’s thirst for answers.
Hiroto, hurt by what Yagami was telling Handa, turned his eyes towards him. However, his eyes didn’t find the battered Handa they expected, but a firm Handa that, albeit trembling, hadn’t allowed himself to be intimidated by the princess’s words. He held his ground, impassive, snorting loudly through his nose like an enraged bull, mooring onto that specific point on the ground as if he feared he’d lose all of his strength if they managed to move him from there.
“Take that back!” Shouted a voice behind Hiroto. The Genesis’s former captain turned around upon seeing the fear in Handa’s eyes and found Ootani, who was moving towards Yagami with determination. The princess huffed.
“I don’t regret anything I said,” Yagami blurted out curtly.
“Then, you haven’t looked at him properly, or you aren’t willing to see what’s in front of you,” Ootani replied. “I only just got here, and I can already tell Shinichi isn’t the same he was this morning. The boy who couldn’t even tell me he needed to train alone has gone as far as to challenge you, Yagami.”
Yagami turned around and looked at Handa, who clenched his fists and toughened his expression—within his possibilities—as soon as their eyes met. Yagami frowned in a menacing way, but Handa wasn’t daunted and replied with the same gesture. Yagami blinked, only mildly surprised by all appearances, but genuinely impressed deep inside. Unlike Hiroto, she never intended to motivate Handa with her words, but seeing how they hadn’t made him lose his confidence brought back to life for a split second the trust that, at some point, she had placed in him.
“He looks… different,” Yagami admitted, without averting her eyes from Handa nor showing even the slightest sign of weakness. “But, either way, he hasn’t improved in the slightest.”
“That isn’t true either!” The manager objected, frowning as much as her sweet face allowed her to. “Just because he hasn’t mastered what you want to teach him yet doesn’t mean he hasn’t grown stronger!” Ootani made a long pause to look at Handa, during which Yagami never stopped looking at her, trying to understand what a girl like her saw in someone as worthless as him. Ootani breathed in after a few second and, with total conviction, she said: “I’m sure Shinichi could beat you one-on-one!”
Handa wobbled and fell on his butt.
“Ha-have you gone bonkers, Tsukushi-chan…?!” Handa whispered, trying his hardest to not sound offensive. “I can’t possibly beat Yagami-sama the way I am now… And even if I could, it’d be ‘cause you’re—”
“Shinichi, I know you didn’t want me to be close so you could grow without relying on me…” Ootani cut him short in an even lower tone. “But you have spent the whole day fighting alone and I can notice you have changed a lot thanks to it. I’m so glad…”
Handa lowered his head and rubbed the nape of his neck. He was still feeling insecure in front of Ootani. She smiled at him kindly and nodded at him.
“This is your fight, Shinichi. I know you can win, whether I am here or not. But I will be—not because your strength depends on me, but because I want to see you win with my own eyes. And when you win, I will be the first one to congratulate you.”
Ootani’s smile grew bigger, and Handa had no choice but to return it. He didn’t know whether he could win or not, but he knew that, regardless of the result, it would be his and his alone. He was alone, but he didn’t feel like so.
Until then, Handa had thought that what Endou wanted from him was for him to learn how to fend for himself, how to fight alone, how to be more independent to be able to shine as an individual. But, now, he didn’t seem to be learning how to be an individual player, but an important part within a whole. Could that be what his captain was trying to teach him from the very beginning?
The midfielder shook his head and slapped his cheeks, like he had seen his captain do so many times to get rid of useless thoughts. He took a couple of steps forwards and he stood in front of his rival.
“Let’s finish this quickly,” Yagami snorted. “You have a single opportunity to steal the ball from me. Your little buddies have played this game before, so I assume you know the rules.”
Handa nodded firmly.
“Heh… It looks like something has changed a bit, after all,” Yagami said with a cheeky smile on her lips, straight from her best days as a player for Aliea Academy. “I must admit I’m curious.”
Yagami stepped on the ball, waiting for the signal. Handa ran his hand through his forehead, therefore removing part of the sweat that had accumulated there due to the training and his nerves. When Hiroto raised his hand, they both got ready, and when he suddenly brought it down, the first one to move was Yagami.
Recalling her days as an alien, Yagami hurled herself on Handa with her body completely bent forward, aerodynamic as an arrow. Handa, startled by the horrible memories that way of running brought back, decelerated unconsciously, but he recovered his composure after a couple of seconds and launched himself at her again with everything he had.
When they were about to clash, Yagami shot the ball up to the sky by kicking it in the middle of a backflip. As soon as she touched the ground again, she propelled herself and jumped after it with all of her might, eventually rising above the ball. In the middle of the jump, The Genesis’s second-in-command turned upside down, making sure that Handa, still surprised by the sudden jump, was right under her.
“Meteor Shower V3!” Yagami shouted.
Yagami smiled at herself and threw an incredibly powerful kick at the ball, which burst into fierce flames and multiplied, creating dozens of small, incandescent meteorites that fell on Handa with fury. Raimon’s midfielder shuddered when he saw those meteorites falling on him, but he managed to get over his fright and he reacted quickly.
He threw a single kick, so powerful that it moved a huge mass of air along with it. He dragged the kick to its limit, moving all of that air upwards, which swirled violently and formed a terrible tornado.
“Cyclone Kai!” Handa exclaimed, witnessing how his hissatsu extinguished the fire from the meteorites and gathered them into a single one again, throwing both the ball and Yagami into the air. The princess recovered from the blow quickly and controlled the ball with her chest before falling on the ground delicately. She licked her lips and Handa offered her a competitive smile.
“Not half bad,” she admitted a split second before charging at Handa again, opting to dribble him cleanly that time around. Handa managed to block Yagami’s feints and keep her from moving forwards, albeit just barely. Yagami took a step back and moved the ball from one foot to the other, staring at Handa intently.
He’s better than I thought… Yagami thought. He seems to be moving way better than before.
Yagami noticed Handa’s face. The sweat on his forehead shone with the sunlight, lending an imposing air to his serious expression. His medium-length hair was being stirred by the afternoon breeze, waving softly over his face. Suddenly, his eyes looked back at Yagami, who was petrified in front of them. She had never seen eyes like those. Sparkling, bold, eager to fight. Or so she thought.
Yagami blushed in a matter of seconds and was startled upon feeling the warmth of her own cheeks.
Ootani showed a very tiny grin of satisfaction.
There was something in Handa’s eyes, on his face, in his very essence, that would make any woman falter if she dared look at him from that short a distance. A paralysing sensation; a poison that seemed to seep in through every pore of the body, that polluted the air and pierced into the organism through the mouth and nose when breathing, corrupting the princess’s movements in an indescribable way.
W-what the Hell is wrong with me…?! Yagami wondered, panic-stricken. I… I can’t keep my eyes off him… He’s so… s-so… Yagami gulped before even thinking that word at all, …attractive…
Making the most out of that unexpected moment of weakness, Handa acted. He took a small leap backwards, faced Yagami and brought his index finger and thumb to his mouth, placing them instinctively under his tongue. He got ready to blow.
But he didn’t.
Yagami was still so entranced and self-absorbed, staring at the ground, that she didn’t even react to Handa’s attempt at using a hissatsu. The midfielder only had to approach her carefully and bring the ball towards him to win, and Yagami didn’t offer any kind of resistance. The only movement she did was bring her hands to her face as Handa moved closer to her, as if trying to hide it. Handa, however, couldn’t even imagine why.
Once he had the ball and had taken it slightly away from Yagami to make sure it wasn’t a trap she was setting up, he cautiously brought it to Yagami’s side of the pitch, claiming the victory for himself. She was still not reacting, though, so he approached her again and moved a hand in front of her face.
“…Yagami-sama?” Handa asked with his usual innocent face. The unwavering warrior he had turned into minutes earlier seemed to have vanished off the face of the Earth without trace.
After a few seconds, Yagami reacted. She uncovered her face, let out a brief, confused groan and looked at her feet. There was no trace of the ball whatsoever.
She raised her gaze and saw Handa, who offered her a small smile. There was no trace of the boy she had seen either, nor of the effect he had caused on her. He was back to being the usual Handa: the same boring Handa, the same useless Handa, the same Handa that made her wonder how he had managed to win the affection of someone like Ootani. Although, somehow, part of those doubts had been clarified after playing against him face to face.
“Winner: Shinichi Handa,” Hiroto announced with a wide grin. Segata charged at Handa like a kamikaze, tackling him into the ground and messing up his hair as he congratulated him with a very loud voice. Hiroto approached him as well, but he was satisfied with winking at him and giving him a thumbs up. Handa returned the gesture with difficulty as he tried to free himself from Segata’s dangerous hug.
Yagami fell to the ground as well, but she didn’t need anyone’s help to do so. On her knees, she looked at her hands, which were still trembling, with excessively open eyes. She was trying to understand what had happened to her, but she couldn’t. Ootani walked up to her and delicately gave her a helping hand.
“Confused?” She asked, offering her a tender smile. Yagami accepted her hand and huffed, for it was the only way she had of answering affirmatively at that moment. Once she was on her feet, Ootani looked at Handa. “It’s not your fault; you did great. He has simply grown more than you expected.”
“You say it as if you’d known from the get-go, Ootani,” Yagami retorted, a little calmer already.
“I didn’t know, but I suspected it.” Ootani grinned even more. “I’ve suspected it would happen at some point for a very long time now, but I knew as soon as I saw him again today. He has improved a lot by your side, Yagami. Thank you very much.” Ootani dedicated her sweet smile to the alien princess, and she couldn’t help but return it.
“What happened, then? How could I possibly feel that way because of someone like…” Yagami gazed at Handa, who was still unable to get rid of Segata no matter how hard he tried. He was offering quite the pitiful show, “…him?”
“Because of his skill: Ikemen Up.”
“His what.” Yagami asked immediately with a completely plain voice. Ootani let out a small guffaw.
“Skills are abilities hidden within the body of certain people. Sometimes, they are innate; other times, they emerge thanks to training, like in Shinichi’s case. His skill, Ikemen Up, gives him the advantage when it comes to facing women. We…” and she made a strange pause, “…freeze in front of him.”
Yagami went silent for a few seconds, with a face full of extreme weariness.
“Well, but he beat you,” Ootani laughed happily.
“…It’s still pathetic. And useless, since he’ll be facing a men’s team.”
“You might be right, but besting you under his own steam has done him much good—I know it. He has managed to defeat a rival he thought unbeatable, and knowing he can do it will give him the confidence he needs.” Ootani turned towards Yagami and offered her a determined smile. “I promise your efforts won’t be in vain, Yagami.”
“You better be right, Ootani. Otherwise, I’ll kill him with my own hands.”
The sun began to get lost among the trees. Seeing how the night was already falling upon them, the group returned to the Ohisama-En.
It was late, incredibly late. Everyone was already asleep in their respective beds and futons—even night owls such as Kira and Midorikawa. Handa, self-satisfied, had dozed off right after having dinner, and Kageno and Shourin seemed to have made some progress in their own training as well, although they didn’t have time to talk about it. Segata and Hiroto had decided to sleep next to Handa once more to keep him company during his last night at the Ohisama-En. Kageno and Shourin slept together in a small free room, like they had done the previous night.
Everyone was asleep, except two people.
It was late, incredibly late, but they couldn’t have talked at any other hour. She was unable to subject herself to such humiliation in public, and he was, according to many, too condescending, even though he didn’t even know what that word meant. She would never admit it, but she had been really looking forward to that moment all day long. He was simply content with getting to hear her voice every day, for she was very important to him. And late, incredibly late, was the only moment when they could be alone and give in.
The other person was still restless. She hadn’t been able to understand the single person she had to understand and that worried her. She had studied so much to get ready for that moment, but ‘one can never be ready enough,’ she told herself. Despite those words, she had got tired of tossing and turning in bed and had decided that wandering about the orphanage would be more productive. Then, she saw her.
Ootani heard a very faint voice coming from the entrance to the orphanage: a voice much sweeter than she imagined, and way sweeter than her owner would have ever used in public. Holding the receiver of the phone gently, Yagami whispered. Once she had got close enough, Ootani could distinguish the voice coming from the receiver: a loud and happy-go-lucky voice that not once tried to hide its nature and echoed in the silent walls of the house. She couldn’t quite hear what it said, but the tone was unmistakeable.
“Yes… Yes, I’m fine, but I don’t like it when you go around talking about our secret places. That park was supposed to be only ours, idiot.” Yagami talked with a gentle smile on her lips that she would have never shown had she had that person in front of her. “It’s been a tough day, but I’m fine. How are you?” Happy voices echoed in the walls. “Heh… I’m glad. I knew I had nothing to worry about. Nothing bad ever happens to idiots.” Yagami’s smile grew even bigger, but it became slightly smaller when the person at the other end of the line talked. “Well… He has had a few problems and I got mad, but, when I think about it, he didn’t do such a bad job either… I think I have been too harsh on him; he might not have deserved that. I’m very sorry…” Yagami looked down, profoundly regretful now that she had calmed down, but a few words from that person were enough to bring a smile back to her face. She opened her eyes more than usual for a few seconds, as if she were paying close attention. After that, she let out a small and very sweet laugh and continued: “You were right: he has some very interesting eyes despite appearances. He might not be the strongest, but he has something that makes him special… But it looks like he can’t see it himself, and that makes him try even harder. He has a lot of spirit.” The voice happily resounded in the walls again, and Yagami laughed softly upon hearing it. A few seconds later, her smile disappeared again. “Ah… No, I haven’t been with your other friends—sorry. You only asked me to take care of Shin-shin, so I spent the day with him…” The sound at the other end of the line became so soft that it stopped echoing in the walls. Yagami tilted her head to the side of the receiver, leaning against that invisible voice. She smiled in a much softer way than before, but her expression was brimming with feelings that, again, she would have never shown in public. “You’re welcome. I’m happy to have met him… I hope he will do better in the next place.” After a few seconds, Yagami tingled from head to toes and opened her eyes wide for an instant, trying to face feelings that she still hadn’t even tried to forget and that made her face shine with a reddish colour under the faint moonlight. “I-I…” She stuttered, holding onto the receiver with all of her might, squeezing it, “…love you too, Mamoru-kun…” She smiled as if she had got rid of a huge burden, laughed upon hearing the last words and hung with a melancholic ‘see you tomorrow’ that seemed to hurt her soul.
Tsukushi then came out of the shadows, offering Reina an understanding and friendly smile. Reina, who had noticed her presence from the very beginning, looked away.
“It’s… stuff of ours,” Yagami argued. Tsukushi approached her and put a hand on her shoulder.
“I know. I’m sorry—I had to borrow a page from your notebook and I couldn’t help but notice,” she smiled. Yagami frowned slightly out of sheer instinct, but it didn’t take her long to relax her expression again. Somehow, it didn’t matter to her anymore. “I don’t know what might have happened between you two, but I get the feeling it’s beautiful. I’m sure he would love to know you have tried to come up with a hissatsu for you two.”
“…I hate myself for that. I don’t get what anyone could see in an idiot like him, and despite that… I can’t help but want him close. It’s… difficult to explain.”
“I hope you can understand what I see in Shinichi, then.”
“…I guess so.”
Chapter 9: Void
Hello! Here's a little heads-up: this is NOT the 8th chapter of The Roar of the Beast, but the 9th.
Due to personal reasons that you'll find in the Notes section (feel free to skip all of that if you don't care, though ww), I was compelled to translate the 9th chapter of this fic before the 8th one. Most people would want to read this after the 8th, but it's my fault for posting it in the first place lmao So, just in case you want to keep reading instead of waiting for chapter 8, here's a brief and spoiler-free summary of the missing chapter:
Handa steps away from Ootani to train, thinking that relying on her won't do him any good. After working around his feelings, Yagami understands the strength that lies within Handa and begins to acknowledge it. With that, Handa's stay at Ohisama-En comes to an end.
Back when I wrote this in 2015, the last few months had been tragic for me. My usual cheerful attitude probably made it hard to notice (and, in fact, some friends have told me that they would’ve never thought there was something wrong with me if hadn’t told them), but it became a recurring topic in my conversations with people. It’s not a subject I went around screaming about in public, but some things just can’t be kept inside and they emerge as soon as they are given even the tiniest chance to. Still, I’m sure many people are not aware of it yet after all these years, and even those who are might not have got a grasp of how I really felt, how my body and health were an absolute mess because of it and how hard it was to fight that terrible depression for so long, especially during my exams.
A writer called Eric Leunam said the following words: “I loved you in every possible way and I still couldn’t make you stay. You were for me, but I was not yours.” I think it sums it all up pretty well. I lost my girlfriend and, let me tell you, I’m not good at coping. Some people switch couples like nothing and just let go, but I’m not one of them. Relationships mean the world to me, because, as asocial as I am, and despite how obvious it is that I am a terrible friend (I never keep in touch, duh!), my beloved ones are still what I care the most about in life. And losing the most important of them all was not easy to handle. In fact, I have never gone through such a bad rough patch in my life. It’s even more ironic, or plainly sad, when you think that I started the year with the resolution to bond more with those that I love, and soon after, the one I loved the most realised, after almost two years, that I’m not worth of being part of her life after all. I was glad to know that I never hurt her, but it didn’t hurt me any less to lose her the way I did.
However, that quote from before has one more line to it: “I’m for another woman who is like me, sailing on solitudes.” Three years later, there is another and better woman in my life, but I hope he (and she) will forgive me if I twist his words just enough to believe that the woman he talked about were actually all the people who helped me during these hard times--including my girlfriend. Some helped me because they knew what was up and that I wasn’t okay, but some others helped me without knowing anything about this matter, simply by being by my side. Those people include, but are by no means limited to, Audrey, Bri, Heather, Ouji, Prin, Terra, Maze, Piyo, Hina, Py, or Chan, my Roxy and, of course, the one person who started it all, for I still love her with everything I’ve got, even if my feelings aren’t the same. To all of you, and all those people that I didn’t mention but were an important part of my recovery too: I’m all yours, because you all, whether you were sailing with me or not, at least gave me the strength to keep on rowing so I could eventually find the shore I was so desperately looking for.
Years have gone by ever since that happened and, as I stood up, I thought that it would do me good to put all these horrible feelings into words and turn them into something else, be it positive or not. I believed that the people I love, and who love me back, deserved to have a way to know why I have needed them so much, and I deserved to let go of the pain and move on once and for all. And the only one who could help me do that is my loyal and beloved Handa, who seems to have to put up with all the crap that happens to me. Poor baby. It’s really for the worse that I identify myself with him so much.
This chapter (which is actually the 9th--I haven't got around to translating the 8th one yet) is a requiem to everything I lost and an ode to what that loss made me feel, as well as to what I got from it: friends, experience, strength and family. It’s full of references to myself, to the lost person, to what we shared, to those who saw me crawling across the mud and to the things that helped me get over these terrible feelings; it’s, in fact, so full of them that I’m worried it won’t have enough content written by me for it to be considered an original work (I’m exaggerating, but it’s true that there are a ton of references). I couldn’t fit in as many as I wanted, for new ones kept appearing, but oh well. I just hope I managed to convey the overall feeling of despair that I had to put up with for so long, although I doubt I got to do it properly: I’m rusty, and this is just hard. Still, I don’t want anyone to have to go through this hell, ever, so that’s probably for the better.
Here’s my heart, and here’s the result of the last thing you taught me. Farewell, my love.
Hours later, but still too soon, a different phone, connected to a private line, rang in the orphanage.
The phone was placed in a room not too big, not too small; not too full, not too empty; not too tidy, not too messy. That balance was kept by the wide contrast that existed between the northern and the southern parts of the room, which, although weren’t separated by any physical barrier, were easily distinguishable with a simple look.
The southern part, close to the door, was noticeably smaller, but was perfectly ordered. The wooden desk, placed next to the door and full of drawers brimming with official documents, seemed tidy and organized. On it, the only things in sight were a little, off lamp, the aforementioned phone–which, due to priority issues, was out of reach–and the few documents that the man sitting there had yet to fill after having spent the night awake doing paperwork of diverse nature. That man had the habit of putting his long, green hair up while working, which dangerously reminded his mates of a time they didn’t want to remember.
The northern part, on the other hand, seemed to be uninhabitable. The desk that was there, although much bigger, was also way fuller: the drawers were equally brimming with documents and kids’ drawings, even though the drawings had been strategically placed over the writings so as to not depress the owner of the set. The surface of the desk seemed to have been the scenario of a nuclear war: balls and pieces of paper instead of bullets; shavings of rubber and empty pens as corpses, and a bunch of smudges and food stains as the physical sequels of the disturbance. The surroundings of the desk had also suffered the havoc of the bloody battle between man and paperwork. As the only survivor, a young executive with glasses and hair as red as a burning meteorite lay asleep face down over that holocaust of ink and paper, still recovering from the attack against his person he had had to face last night.
Together, both parts seemed to harmonize with each other, forming a strange yet undeniable balance. But that balance was broken when the phone rang.
The green haired man, awake, was startled when he heard the phone. It certainly took him by surprise, even though he was waiting for the call. It took him a second to recover from the fright, but he immediately stood up to pick up the phone, which he had pushed aside last night in order to have more room to work.
Nevertheless, when the green haired man was about to pick up, the red haired man with glasses tackled him with the indelicacy a person who has woken up 30 thousandths of second ago would have. The green haired man ended up crashing against the delicate paper door and battering it down, and the red haired man answered the phone instead of him.
“Who is it?” The red haired man asked jolly as he put his glasses back in place, even though he was perfectly aware of who was calling.
“Morning, Hiroto!” An equally jolly voice said from the other end of the line. “It’s Endou. Sorry for calling so early; I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“Of course not, Endou-kun!” Lied brazenly Hiroto Kira, the almighty president of the great Kira Corporation. “We were waiting for your call at the office.”
“I think you should look for a proper office, Hiroto,” Endou chuckled despite being serious. “Working at that cubicle can’t be healthy.”
“I like being around the kids; I feel less alone if they are close by. Their company is the only thing that helps me bear with this Hell without going crazy…” The green haired man, who was struggling to stand up after going through the door without even opening it, made a supreme effort to hammer in a gaze of hate on the back of Hiroto’s neck, who reacted immediately and added, “In addition to my faithful Midorikawa, of course.”
Actually, Kira considered Midorikawa a slave driver that forced him to work until untimely hours, even though he appreciated his efforts to help him keep afloat the company he had inherited from his father.
“Happy to know you manage well, I guess,” Endou smiled to himself, and, immediately after, adopted a more serious tone. “I wanted to ask you about the kids. How are they doing?”
Kira, thoughtful, pulled the little beard that had grown on his chin since the last time he had shaved, as red and bright as the rest of his hair. With a cheeky smile on his lips, he said:
“You will be surprised when you see them. All of them. I promise.”
“I hope Yagami isn’t being too harsh on them. Endou-chi insisted a whole lot that she trained them, but I must admit I’m worried…”
“You can tell you never had as much contact with her as your other self did, Endou-kun,” Kira said with a calmed voice. “Remember that smile she had on her face the day you saved her: that’s the real Reina. And I know that what that Reina can awaken in your team will astonish you when you see it.”
“Believe in yourself,” Kira cut him short, giving a new and confusing sense to the idiom. “There isn’t anyone better than her.”
On the other side of the line, Endou breathed heavily, but soon made a noise that Hiroto interpreted as a smile.
“Then, does what we planned still stand?” Endou continued.
“Sure, don’t worry. I’ll take care of it all personally.” Kira’s personal secretary, already standing up [as in, on his feet, not lying nor struggling to stand up], coughed in a highly eloquent way. “…And Midorikawa will help me, of course.”
“Wonderful,” Endou said with a sweet voice. “I’m counting on you, president Kira.”
“At your service, coach Endou,” Kira replied, mimicking Endou’s friendly tone and subtly taking it a step further. “See you.” And he hung up.
When Kira tried to get out of the room, he ran into an irate Midorikawa who, with his eyes half closed, assured him that ‘one sows evil, one will reap it.’
For an instant, Kira had the impression that Reize was back, but he soon dismissed that idea: not even Reize, being an alien, could have ever been as inhuman as the Midorikawa he currently worked with was.
“Shinichi.” Delicate hands shook Handa lightly as he slept curled up in a ball inside his futon. “Shinichi, wake up.”
Handa opened a single eye and tried to look out of the window without getting up, but he didn’t even get to see it: the room was in darkness, and the only light came from the moon, still clearly visible in the sky.
“…Try again when the sun is out,” Handa growled as he curled up even more.
“Shinichi, we must go. Didn’t the coach tell you?”
Handa’s brain rescued the words Do-san had entrusted him with days ago and bucked up in an instant. He opened his eyes wide and stood up with a jump.
“T-that’s right…! We gotta go at once…!”
Ootani averted her gaze from Handa and coughed softly. The moonlight highlighted the colour of her cheeks and made the teddy bear design on Handa’s slips gleam.
“…You would better get dressed first. And start with your pants, please.”
As he cursed Segata a million times for convincing him that ‘c’mon, we’re amongst guys here; you can sleep in your cacks if you feel like it,’ [ß INSERT TERRIBLE ACCENT HERE!!] the young midfielder hurried to hide his shame with Raimon’s tracksuit.
Once dressed, he picked his futon up, put his few belongings in his bag and looked around. He had spent such a little time in that room, but Hiroto and Segata had managed to make him feel at home. Despite they kept him up talking until way later than necessary, Segata’s snores and Hiroto’s insistence that he would sleep between the two of them–which had led to a storm of kicks against his whole body–, he had to admit that he had had a good time with them, and that that little room was already like home for him.
He sighed. He would miss them a lot.
Endeavouring to not make any noise, Handa and Ootani got out of the room, and none of them realised that neither Segata nor Hiroto were there.
The second stair he stepped on creaked loudly under Handa’s foot, and he barely managed to pick himself up from the jump without falling down. Only then he noticed that the only noise wasn’t coming from the stairs.
As soon as they poked their heads round the corridor of the ground floor, they were surprised to see that, even though the door was closed, there was light in the living room.
“Let’s check whether there’s anyone in there,” Handa suggested. “We might get to say bye properly to any of them…”
Ootani nodded and smiled. Handa and she walked up to the door and Handa opened it slowly.
A ‘surprise’ at full volume slammed against the midfielder’s face and made him jump backwards in such a sudden and uncontrolled way that he ended up crashing against the corridor’s wall. Ootani, as surprised as he was, poked her head into the niche, and there she found a full crowd of people that barely fit inside the room.
“W-what’s all this…?” Handa managed to articulate after standing up. Segata walked up to him and clicked his tongue.
“We didn’t know you were leaving tonight. We had to hear from Yagami.”
“Ah, didn’t you…?”
“No,” Segata sprang, and hit Handa’s nose with his middle finger. “You could have had the decency of telling us you were to leave.”
Handa lowered his head.
“I-I’m sorry… I thought of doing it yesterday, but… I didn’t know how. You’ve treated me so well here that it hurt a lot to have to say goodbye so suddenly…”
“That’s fine,” Segata said, tempering his expression until it turned into a smile. “Hadn’t you opened the door, we’d have let you go just like that, but the fact that you wanted to see someone to say bye is enough for us.”
Segata got out of the way so Handa could see the crowd that was gathered there. Kiyama, Yagami, Segata and Shourin had managed to carve a niche for themselves in the front row. Behind them, all the team members of the old Gemini Storm were holding a banner where the words ‘COURAGE, HANDA-KUN!’ could be read, written in green letters: it was a nod to the emblem the team once had, but Handa thought it alluded to Midorikawa’s hair, being the captain as he used to be. And behind everyone else, on the other side of the room, Handa spotted the upper part of Kageno’s grey hair, which seemed to move up and down quickly, as if they were little spasms. After listening carefully, he heard the characteristic ‘hu hu hu’ of his teammate, and he deduced that he was still laughing at the hit he had taken against the wall.
Midorikawa took a step forward and scratched the nape of his neck.
“Excuse us if we have interrupted something… intimate,” he laughed, clearly uncomfortable. “Hiroto told me you were leaving tonight, and since we haven’t had the chance to talk before, well… we didn’t want to waste this reunion.”
Handa looked puzzled at Midorikawa.
“Handa… We just wanted you to know that we are very sorry for what… we did to you that day. Really.”
The whole team presented Handa a reverence. The faces of some showed a tremendous regret; some others, on the other hand, showed fear to rejection, to Handa not forgiving them for the terrible physical and emotional pain they caused him the day Raimon faced Gemini Storm for the first time. The day aliens challenged the Earth.
“…And that goes to everyone else, too,” Midorikawa added, turning around and bowing forwards again with his eyes closed tight. “Kageno, Shourinji: please forgive us. I know it has taken us a long time to say this, but, as the saying goes, ‘better late than never.’ Or so I hope…”
“…I hope to be able to speak for everyone,” Handa began after a few seconds, “when I say it’s been long since we forgave you, but it makes us so happy you’d wanna say sorry to us. I’m sure our pain is pretty similar to the one you felt when you realised what you’d done, and that it must’ve taken a lot of courage to apologise like this…” He approached Midorikawa carefully and put a hand on his shoulder. He who was once Gemini Storm’s captain looked up, and Handa smiled at him. “Thank you very much, Midorikawa-kun…”
Midorikawa stood up straight and smiled back at him. He held his hand out to Handa, and he shook and squeezed it tightly.
“We all wish the best of luck to you guys in the match,” Midorikawa said effusively. “We will be rooting for you from the first row. Show them what our generation’s players are made of!”
“Consider it done…!”
Handa let go of Midorikawa, who walked up to Shourin and Kageno to apologise personally, and Segata pounced on him as soon as he was free, ready to set Handa’s head on fire by scratching it with his knuckles.
“We’re gonna miss you around here, boy!” He said, once met Handa’s pleas to stop.
“I’ll miss you guys too… I wish I could stay here for a bit longer, but…”
“You needn’t give us reasons, Handa,” Hiroto interrupted him. “Do what you must do to become stronger and show the Inazuma Eleven what you are really worth.”
Handa smiled at Hiroto, who replied with a thumbs up. After that, and slightly askance, he turned his head and looked at Yagami, who kept a serious face and her eyes on him as she came closer.
“Yagami-sama, I…” His voice was trembling, and his body began to do the same too after a few seconds. “I actually don’t know what to say.”
“Then I’ll say it myself,” Yagami sprang. “Working with you has been frustrating. You’re the clumsiest and most useless thing I’ve had the disgrace of coming across, and you’ve been unable to improve in the slightest during these days.” Her face brightened up slightly, just enough for Handa to stop shaking. “If you keep that up, I don’t think you’ll have any sort of problem to thrash those old crocks to death.”
Handa blinked. He didn’t know what else he could do.
“What do thou mean to say…?”
“That what you need the most is not to improve, but to learn and trust in what you know. That’s the only way that thing of yours will accept you.”
For the second time in his life, Handa had the privilege to see Yagami dedicating him a smile, even bigger than last time’s, but equally demure. And that time, rather than thinking she was beautiful, Handa understood what was what his captain saw in that girl and why he liked her so much. And, for a brief instant, understood, also, what kind of bond actually linked them, despite what everyone else saw and what they themselves would let them see. And he thanked the heavens for that complex bond that had done so much good to him too, just before it turned again into an unfathomable mystery for everyone except for the two of them.
“Wounds never close, Handa. Ever. But that wound will teach you a lot,” Yagami whispered all of a sudden, with a voice so soft that no one else in the room got to hear it. “…Good luck.”
Handa exhaled deeply from the shock, after having held his breath unconsciously as Yagami smiled. Then, meeting Yagami’s apparent wishes of not talking about that subject any further, he took a step back, looked at those present and bowed courteously at them.
“T-thanks for taking such good care of me and helping me so much… I promise I won’t let these days you let me stay here with you be in vain…!”
“We’re with you, Handa-kun,” Hiroto said on behalf of everyone. “Best of luck.”
Handa stood up and Ootani walked up to him. She held his arm and they both got ready to leave, but Shourin kept them with a shout.
“Handaaa! Make sure to become way stronger while you are out, because we are going to improve a whole lot during the days we have left to be here! Right, Kageno?”
As his only reply, Kageno laughed, and he set on edge most of those present’s teeth.
“Yeah…!” Handa replied. “Courage, guys…!”
Ootani and Handa left the Ohisama-En after bidding farewell to their training partners once again, and just at the door, waiting for them, they found Kira Corporation’s president and his personal assistant, who opened the red sports car’s door for them and invited them in.
“Get in, please.”
“Have you fastened your belts, guys?” Kira asked from the driver’s seat. Even though Raimon’s members answered yes, Midorikawa, sitting on the co-pilot’s seat, had to make sure that, indeed, the belts were properly fastened. Kira sent a sarcastic look at his assistant.
“’Forewarned is forearmed’,” he said as his only excuse, shrugging.
“Well, I suppose you know. However, we’re off!”
Kira adjusted the driving mirrors and his glasses, moved the gear lever and turned the motor on, which roared instantly. And, with an almost childish smile on his face, Kira put his foot down, and the youngsters that were sitting on the back understood Midorikawa’s insistence of them wearing their belts properly.
The car shot out like lightning and left the Ohisama-En behind in a matter of minutes.
Kira and Midorikawa seemed to be really comfortable, but Ootani and Handa took long to get used to the constant feeling of being about to crash against something any minute. The sound of the sports car cutting the wind was enough to fill the silence at first, despite the fact that it hindered them from listening to the conversation Kira and Midorikawa seemed to be having, but it stopped working after a while. Then, Ootani put her hand over Handa’s and smiled at him.
“Shinichi…” Ootani began in a whisper, but Handa cut her short at once.
“You needn’t say anything, Tsukushi-chan… You still don’t understand what I did yesterday, do you…?”
Ootani squeezed Handa’s hand.
“I’m sorry, Shinichi… I feel like I’m missing something, but I don’t know what it is.”
Handa sighed. The storm had passed, he thought, so he assumed it was about time to tell her everything.
“Don’t worry; I think it’s impossible for you to figure it out if you don’t know why. And, for you to understand, I gotta tell you what happened the day you left. That day, I met… him.”
Handa couldn’t go to class that day. He pretended to be ill before his parents and, given his condition, it didn’t take much for them to believe him. His body felt like clay, to the point that it was hard to even stand on his feet, and his head had turned into a hellish chaos. He spent the day on his bed, lying on his side with his eyes open. He would have liked to cry, but his body would, simply, refuse to react. He spent hour after hour looking at the wall without seeing it, trying to avoid the pain. As hard as he tried later on, he was never able to recall if he had thought about anything during those hours; he just remembered himself as a death weight that was only conscious of how hard it was to breathe.
Alone, in that room in darkness, Handa had shut himself away from everything and everyone, in a desperate, almost animal attempt to stop suffering. Bearing with the emotional weight of that situation had drained him. He wasn’t strong enough to do anything, and he didn’t do anything. He couldn’t do anything.
Handa only reacted when he heard steps. The sound came first, and then that feeling. A crushing feeling of darkness that was coming closer to him, that brought him out of his hibernation and put him on the alert, as if it were an imminent danger. Handa, despite the disturbing pressure he was suddenly feeling, raised his head from the pillow, tensed himself and stared at the door.
The door opened, and light got into that room for the first time in hours. And cutting it out, a figure of sheer darkness; a silhouette that seemed familiar. Then, Handa understood that the pressure that said darkness had been exerting on him didn’t mean to strangle him, but hug him, blend into him. And he recognised it.
“Hello. I brought you your homework.”
Kageto Yamino greeted him from the door with his usual inexpressive personality, paper sheets at the ready. He stood staring at Handa and frowned harder than usual.
“Handa…” He whispered. “I did not know you had so much darkness inside.”
Handa looked down and changed his expression for the first time in all day. Darkness. Was that what was contaminating him? Had his attitude and cowardice taken him to that point?
“Shadow-kun, you’re always talking about darkness… Is this what you feel?”
“I’m scared… I’m so scared…” He sobbed.
“I am, too. Darkness is terrifying.”
Shadow sat beside his teammate and kept looking at him intently with a curiosity that he would only show when something made him afraid.
“Will I have to live with this for the rest of my life…?”
“No,” Shadow said, more incisive than usual. “Darkness opposes to light, and light opposes to darkness. That is the natural balance of things. But, when that balance breaks, none of them is good. Light and darkness will hurt you the same way.”
“Then, what can I do…?”
“Most people try to get their balance back, opposing their light to their darkness. But when you do not have your own light to fight with…” Shadow said these words very slowly, showing an emotion unlike of him, “you can only accept your darkness and come face-to-face to it until you control it.”
Handa struggled to hold back the tears that he had so desperately tried to let go of minutes before.
“I cannot force you to fight your darkness like me,” Shadow proceeded. “You have light too, Handa, and that is a blessing.” Shadow’s voice trembled with his last words. “But the only thing you cannot do is let the darkness consume you.”
Shadow put a hand on his teammate’s shoulder, without changing his neutral expression. And he whispered:
“It is a very deep darkness, but this is not you. You should not have to go through the same thing as me. Find out where that darkness is coming from and fight it. I leave in your hands the way to do it.”
Shadow left the papers over Handa’s desk and went back to the door.
“Do not give up without a fight. That is not the style of the Raimon you are a part of.”
Handa smiled at him slightly.
“And do not forget about homework.”
Shadow got lost across the corridor, and Handa could hear how his mother said bye to him in a slightly strange tone.
Minutes after that succinct conversation, and for his mother’s surprise, Handa got up and came out of his bedroom at last. It was better than doing homework.
This is what Handa recalled as he talked to Ootani, but he didn’t tell her anything about it.
Handa got onto his bike and pedalled like he had never before. He was about to run over a few people on his way, but he was able to dodge them with surprising skill. The exercise had also returned his breathing back to him. He didn’t know why, but he felt terribly focused and confident. Maybe because he had nothing else to lose, but that last attempt could give him so much.
The airport wasn’t too far away from his house. He had already been there a few times during the FFI to see out and welcome the mates that went and came, so he knew the way by heart. Nonetheless, he couldn’t recall ever getting there so fast. Handa got off the bike and left it lying at the entrance, all practically without stopping running. The automatic doors of the airport took ages to open—or so it seemed to him—and he almost crashed against the crystal, but he braked just in time and managed to get in without incident.
He stopped and looked around. He had already been there a few times, but everything still seemed very confusing to him. He had always gone with more people and had limited himself to following them, but he was completely alone that time. He looked frantically for anything that could indicate him in which direction he should run, and that’s when he noticed the electronic screen that was just right under his nose. It read the flights that were about to depart and which was each one’s boarding gate. He had to come very close to find what he was looking for, but, as soon as he did, he looked around one more time to orient himself and was off like a shot eastwards.
Doors C and D. Doors E and F. And, right after, escalators guarded by a man in a suit.
Handa hurled himself towards the escalators, but the man put his arm in the way and held him by the waist.
“Hey, hey, calm down, boy! Where are you going in such a hurry?”
“L-let me through, please!” Handa pleaded as he writhed in the guard’s arms.
“I’m sorry,” the man said in a gentle tone, “but only passengers with a ticket can get past this point.”
“You don’t understand…! I-I gotta see her before it’s too late…!”
“…So ‘her,’ huh?” He smiled to himself slightly, even though there was a trace of sadness in his expression. “I know it’s important for you, boy, but I still can’t let you through. If my boss finds out, he’ll throw me right out on my keester!”
“But…! If I don’t tell her now what I feel, then…!”
And that was when he heard it.
‘Don’t worry. She already knows.’
Handa heard those words said with his own voice, as clear as deafening was the noise around him. He stopped writhing, and then he noticed that the guard, who was still holding him in his arms, had stopped looking at him.
“Do you know him, boy?” He asked into the air.
“I do. Leave him to me.”
Handa turned around and, to his surprise, he found out he wasn’t alone.
Despite his thick green sweatshirt, one could still notice the strong and slim constitution of someone who has put so much effort into tuning his body down to the last detail. His sturdy legs and cleats indicated that that boy was a soccer player just like him, but he didn’t need to notice that detail to know. His face had given him away from the very beginning.
A serious and confident expression. Soft and, apparently, attractive features. Round eyes of a very deep blue; a very, very rare feature in Japan. A prominent and abundant fringe that fell mostly towards the sides, even though two wild locks tickled the bridge of his nose. Shoulder-length hair covered his ears: it was similar in length to Handa’s himself, but it ended in a series of points impossible to comb—or, perhaps, painstakingly combed to achieve that effect. And, before all, what surprised Handa the most, for being the only thing he wasn’t expecting to see on Fideo Ardena’s face: a friendly smile.
“Ciao,” said the White Meteor of Italy with a voice surprisingly similar to his and a quick hand gesture. “We see each other again, Raimon boy.”
Handa moved away from the guard and got closer to Fideo with a single, fearful step.
“A-Ardena-san…? But what are you doing here…?” Handa managed to articulate.
“Let’s leave explanations for later,” Fideo smiled, making a visible effort to pronounce the word ‘explanations’ correctly. “By now, let’s leave this good sir be.”
Fideo slipped his arm around Handa’s shoulders gracefully and took him away from the escalators, despite Handa’s complaints and continuous looks back.
“B-but… I gotta…”
“Calm down, calm down. Tell me what’s wrong, but don’t stop walking.”
“I…” Seeing as he had nothing to do, Handa gave up and sighed. “I wanted to get to door G before the plane took off…”
“The plane on door G?” Fideo patted his back and smiled at him sadly. “It left a while ago. They said it was about to take off just when I got out of mine.”
“What…? Then, did you just come, Ardena-san?”
“Of course I did,” Fideo laughed. “What other reason could there be for me to be here?”
“…Now that you mention it…” Handa scratched his head, without knowing exactly what he was expecting.
The two of them kept on walking until they reached the electronic sign at the entrance. Handa looked at it again. The flight he was looking for, the one on door G bound for the United States, was still there. Fideo saw it too.
“These tackles don’t work well at all, no matter where you are,” he sighed. “I’m sorry you had to go through this. And even more so if there was a girl involved.”
“And how do you know it was ‘cause of a girl…?” Handa asked, blinking a couple of times.
“Because of the same reason as everyone else in the airport: because you were shouting it, ha ha ha!”
Handa blushed for a second, but he soon calmed down: everything was lost and Fideo knew about it, so there was no reason to be ashamed.
“But don’t worry,” Fideo continued with a cheerful and reassuring voice, as he made a great fuss with his free hand. “Passion can be covered up, but it can’t be hidden. I’m absolutely sure that girl knew about everything you intended to say.”
“It’s not just that, Ardena-san…” Handa’s head was hanging low. “I… wanted to level with her, tell her everything I’ve gone through ever since she told me she was leaving, how… how unwell I’ve been feeling… And, yes, tell her that I loved her despite all. I know she knew, but, despite that, I’d have liked to tell her myself… I feel like a coward…”
“Ah, my friend, è la vita. Pretending everything to go just the way you plan it in love is even harder than predicting a soccer match,” Fideo said, despite tripping over a few words. His Japanese was brilliant, but the pronunciation was still not perfect. “But, just like in soccer, for things to not go as expected doesn’t necessarily imply a defeat.”
“How do you know so much about these things, Ardena-san…?” Handa asked, letting his eyelids droop a little. It wasn’t common at all for someone to speak like that about love in his country.
“Let’s say that…” He shrugged, smiling, ”I find it reasonably easy to understand people’s feelings. Even though ragazzas are always complex, if it’s any consolation.”
“It’s easy to say…” Handa wrinkled his lips. “I’m sure you’ve never had any problems with girls…”
“I don’t know whom you take me for,” Fideo laughed nervously. “Ragazzas drive us all round the bend even when there’s no love involved. It’s our curse and no one is safe; trust me. But it’s part of the charm.” He smiled.
Handa smiled back. His problems were still there, but he felt better for some reason he just couldn’t understand. Suddenly, he realised Fideo’s words had the same soothing effect as his captain’s, although Endou, due to his innocent and even ingenious nature, could have never helped him with that matter. All in all, he’s a capt’n too, Handa thought. It might come with the post.
“Look, I know it hurts to have feelings for someone who doesn’t feel the same; I’ve been there!” Fideo continued. “Maybe I can’t be the one to cheer you up, but I can lend you a friendly ear if you so want, my dear, uh… er…”
“Handa,” Raimon’s player sighed. However kind Fideo was, it was a lot to ask for him to remember who someone like him was. “Handa…”
“Shinichi, right?” Fideo cut him short. “I’m sorry; I’m not good with surnames. In Italy, we always know people by their first names.”
For some reason, Handa felt a little bit bigger.
Fideo and Handa were walking right next to each other while looking for a bus. Fresh air had made them realise how funny it smelt inside the airport, which they didn’t notice with the nerves from before. Handa was carrying his bike, while Fideo carried his luggage. They had been quiet ever since the moment Handa calmed down, but neither of them seemed to care: it was a silence as pleasant and natural as the silence inside one’s own head; a silence Handa hadn’t felt in a long time. Their voices were so similar that Handa felt Fideo as a physical manifestation of his conscience, who would tell him exactly what he needed to hear while imbuing his own voice with the courage he needed.
“Er… What brings you here, Ardena-san…?”
“Just call me Fideo, Shinichi; it’s weird to be called ‘Ardena’,” he laughed. “I came to see Mamoru. I know it’s only been a few days since we played against Ogre Academy, but that match only made me miss him even more.”
“A-a few days?” Handa asked, blinking a couple of times. “Fideo-san, it’s been almost a year since that…!”
“Has it? Well, for you, perhaps,” Fideo smiled as he thought that ‘Fideo-san’ was still better than ‘Ardena’. “Mamoru’s grandson came to ask for my help about a week ago. I guess he preferred to come fetch me once I had polished my technique a bit further.” He shrugged, and his smile turned slightly more mischievous for an instant. “Also, my captain came to Japan a few months ago and I’m trying to find him.”
“But let’s not talk about me anymore,” Fideo cut Handa short before he could say anything else. “I get the feeling that who needs to talk is you.”
“…I guess you’re right…” Handa said slowly. “I don’t usually stand out much, so I don’t have many chances to, well, get stuff out of my chest, either…”
“It is in your face,” Fideo said with an understanding smile. “We all need someone reliable to listen to us, no matter how, hmm…” he took a few seconds to choose the next word, “stupid we believe what we have to say is. Sometimes, what we want to say might seem insignificant to the rest of the world, but it’s very important to us, and we need someone who can understand and appreciate what no one else can. It’s very difficult to find someone like that, but it will be a pleasure for me to be that someone for as long as I’m here.”
Handa’s lips started trembling. His eyes turned glassy, but they indicated an immense happiness. Fideo made him feel important, wrapped; a feeling Handa wasn’t used to in the slightest in those days.
“…G-gosh, Fideo-san. For a foreigner, you get along fine in our language…”
“It’s just that I love it, ha ha! Plans to hold the FFI started years ago, and I was part of the pre-selection since I became nine or ten. One of Liocott’s official languages is Japanese, so they made us study it ever since, and I have practised it a lot on my own. At Orpheus, we used to talk in Japanese even during training sessions because we knew we would need it very soon, and it seems like all that practice came in pretty handy~” Fideo crooned, winking an eye at Handa. “And if it lets me meet people like you, all the better.”
For the first time in a long while, longer than he could even recall, he felt his feelings were valid and valuable, and there, in the middle of the airport’s parking, waiting for a bus that would take them back to Inazuma, Handa burst into tears in Fideo’s arms, overwhelmed by all that that, until then, he had confined inside him.
Handa had to wipe his tears away every so often and his words were difficult to understand, but Fideo listened attentively, without judging. The bus was practically empty: it was odd for tourists to come at that time of the year and, even though few buses came, barely four or five people used to get on every time. On that occasion, the only passengers were Fideo and Handa, who were sitting on the back.
“Have you ever felt your body falling to pieces…?”
“I don’t think so,” Fideo answered. The idea of playing along with Handa so he wouldn’t feel alone tempted him, but he preferred to be sincere with him.
“It’s… terrible. Fideo-san, I… have never felt this bad. Ever. At first, when she said she was leaving and I saw her going away, I just wanted to die. It seemed like everything was over for me and, despite all, in my head, I could only thank her for all the good memories and all she had done for me. I burst into tears as soon as I lost sight of her… But, when I compare it to how I feel now, I realise that I didn’t feel the blow until much later. When that time finally came, I felt that I was dying for real. They weren’t ordinary head or stomach aches; it went far beyond. My hand shakes… Grabbing the glass at breakfast time has been impossible: I didn’t have the strength to hold it properly and I’ve had to grab it with both hands so it wouldn’t fall. Using cutlery or even a simple pen is terribly difficult, too… My mum was so worried that she hasn’t even raised any objections when I said I was sick and I didn’t wanna go to class today. But that was nothing but a minor problem. I… I have troubles breathing. Even something as easy as that… stops. I have to struggle so my chest will keep on moving. It feels as if my lungs filled up with air, but not oxygen, and I constantly feel like I’m suffocating. Yesterday, I was terribly afraid of going to bed, because I felt like I could even die if I stopped breathing during the night… But, today, I just wanna sleep, snuggle up and turn myself off until I feel better, even though a part of me tells me that I’ll never recover. But, as soon as I close my eyes, I start shaking so much that I can’t fall asleep…
“I don’t wanna die, I just wanna… sneak off. My body weakens. I can’t think clearly, because anything reminds me of her. Whatever I do, wherever I look, I can only think of everything I dreamt about doing next to her, of the words she said to me, of… that stupid promise of loving her forever, ‘cause I thought that, even if it were just as friends, I could be by her side. That’d have been enough for me to be happy… But all that doesn’t seem to make any sense anymore. It’s been two years of feelings that, suddenly, aren’t worth anything anymore…
“I still don’t know how she noticed someone like me. I opened my heart to her and she opened hers to me, but, to be honest, I’ve always thought I’ve got nothing to offer. I’m not smart, nor handsome, nor have any sort of talent, but she always had a kind word for me. She used to tell me beautiful things…“ Handa let out a truly little laugh that, for the first time, didn’t seem forced. “Once, she told me she’d been thinking about me during dinner. ‘I’m like, I have the greatest friend ever!, and then I proceeded to eat my salad.’ She told me I’d become the most important person in her life… And she used to say that I deserved to see myself the way she saw me. She repeated daily that the fact that I couldn’t see my virtues didn’t mean they weren’t there, and that she’d do everything possible to help me love myself more so I could get to see them one day. I never thought I deserved any of those words, though I came to believe that, somehow, I made her life a bit better. I guess all this proves that I didn’t deserve them, after all… But how could I ever deserve anything from her? She’s… amazing. She’s beautiful, popular, charming and works so hard to achieve her dreams, despite all the obstacles she comes across. And, now, those same dreams are gonna push her away from me…
“I… always tried to help her, you know? I loved to watch her rehearse: it seemed incredible to me how hard she worked to improve. I think… that’s one of the reasons why I fell in love with her. I saw her in front of me, acting, and she would made me feel a thousand things,” he smiled. “For a while, I even responded to her when she acted, so she wouldn’t have to do everything by herself. Being in her world, even if it was in such a shallow way, made me so happy… But, a few weeks ago, she asked me to stop doing it. I should’ve suspected after that, but I swear on the Goddess of Victory I wasn’t expecting it. Life in those days still seemed to smile… I didn’t even suspect what was cooking around, but the bomb finally fell down and I didn’t see it coming. During these days, I’ve been thinking constantly that that same Goddess of Victory’s stopped smiling upon me for some reason, and I can’t stop wondering what I might’ve done wrong to get such a cruel destiny…
“What did I do, Fideo-san? Whatever did I do wrong to deserve this? When haven’t I been a good friend? What pushed her away from me? Why does she suddenly think I’m a burden to pursue her dream? …Dammit, what about me?!” Handa suddenly shouted. “Aren’t my feelings worth anything anymore!? Do I not have the right to fight for what I want!? I’d have been with her! I know I don’t deserve her, but that’s exactly why I know I’d have loved her more than anyone in this world! I-I’d have done everything possible to make her happy…! I’d have given my all; I’d have left everything behind! I… could’ve turned into the person she deserves! Why does she have to do this to me!? It’s not fair, dammit!! I… am not a toy! She doesn’t have the right to treat me like this! She doesn’t have the right to degrade the value of all my efforts to make her happy…!”
Handa went silent for a few minutes, huffing and puffing with a completely red face. Fideo wrapped his arms around him and pulled him closer, trying to comfort him so he wouldn’t feel alone.
“But…” Handa continued, “I can’t even get mad for real. All these feelings and all this rage… come constantly, but they always go away. I love her… I love her with all my heart, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her. She taught me so much, she helped me become a better person and, though we were never truly together, she’s taught me too what life as a couple is. And her last gift was to show me what love means, and how extremely much it hurts when someone you love stops trusting you and pushes you away from their side.“ Handa made a horrible grimace. “She’s wrecked my heart, Fideo-san, again and again. She shattered it when she pushed me aside from her life, and she pulverized it when she told me she couldn’t pursue her dreams by my side. But I can’t get mad. As much as it hurts me, I still want her to be happy… My heart breaks at the thought that she’ll find someone better as soon as she gets out of here, but… I almost don’t even care. I was wrecked already; one more blow from that hammer won’t change a thing.
“What hurts me the most right now isn’t being replaced, but… her reaction. I was wrecked, and she seemed so… so calm…” Handa looked down and scowled. His words began to crawl along his mouth, as if they didn’t want to come out, and, instead, tears began springing from his eyes harder than before. “She said she loved me, but she didn’t seem to doubt or regret it when she left me in the lurch. It’s as if she didn’t care at all about having to leave me nor about my feelings. And, despite all, I know her words were true… I know she was serious when she said she loved me. Every time she rejected a guy and came back to me, I’d feel the same: ‘no one will be able to replace you; no one will ever be able to be like you.’ I can’t nor wanna believe any of that was a lie. Then, why does she seem so cold now…? Why does it seem like she doesn’t care if she hurts me…? And, meanwhile, here I am, unable to accept the situation. I’m so pathetic…” Handa let out a little laugh, but it sounded as if they were driving a stake through his stomach. “I’d never felt this bad. I can’t accept destiny. I don’t wanna live without her love…”
The rattle of the bus ended up making Handa dizzy, and he even started hiccupping, which prevented him from talking anymore. Fideo asked him to relax for a while as he offered him a handkerchief, and as soon as the bus reached an area with less potholes, Handa fell asleep. Fideo tucked him up with his jacket and looked at him, thoughtful.
He was sorry for him. That poor boy had suffered so much and he hadn’t even had the chance to be honest with himself. Being part of Mamoru’s team, Fideo thought, he was sure that he would have someone to talk to, but it was clear that Shinichi didn’t believe in himself enough to think that his life and sorrows could be of interest to anyone. It was truly sad.
But Fideo wasn’t thinking that over. He was thinking about the relationship between Shinichi and that girl, Tsukushi Ootani, and about how different their mentalities were. For Shinichi, that had been a devastating experience. The girl had tried to cheer him up and make him believe in himself; she had tried to create a bond with him, and the result had been the opposite. Malato d’amore, Fideo thought with his arms crossed, wondering how to say that in Japanese. One of the worst illnesses one can suffer. It twists your heart, your mind and your life itself; distorts your reality and you end up not knowing as much as how you feel, which makes letting steam off even harder, if that’s at all possible. Anger, rage, hate, sadness, fear; a full amalgam of feelings, some indescribable with mere words, and all of them hitting you at the same time. The angst can even cause health issues, like breathing problems, insomnia or shooting stomach aches. And the worst part, Fideo thought, is that the only remedy is found inside oneself. But, in order to find it, one must look for it, and Shinichi was in no condition to find any sort of answer by himself.
Their situation was the same: the promise to be better. And, nonetheless, he…
The bus stopped and roused Fideo from his thoughts. They had reached their destination. Fideo woke Handa up carefully and they both got off the bus. They were at the bottom of a hillside, in which top a huge steel tower with a plate shaped like lightning stood out.
“So Mamoru is usually around here?” Fideo asked as he picked up his luggage. Handa, who was already holding his bike again, nodded.
“In the morning, at least. I dunno where he goes to every afternoon lately, though…”
“Well, it might be better like that. I would like to talk to you a bit more.”
“To me…?” Handa blinked. “About what? Do you want me to tell you stuff about capt’n? We’re friends, but it’s Gouenji-kun who knows him best… You should ask him.”
Fideo let out a little laugh.
“No, Shinichi. You opened your heart to me, and I want to open mine to you as well. Feelings aren’t given away; they are shared. That’s the only way for two people to understand each other and create a bond, don’t you think?”
Handa recalled an old passage of his life: a story he had never told anyone, and the almost spiritual union he had with a person that no one could remember anymore, that was never there. And he had no other choice but to bow before the evidence and nod.
“…There’re benches up there. And better views.”
“I’m following you,” Fideo smiled.
Fideo and Handa sat on a bench close to the tree Endou’s best friend hung from. The two boys were observing the city of Inazuma bathed by the afternoon sunbeams, although Fideo could feel that Handa had a blank look and was worryingly still. There were still a few hours left before the sun would set, but the sky was turning orange already and its brightness reflected on the steel tower, making the lightning that crowned it shine even more, if at all possible. A gentle summer breeze was blowing, rocking the tyre hanging from the tree and stirring the aroma of the grass and the trees, making the feeling of being in the middle of nature even more absorbing. Birds were warbling, trying to quieten a man that was screeching as he tried to catch a fish at the mountain’s little lake, although, rather, it was the fish who was fishing him instead. All those little details created a delicious sensation, and Fideo made a little grimace at the thought that Handa couldn’t enjoy it in his state.
“Hey,” Fideo said fondly as he nudged Handa’s arm to attract his attention. “Are you all right?”
“Ah… Y-yeah. Well, I think so…” Handa replied, rubbing his neck softly.
“Don’t feel bad, Shinichi. Your feelings are perfectly normal! I didn’t tell you before, but thank you for wanting to share them with me even though we barely know each other. It means a lot to me.”
“No, Fideo-san; thank you… No one tends to listen to me like this…”
“I’m sure Mamoru would pay you the attention you need if you asked him, but, in the meantime, here I am. And, well, I want to share something with you as well.”
Handa straightened up on the bench and stared at Fideo.
“I’m listening,” he nodded firmly, making Fideo let out a happy, loud laugh.
“You see; I have realised that you see me as some sort of infallible man with women, but nothing could be further from the truth. Truth is, I have never had a couple, although it makes me so happy to see the ones that form around me and I have learnt a thing or two by listening to other people’s experiences. One of the most important things to remember is that ragazzas are much more than a love bull’s-eye: they can be many things, and it’s radically different to deal with a girlfriend and a girl friend. Each ragazza, due to her circumstances and the relationship you maintain with her, is unique and special, and there is no advice that can be applied to every case. Remember that, above all, they are people, not mass-produced machines. Within how complex and beautiful they are, we can only aspire to try to understand them, and pray so our instincts will take us to the appropriate answer to each problem. And I warn you: we won’t always find that answer. In fact, we will fail the vast majority of the time, and that will cost us dear.”
Fideo was laughing, but Handa averted his gaze. He knew Fideo’s words were true, but it didn’t do him good to remember that the mistake had been his. Fideo noticed it, and that’s why he placed his hand over his friend’s as he offered him a comforting smile.
“But it’s in our hand to keep on trying until we achieve it, however irreparable the problem is.”
Handa rose his head. Partially, out of curiosity; partially, out of regard for Fideo; and, partially, because a little part of him hoped to hear of a way to fix his relationship with Ootani.
“The story I want to tell you is…” Fideo’s voice turned into a whisper, “very important for me. In fact, I had never told this to anyone, but I think you deserve to hear it. It all started shortly before the FFI began. Orpheus trained daily to get ready for the tournament, and people applauded us in the street. Italy is a country where soccer is extremely important, and that shows in people’s love. And, among all the people that rooted for us every day, the most important one for me was a little ragazza called Rushe.
“I met Rushe one day as I headed for the training. I saw a ragazza about to fall down a bridge and I ran to help her, but it turned out that she wasn’t in danger: she was blind, and she hadn’t noticed that she was too close to the edge. We paused to talk and,” he coughed, “she ’found out’ that I was one of the candidates to become part of Orpheus. Ever since, she turned into my biggest source of inspiration: Rushe fought against her blindness day after day, absolutely unshaken by her disability, and she came cheer for me at the trainings no matter what. In a short time, she ended up loving soccer despite not even being able to see it. She would always tell me that it made her so happy to listen to the stands’ screams of joy whenever I scored, so I began to dedicate all of my goals to my little guardian angel.” Fideo smiled in a warm way that made even Handa feel better about himself. “And, of course, not only she became my fan, but my friend, too.
“But I soon began to feel bad with myself. Rushe, my little angel, in addition to fighting her demons daily, gave me everything she had and much more, but I couldn’t give her anything in return nor do anything for her. I felt helpless and frustrated. Rushe didn’t have a broken heart: she was blind, and all the love in the world couldn’t solve that. I racked my brains for weeks, trying to look for a way to be useful and help her, but I couldn’t find it. I was facing a problem that I had never heard of and that had no solution. I didn’t know what to do.
“All that frustration was consuming me; I guess that, in that sense, I can indeed imagine how you feel, Shinichi. I couldn’t let it affect me, because I knew that it would only make Rushe sad, and I put my mind into fighting those feelings somehow. But, just like you, I was feeling lost: I didn’t have any way to solve the problem, and to keep thinking about her was only making things worse. I began to notice that my performance was plummeting and, for the first time, I was glad Rushe couldn’t see me in that state. It would be disheartening that she found out that it was her who had provoked all that.
“But, one day, Rushe came talk to me after practice. She confessed to me that she had been told about an operation that could heal her blindness, but she was too scared and had refused it. That was when I saw clearly what my mistake had been: I tried to look for a way to repay Rushe for all that passion and courage she had given me, when, actually, all I should have done was to give back what she gave me. Shinichi, often, ragazzas offer you their heart not in exchange of helping them or solving their life, but in exchange of you offering them yours too. That’s a basic lesson that I had been too blind to see. Had I done it that way from the very beginning, Rushe might not have ever been afraid, and the sheer idea tortured me,” he sighed. “My little angel only needed me to act towards her the same way she acted towards me, and, despite all the things I knew, I didn’t notice it. It’s… deplorable.
“At that very moment, I crouched down, held her hands and told her that I was afraid, too. The moment I had been getting ready for during years was drawing near, and I couldn’t help being afraid; but if I had made it that far was due to the encouragement she had given me since the day we met. She smiled and her cheeks became as red as a tomato,” Fideo laughed. “Then, we promised that we would give courage and strength to each other: if she faced her fears and accepted that operation, I would face mine and bring Orpheus to victory at any cost. We made a reciprocal promise to improve at the same time, and that helped me fight all that frustration and turn it into the strength I needed.
“Let me tell you something, even though I’m sure you already know. Soccer is an art, Shinichi. Italian artists have known for centuries that art is born from the feelings a person keeps inside, be them good or bad, and same happens with soccer. There is a very special symbiosis,” Fideo smiled to himself, very proud of knowing a word like that, “between human being and art: art feeds on feelings and helps the artist face them. Today’s pain can turn into tomorrow’s success. There is no feeling you can’t control, and the sum of them all will bring to light the soccer you hide. The soccer you need. …But that, unfortunately, also means that your soccer won’t be able to develop until you aren’t able to control what you feel. It’s no good using the best paints if the brush is broken.
“Our feelings are different, Shinichi. My promise to improve was reciprocal; yours, I’m afraid, is unidirectional. I fought for friendship, and you do it for love. But the facts don’t change: your strength arises from your feelings and from whether or not you are able to control and channel them the right way.”
Fideo stood up and walked away from the bench until he arrived at the little open ground at the bottom of the tower.
“Stand up. I want to show you something.”
Handa, not knowing in the slightest what his conscience was up to, followed his orders and approached him. Fideo asked him if there was any way to get a ball, and Handa took one out of the bushes, having to explain Fideo as well, a few times, why his captain would hide soccer balls around the city.
“…Interesting,” was the only thing Fideo managed to articulate before deciding that it was a subject to dismiss immediately. “Tell me, Shinichi,” he dropped the ball and began playing kick-ups: “if your ragazza were to come back now, after the way she has broken your heart, would you forgive her?”
“Yeah,” Handa nodded immediately and decisively. Fideo offered him an approving smile.
“And if not only she came back, but also told you she wants to be with you… would you date her?”
This time around, Handa remained silent for a few seconds, with an absolutely still body. Fideo stopped his keepie-uppie and hurled the ball at him with a powerful kick. Handa reacted much faster than usual and got out of his little trance by controlling the ball with his chest.
“Answer fast!” Fideo urged him with a frown. “You needn’t think the answers over; just say what you feel.”
“…I dunno. What I feel for her’s still intact, but I’m not…” He let out a soft sigh and munched his cheeks unconsciously. He had never had that kind of habits, but one couldn’t say he was his usual self either at that moment. To force himself to react, he gave the ball back to Fideo. “Though I’m sure I’ll never be able to give up on her as a friend, I can’t quite find an answer to what I really feel…”
Fideo made a quick face that Handa didn’t get to see.
“I shall guide you.”
Fideo grabbed the ball with his hands.
“I want to make something clear,” he said, with a much more serious voice than usual, but unable to avoid his usual pronunciation mistakes: “I can’t do anything for you. Love, no matter its shape, consists of walking constantly along the edge of a hole, praying so the person you love won’t kick you inside. But you have fallen, and no one in this world other than yourself can get you out of there. You will take long to do as much as stand up, and when you start climbing to get out of there, any little contact, any, will be enough for you to fall back down to the bottom, and all your efforts up to that point will have been useless. Even when you are out, it will be hard to go back to your usual life: the person who used to walk by your side will not be there anymore and that’s not easy to come to terms with. And for as long as that lasts, you will be utterly hopeless, Shinichi.
“Right now, you are at war with the biggest enemy you will ever come across: the inner enemy. It’s a war in which you will always, always be alone in the battlefield. And I can’t do anything for you. Nor I nor anyone will ever be able to ease your pain nor improve your situation in any way.” Fideo stopped frowning and let see half a smile. “But those who love you, us who love you, can give you, hmm… logistical support.”
Handa tensed up; he clenched his fists and kept on munching his cheeks until he began to feel a strange flavour in his mouth. He couldn’t understand anything. Fideo was talking in a confusing way and he didn’t know what to think anymore. Why would he say he would guide and support him if he couldn’t do anything for him? He knew he intended to help him, but he was making him furious. He stopped looking at him. It was very hard for him to control his emotions, and even more so to understand them. He only knew that Fideo’s words, in which he had sheltered before for seeming like the sensible voice of his subconscious, had turned as confusing and wounding as the ones he heard in his head. His body was heavy, his head was heavy; but, above all, it was the void of Ootani’s absence what was weighing him down. [This is supposed to be a pun. In Spanish, we use the same verb to say that it was heavy and that something is taking its toll on someone, so to speak. Weigh is still a word related to heaviness, but I don’t know if the pun is obvious enough. What do you think?]
“…You said that those who love me will support me,” Handa said very slowly and with a much deeper voice than usual. “Then, why do you support me?”
“What do you mean?”
“According to you, we’ve known each other for a week. This is just the second time we see each other, and you didn’t even pay any attention to me the first time. What kinda interest could you have in helping me…?” Handa let see part of his frustration with a resentment face. “Who tells me I can trust you or anyone else if the person that loved me the most has hurt me this bad…?”
Fideo looked around to avoid Handa’s gaze and he went over his teeth with his tongue [as in, licking his teeth… I didn’t know what word to use there]. In the end, he fixed his eyes on his Japanese friend’s and exhaled the air that he had been holding.
“You have been sincere with me, and I think you deserve nothing less from me. Shinichi, this might sound stupid to you, but…” he paused for a bit, like someone doubting for a second before jumping in a pool, “I look at you and I see myself. As you told me everything you felt, even though our situations are so different, it was as if the one talking were a voice in my head, because that’s exactly how I felt with Rushe. And, at the same time, what my own head was telling me was ‘that was you; that could still be you’.” He sighed. “I could never tell anyone any of that, because I thought they wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t pay attention to me; that’s why I find it so important to have someone who listens unconditionally. But as important and valuable as having someone who listens is having someone who understands. Until today, I felt that that part of me was invisible and that no one would ever be able to understand it, but you managed to change that. We might not have known each other for too long, but I feel you very close to me: you think like me and even talk like me. I don’t feel so alone anymore in the immensity of my loneliness. You are like my… conscience.”
Handa’s heart missed a beat. He couldn’t believe it, but he was sure he heard right. Fideo had clearly said that he saw him as his conscience. The exact same thought he had had just a few hours ago, when Fideo comforted him with his words. But how could someone of the stature of the White Meteor of Italy have him in such high regard? He was nothing. Fideo had helped him, but he had done nothing to return the favour. He had limited himself to crying and reopening old wounds on the only person who had shown interest in him. And, despite his selfishness, Fideo appreciated him more than ever.
Something inside him was telling him that the answer to his doubts had already been given to him by Fideo, but his logic refused to accept it. That’s why he wanted to push his selfishness a bit further.
“But you said yourself that I’m alone at this war… Then, what can you do for me…?”
“Hand my sword over.”
Fideo dropped the ball and let it bounce at his feet. Handa, without knowing exactly why, took a step back.
“Shinichi,” Fideo said with a deep voice and a little smile on his lips, “I couldn’t have won my war alone. I needed a weapon to fight that battle with, and that weapon was forged from the feelings that once consumed me, just like they consume you, and from the promise Rushe and I made to each other.”
The wind got up, and the ground under Fideo’s feet began to glow in an intense green colour. Light was reflected in the White Meteor’s face and undulating hair, and made the power that was so well hidden inside him shine, the same way the sun makes the moon shine.
“I needed a light that would help me get out of the hole I had fallen into. I needed a pure light that would enlighten my way through the shadows of helplessness and guide me so I could keep my promise.”
Suddenly, the glow expanded, creating various perfect circles around Fideo. Between circle and circle, some strange lettering that shone with golden light and Handa wasn’t able to decipher stood out.
“But getting out of the hole wasn’t enough,” Fideo carried on. “My weapon had to be useful to me too in the war that was waiting for me afterwards. I needed a powerful and infallible sword to make my way through my enemies and achieve victory at all costs. I needed a sword that would give me the courage and confidence to confront any challenge. I needed a sword that, with its light, could enlighten Rushe’s eyes.”
The ball at Fideo’s feet began to accumulate energy at high speed. Waves of the same golden colour as the runes inscribed inside the circles thronged inside the ball, making it gleam and hover in the air at low altitude.
“Shinichi, is there anything in this park that you aren’t… especially fond of?” Fideo queried with a smirk.
“U-uh…” Handa, who was dumbfounded before Fideo’s display of power, took a few seconds to react and as many more to think of an answer. “W-well, once I crashed against that tree over there when some bullies were picking on me,” he said as he turned around and pointed at a tree from the forest at the entrance of the park. “It wasn’t the tree’s fault, but I guess…”
“…ever since I’ve got…”
“…a bit of a grudge…”
Handa saw an enormous golden sword passing by him, in which tip he spotted the ball. It moved at a devilish speed and, as it cut the air, it left a trail of circles and runes like those that had appeared at Fideo’s feet, which would spread to infinity and get lost there. Boasting of a monstrous power as well as a pinpoint accuracy, the shot headed straight towards the tree Handa was pointing at and split it cleanly, without losing a whit of strength nor even brushing any of the other trees of the forest. The ball ended up smashing against the mountain and was embedded in the hole that the impact itself had produced.
Handa’s legs went limp and he fell on his butt. He stared at Fideo with his mouth wide open, who offered him a courteous smile and walked calmly to the forest to pick the ball up. When he returned, Handa was still on the floor, so he offered him his hand and helped him stand up.
“Did you like it?” Fideo asked, going back to his usual, warm voice.
Handa shook his head hard up and down. Fideo stood looking at the ball with a smile on his lips.
“This technique was born from the same feelings that you are suffering right now, and helped me keep the promise I made to myself.” Fideo stretched his arms and offered Handa the ball. “As long as I’m in Japan, I would like to teach it to you.”
Handa fell on his butt again.
The sun was very low already and the two boys had gone back to the same bench they had been sitting on hours before, where Fideo’s luggage and Handa’s bike still were. Fideo was aware that Handa wasn’t neither in physical nor mental shape to train at that moment, so he decided to not force him to start immediately. Instead, he opted for relaxing next to him and enjoying their time together.
“…I hate the other forward in your team,” Handa said all of a sudden in a very serious voice.
“W-what!?” Fideo shrieked. That was the first time Handa saw him losing his temper that way. “W-what was that for? Why…?”
“That wretch…” Handa grabbed his trouser leg and squeezed it hard, imagining it was Raffaele Generani’s neck. “I-I dunno how he did it, but… h-he stole my hissatsu…!”
“Your… hissatsu?” Fideo tilted his head; he couldn’t understand anything. Was that how he had made Handa feel before?
“My Freeze Shot…” Raimon’s midfielder growled. “I dunno where he got it from, but that hissatsu was mine…! I developed it right here, in this park, with capt’n, and no one believes me now…! Everyone thinks I copied it from that dirty thief, but it’s he who stole it from me!”
“…Bah,” Handa puffed, averting his gaze disdainfully. “I dunno why I’m surprised you don’t believe me. You’ve known that guy for so long and you’ve only met me a few hours ago… Well, think whatever you want. I know what’s true.”
“N-no, Shinichi, it’s not that I don’t believe you, it’s… wow. So it was you…”
“Huh…?” Handa turned his head around slowly towards Fideo, and he found that the White Meteor had his eyes fixed on him.
“I already knew that the Freeze Shot wasn’t a shot created by Raffaele. What I didn’t know was that it was… yours…” Fideo half-closed his eyes. “You see, Raffaele is a huge admirer of our captain, and our captain loves Japanese soccer. At training camps, Raffaele would do anything possible to be with our captain, and ended up taking a liking to Japanese soccer out of watching it with him. One day, he told us all that he had seen an incredible shot in a Japanese match, and spent full weeks training until he mastered it. You have no idea how many hours he spent locked in his room, watching the video again and again… But he never let anyone else watch it. It was like his treasure: the only thing we knew about that hissatsu was whatever he wanted to share with us, but he would only talk about the extraordinary technique and control of the player who used it. And when he finally mastered it, it quickly became his star technique. Every goal he scored during the FFI was thanks to that shot. Even Gigi took great pains trying to stop it… It was a truly spectacular hissatsu, which stood out more because of the sublime effect it sets on the ball and because of how hard it was to control it rather than because of its sheer force. The usual for shot hissatsus is to try and knock the goalkeeper down, but that shot broke all of our moulds. And to think that the author was you all along…”
Handa turned as red as beetroot as Fideo talked. By the time he finished, it seemed like his cheeks were about to blow up.
“A-and,” he stuttered as he pouted, “if he admired me so much, why didn’t he ever bother saying whose the hissatsu was…?”
“He tried! He looked for that player for a long time, but he could never find anyone with that name. According to him and captain, the speaker called the player…” Fideo went silent for a few seconds, as if he had just realised something stupidly obvious, “…Honda.”
“…KAKUMA…” Handa hissed with a sinister and sombre voice that Fideo never heard from himself. “That damned bastard and his inability to learn names properly… When I get my hands on him, I’m gonna…”
Handa’s pants were starting to stretch and tear under his hand’s pressure. Fideo patted Handa’s shoulder.
“Raffaele admires you so much. He never wanted to steal anything from you: he just wanted to show the world what his favourite player could do, and show you what he had achieved by training to be like you. He dreamt with finding you in the tournament and wouldn’t stop talking about you as soon as we heard we would be playing against Japan, but you weren’t in the team. He suffered a huge disappointment. That’s why he scored with your hissatsu: it was a way to call you into the field, to say ‘you will only be able to win if he plays!’ He never thought the effect would be the opposite…”
Handa let go slowly of the trouser leg and tried to calm down.
“That makes me feel better… but it’s weird. No one tends to think such good things of me, and the only person who considered me important’s now…” Handa bit his lips to stop hurting himself. “Thanks for being so nice to me, Fideo-san. I know I’m hard to compliment…”
“Shinichi…” Fideo put his hands on the bench and stared at him with a serious expression. “You are not hard to compliment. It's just that no one bothers to because they're selfish around you when you help them and they don't return the favour. You deserve a lot more than you usually receive, you really do. You are very analytic and literate when it comes to stories and people themselves, and you know just what to say to anyone no matter how many people you talk to in a day, which I find amazing, because I'm not one to keep track of anything. Your motivation at times is something to speak for itself, and you express it in words that no one else I know that could possibly do. You are always there for everyone, and I think it is very sweet that you are. You are like one of those people that I would imagine that does that one good deed when I cross the street and I would feel better about myself just looking at you, and you wouldn't even have to talk to me. But it is a little bit of a sad thought. You should think about yourself too; and I know I should take my own advice, but just because I don't doesn’t mean you shouldn't. You are a cool person that has a great imagination and you are fun to hang out with. Now don't say I don't have anything to say about you, because I do.”
“…That really sounds like the stuff she used to tell me.”
“That means she meant them from the heart.”
Fideo smiled. Handa returned the smile and looked into the horizon.
“…There’s something I can’t stop wondering,” he said. “Fideo-san… why do you treat me so well? You’ve done nothing but help me ever since you arrived, but I’ve done nothing for you, and you knew nothing about my situation either when you offered to help me…”
Fideo tapped his chin with his index finger a couple of times, shrugged and grinned.
“Well, and why not? If everyone had to wait until the rest did something good for them before returning the favour, no one would ever do anything, don’t you think? I think it’s better to cast your bread upon the waters. Also, you returned the favour amply: you listened to me, and that was all I needed.” Fideo laughed. “That logic might not only work with ragazzas, after all!”
“You’re… a true inspiration,” Handa sighed, keeping a small expression on his lips that intended to be a smile.
“So are you, Shinichi. What you did today, the way you let everything out, takes a whole lot of courage. I’m sure it must have been so hard for you, but you faced everything straight on [it would have been “face everything face to face,” but it was way too redundant. I accept suggestions.] and I’m proud of you. It’s not easy to bear feelings such as those.”
“No,” Fideo said incisively as he shook his head. “I already told you that our situations are very different. I improved with Rushe; you, on the other hand, improve despite that ragazza. It’s a fundamental difference that makes your way much harder to walk [I wrote walk, but I basically made it up. Like… travel through, you know? Go from the beginning of a path to the end. You get the idea, I hope, but the translations I found just didn’t seem good to me. Idk, I just don’t trust silly dictionaries anymore. You’ll tell me].”
“At least, I might get the Odin Sword to guide me…” Handa smiled, trying to cheer himself up.
“You will,” Fideo said with an encouraging smile, which disappeared in an instant, “but that’s not enough.”
“W-what do you mean…?”
“Think about it. The Odin Sword was my way to face my situation. Yours is different, and even more complicated, I would say, so the Odin Sword won’t be enough for you. If I’m going to give it to you is only so you can start from a basis and learn to get a grip of yourself, but your goal must always be to control [I keep using “control” instead of something else, but I’m open to suggestions.] your own feelings and create something completely unique out of them. As long as you can’t achieve that, I… I don’t think you will be able to get over it.”
Handa’s spirits dropped to the floor and he lamented his situation once again.
“I wish I had nothing to get over from…”
Fideo wrapped an arm around Shinichi’s shoulders and pressed him against his body once again.
“Shinichi, this is a great thing for you. You went from sitting on the sidelines to getting in the game! Sometime, when you least expect it, you will realise that someone loved you, and that means someone can love you again. And that will make you smile.”
“There are way too many things I still don’t understand, Fideo-san…”
“I thought…” he said, slurring his words, “we’d have a happy ending. I thought we’d be together for an eternity’s worth… I’d promised to love her…” Handa clenched his fists and looked at Fideo in earnest. “I’m sure there’s a way out to sew up the wounds and be together for ever and ever… or something like that.”
“No,” Fideo sprung shaking his head. “There isn’t. There never is. If love comes to an end, it comes to an end and that’s it, and if wounds are to close, they will close on their own. You can’t waste your time trying to fix a romanticized love. They say that love eases your loneliness, but whoever tells you that isn’t speaking all the truth. That love is sheer propaganda and publicity, and out of the good things they say it has, you can’t believe even half of them. Remember that that ragazza has hurt you, Shinichi; however much you love her, don’t undervalue yourself by putting her ahead of your own well-being. You are the most important person.”
Handa lowered his head.
“And how come it hurts so much to have lost her if I know she hurt me…?”
“Because love, when it’s strong, keeps no record of wrong. It’s easy to forgive other people’s and very hard to forgive oneself. Destiny is trying you today; the path seems long, but, one day, that same love will comfort you.”
“I dunno… I… I feel so lost without her…” Handa leant forwards and brought his hands to his head. “After all those things we shared, everything she told me and everything she did for me, she was like… like…”
“Your compass?” Fideo suggested with a hand gesture.
“…No. Like my magnetic north. I know it sounds cheesy, but she didn’t steer me [as in guide, direct, whatever], but she was my… destiny. What I did, I did it for her, but, now, all that came is gone and I dunno what to do. I don’t understand what’s happening to me nor why.”
“That’s fine, Shinichi. Just remember that your love is the sense behind this injustice, and that what you feel is perfectly normal. It will take some time, but you will find your answers someday, be them that raggaza’s or those your reach.”
“I know all that ‘it will eventually rain in the desert’ thing, but… do you think it’ll ever stop hurting me…?”
“Hmm… There will be people who will tell you that it won’t, but I don’t see it that way.” Fideo gave him a thumbs up. “It all depends on your mentality. Love is blind, and, just how it comes, it leaves. Even though it is gone today, it will come back tomorrow, and everything will change colour. Say as they might, we haven’t come to this world to suffer, and you will eventually feel better.”
Fideo held Handa’s face between his hands. It wasn’t a usual attitude in Japan, but Handa didn’t have the strength to question anything at that moment.
“One day you will find a ragazza that will make you the happiest Shinichi in the world. I promise.”
“I’d already found her, Fideo-san. I… was happy when she loved me.”
Fideo and Handa went down the mountain and headed towards the shopping district.
“Where will you stay…?” Handa inquired. “My house’s not too big, but if I ask my mother…”
“Don’t worry,” Fideo replied with a smile. “I’m a guest in the high school [although I wanted to make it sound like the high school has invited him to come, but I don’t know how to put it] and they let me sleep there. Although I would be grateful if you guided me, ha ha ha!”
“Sure; it’s the least I can do,” Handa grinned, for the first time in a long while. “You just gotta go down this street and you’ll make it to the high school. It’s not too far away.”
Fideo got a bit closer to Handa and hit him softly on the arm.
“Say, Shinichi, how are you feeling?”
“A bit better…” He said, scratching his head. “As you said, though, I think there’s not much you can do for me… I’m starting to get it.”
“Someone smarter than me said that never has an orator turned blood drops into rubies. Do you understand what that means?”
Handa mucked about subtly.
“It means that other people’s words will never be able to solve your problems,” Fideo giggled. “The only one who can heal your wounds is you, as much as it hurts me to not be able to help you… Oh!” Fideo added, “but don’t forget to eat many oranges and dark chocolate. Vitamin C and antioxidants are a natural remedy to feel better. Mens sana in corpore sano.”
“…You’re aware I don’t speak Italian, are you?”
“That was Latin.”
“…Ah. Right.” He coughed. “Anyway, I’m afraid what I’ll need is to cry for a few days…” Handa laughed, although his laugh ended up turning into a heavy sigh.
“That is fine; crying is healthy! And I’m sure it will help you calm down and understand everything. You will feel much better once you have loosened the knot of pain, you will see. And, when you get tired of crying, or when you simply run out of tears, if you want to tell me, I will be waiting for you. Don’t forget that you aren’t alone.”
“You’re a great friend, Fideo-san… I’m so glad you found me.”
“I don’t think I found you,” Fideo smiled. “Do you believe in superior forces? I would say that loneliness pushed us. Just imagine it: two stark souls in the big city looking for each other!” He laughed. “It might have been by chance, but it seemed like we were predestined, right?”
“It’s a pretty way to put it…” Handa smiled. “I’ve told you before, but you speak very well…”
“Only because we share a voice, Shinichi.”
Fideo stretched his hand out and offered it to Handa, who, despite his depression, was resolved to offer his best handshake to his new friend. It was the least he could do.
“In bocca al lupo, Shinichi.”
Handa didn’t understand it, but he knew Fideo’s voice well enough to know what he was trying to tell him.
The two halves of a same conscience took different ways. There was no need to say anything; the silence was eloquent, and the reverberation of their voices remained. They both felt less alone in the world, and a goodbye, although temporary, would have been too painful for the two of them. They preferred to bring that bond home intact, as if they both were constantly right next to each other. As if that goodbye had never existed.
Handa looked at Fideo’s jacket, which he was still wearing tied around his waist. And, then, he smiled.
“During the time he was with me, Fideo-san did his best to teach me his Odin Sword, and, eventually, I mastered it. He told me with these same words that, now, it’s as mine as his, and I always do my best to honour what he taught me. But he was right: it’s not enough. Your bye was useless for me, and I had to grow in spite of it. The root of everything I’d achieved was the fact that I’d turned my sadness into something new, and that’s why I thought seeing you again could ruin it. That was something I forgot as soon as I saw you again, but I dreamt of the time I spent learning the Odin Sword and all those memories came back at once. That’s why I didn’t want you to be with me. You hurt me so much, but Fideo-san was by my side and I discovered that, with a bit of soccer, the wounds in my heart, those that you gave me when you left me, would eventually heal. But that day hasn’t come yet, and I’m afraid that, if you come back now, the darkness that kept me even from breathing will come back too. That night, something inside me… roared, and I didn’t want you to turn into yet another hindrance.
“…It still hurts to think about you. I imagine you with someone else, there, at America, and I feel my world disintegrates. My soul melts down and I fall back into the hole Fideo-san talked about. He told me that, sometimes, you have to let go of some people to allow better people to come into your life, but, no matter how hard I try, I can’t get you outta my head… I’m not in love with you anymore, but I still think about you every day. You were an extremely important part of my life and I dreamt of spending the rest of my days with you, and that doesn’t disappear just like that… A time came when I didn’t want to fix things anymore, and I even ended up falling in love with someone else that, just as Fideo-san said, has made me happy, but… I still wanted to have you back. You taught me so much and you were so special for me…“ Handa had to wipe off the tears that, for a while already, had kept him from seeing anything. “I didn’t wanna lose you, and I never lost the… the illusion that, someday, you’d come back and tell me everything: why you left me all of a sudden, why you’d break my heart right before leaving, why you were so… so cruel…“ He shook his head hard. “I got to be very, very angry [not as in I managed to be, but as in I “arrived” to be, if you know what I mean] because of everything you did to me, but it’d never last. I’d always end up thinking a single word from you’d be enough for me to forgive everything, no matter what, but that word never came. During all this time, I’ve never stopped thinking you’d have to tell someone your secret at some point, and that I’d still be here, waiting for you, just as always. It might not be the same way, but… I still love you, Tsukushi-chan, and I always wanted to tell you how I felt, how my body reacted. Not to make you feel bad, but, simply, ‘cause… I thought you deserved to hear. I guess you know now…”
Handa looked at Ootani for the first time in a long while, only to find that she was sleeping soundly with a placid expression on her face. She must had been like that for a very long time, enough to not listen to anything worrying, but Handa was so buried in his own thoughts that she hadn’t even noticed it. The poor girl, he thought, must have been worn out: she had had to wake up so early to be able to wake him up, and he had the feeling that she had gone to bed very late, too. He had kept on talking, letting out all those things that consumed him, but no one had listened to him. The void he had looked at so much had come back to become, also, the only target of his words.
But Handa was happy about it. He had managed to vent and had avoided Ootani from listening to something that, maybe, he wasn’t ready to tell, nor she was to hear. They both needed to level with each other, and it would be better if they did so at the same time.
The car braked suddenly, as violently as it had started. Kira got off and opened the door for the kids.
“We have arrived.”
Before waking Ootani up, Handa looked at the building they had parked next to. It was a huge and very ostentatious high school, painted and decorated, mostly, in red tones. And at the entrance, waiting for them, were two men and two boys of the same age as Handa. Out of them all, the only one he didn’t know—a tanned, purple-haired man with poorly shaved beard—walked up to him, offered him his hand and smiled at him.
“Welcome to Kidokawa Seishuu, Handa-kun.”