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Reunite to Co-exist

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1. He genuinely forgot.

On their fifth battle against a cyborg monster, Yuriko was captured for the first time. She blended in with the captured civillians Shigeru had freed, and he forgot about her as he rode to the next town.

No, it was more like--his mind and senses were overwhelmed. The finely tuned nerves beneath the skin of his forehead received signals emitted from another modified creature; not totally unlike him, this time residing west to where he had been. They can run, but they can't hide from the warrior of justice.

"Shigeru!" A familiar voice called out to him while he refueled his bike at a gas station in the middle of nowhere. "Why didn't you wait for me?"

"Yuriko? Where were you?"

"I should be asking that," Yuriko said in between laboured breaths, climbing off her own bike and nearly falling over.

She went straight to accusing him, "Did you forget all about me?"

"You're worse," Shigeru shot back. "You've forgotten your helmet!"

Yuriko felt around the top of her head, where there was no yellow helmet to match her bike. She reddened instantly. She had forgotten too, that their modified bodies could withstand the impact of a car crash or even three.

 

2. He wants to be alone.

"Be strong, Shigeru."

Those were the last words Gorou Numata had spoken to him, when he made Shigeru the next captain of their university's American football team. After Gorou-senpai left to be sacrificed on Black Satan's operating table, Shigeru left too.

He had yet to touch another football with Stronger's metal hands.

These were his hands now; needless to say, he and Kamen Rider Stronger were one and the same. He had to shout it out to the world. Somehow, somewhere, Gorou-senpai could hear him.

In the living world, only Yuriko was listening. She never interrupted, never asked who Shigeru wanted to be stronger for.

Shigeru could tell her. But he'd better not.

 

3. He doesn't want to be with her.

Whenever she threw a fit about only dealing with combatants, about never delivering the final blow or about Shigeru 'beating' her, she was missing the point. The whole world was at stake here, no time for ego and petty rivalry.

"My God, you're so childish," Shigeru said to her.

"You're wearing a sweater with a giant 'S' on it," Yuriko pointed out, her voice flat.

'S' was for both 'Shigeru' and 'Stronger,' but she already knew that.

If only this ongoing fight against Black Satan was a competition that would end at a specific time. Like a football match, with clear rules for winning and losing and a shiny trophy for the best. The sportsman in Shigeru wished it could be so, but he must be firm. In Yuriko, he saw his own pettiness and immaturity reflected back at him, and he thinks that they had to be better than this.

Whenever he fought with her, he saw himself as being to her what Gorou Numata was to him. A true friend, a source of strength and guidance. All he could think about later was how he could never measure up.

 

4. He wants her to be with someone else.

He does think of her while he's on the road. What she's doing, who she's talking to without him around. He imagines her meeting new people all the time, people friendlier than him who weren't brusque and didn't keep making her chase after exhaust dust.

Unlike him, Yuriko still had the chance to live a normal life. Her body may be modified like his was, but that wasn't obvious from the outside. She loved kids, and she didn't need a man to protect her. She'd make the perfect wife.

They happened to be riding together when he was struck with an idea.

"How about old man Tobei?" Shigeru asked, raising his voice so he could be heard over the sounds of their engines.

"What about him?"

Yuriko instinctively looked backwards for a second, where Tachibana Tobei and his jeep were not too far away from them.

"How about settling down with old man Tobei?" Shigeru clarified. "He's foxy for his age."

"What--I'll definitely tell him you said that!"

"He likes motorcycles and you like them too," Shigeru pressed on. "Did you know that he used to run a café? You can open a new one with him, feed all the bikers he knows and eat all the parfait you want."

Yuriko was silent for a while, and just when Shigeru thought she was mad at him again, she said, "Parfait sounds good. A sweet one with fresh strawberry and lots of cream. Want to split one?"

They did that at their next destination.

Once the dessert was gone, Yuriko licked her spoon thoroughly and said, "You sure do eat a lot. How about treating me to another one?"

Shigeru nearly gagged on the spoon in his mouth. "Do you think we're on a date?"

He ordered a second helping anyway.

 

5. He wants her too much.

Aftershocks from his last electro kick shot up Shigeru's shin. He'd be walking with a limp, if not for the soft grass by the riverbank where he could postpone walking for a moment. He lied on his back and stared at the clouds, drifting without a care over the clear blue sky. How peaceful.

Yuriko had noticed that he wasn't simply chilling out.

"Are you okay?" She asked, sitting close to him and stretching her legs out.

"I've never been better," Shigeru replied, not lying.

Yuriko thought otherwise and told him so.

"Then help me out. Come kiss me better," Shigeru teased.

She did just that, bending to to touch her lips on his, light as a feather. This marked their first kiss, on a riverbank with no one else

around, and a few feet away from where they had decimated a slug monster.

The grass rustled, and he sensed her settling down too.

"Shigeru, how do you feel about me?"

"Hmm?"

"Nothing. I was just talking to myself."

Lying beside him, her heart was open. Shigeru wanted to kiss Yuriko again, nuzzle the delicate curve of her neck. Anything to not let the moment pass.

"Happy. Warm. Hopeful, like seeing another sunrise."

"What was that?"

"Just talking to myself."

 

+1. He can't leave her anymore.

Left in the wake of evil, the Kamen Riders didn't celebrate. 'Great Leader' may have exploded before their very eyes, or returned to his home planet or whatever, but it didn't feel like the battle was over. Or maybe everyone had gotten used to running around Japan and the entire world to take out underground organizations, that it seemed unbelievable to be able to nip evil in the bud.

As they returned to where they parked their bikes, old man Tobei called out to them, "Don't leave on your own yet, gentlemen. I still have to tell you about our fallen comrade, who we didn't get to meet."

The other six Kamen Riders traded questioning looks with each other, unsure as to whom Tobei was referring to.

Shigeru stepped forward and said, "At the start, I had a partner. Her name's Electro-Wave Human Tackle."

He finished his introduction after leading the way to her grave.

Yuuki, who had 'returned from the dead' a few years after his battle against Destron, said, "Who knows, Misaki-san may return one of these days. She may be on a different continent right now."

Shigeru shook his head.

"That's impossible. Her body disintegrated a day after her death because of Black Satan's modifications."

The thought of what Black Satan had done to her, what Great Leader had done to all of them, made Shigeru clench his fists. The sound that his leather gloves made was too loud for their moment of silence for Yuriko. Shigeru relaxed his fingers, and thought about Yuriko.

All his Kamen Rider seniors said the same thing, that they wished that they could have met Yuriko in person and gotten to know her. Shigeru wondered who among the living had known Yuriko, and was still missing her this very moment. It was too late to find out who Yuriko's closest friends were, and if she had any other family aside from her deceased brother. Too late for Shigeru to realize that telling her to toughen up meant losing his chance to hear about her worries, her fears and her life before him.

Everyone eventually said their farewells and departed from Yuriko's grave one by one. Shigeru would have to leave too, but he could never truly leave Yuriko.

She was now a part of him.