"Don't move..." she hissed, her voice painfully torn between hate and sadness. Waves crashed down upon it, silencing her echo.
Her sons hair swirled in the soft ocean breeze. The smell of salt and sweat drifted between them. His head was cocked, perhaps in confusion, or happiness. On the ground nearby laid a police officer, bleeding from his torn thigh, still crying out in pain.
All eyes on her. Her eyes on the gun held in her hands, loaded. It's weight obvious in her hands. Heavy with each bullet. One finger pressing the trigger. Her sight narrowed to its path.
He swung his arms up towards her, swaying slightly at the change in balance.
"Come on mom! We can go home and you can make me food like always," he smiled, his voice almost child-like, the tone almost that of a song.
His arms outstretched, his hands grabbing for her. His stance shifted and she knew he was going to move. Memories of him leaping into her arms as a child flashed in his vision before going black. Before anyone could move...
A cry. So distance. The sound of sand beneath feet. The mumbles of others. Yet the only thing she could make out was the voice of the man behind her, still sprawled out on the sand.
"You- you're crazy..." he muttered.
She had warned him, yet he didn't move. He wanted to see it out. So maybe she should too. Her vision focused in again and she shot. The screaming grew stronger. The gun felt like brick in her hands. It was heavy with her guilt. This time, they didn't hesitate.
Another gunshot rung out and she cried out. The guilt dropped from her hands, her grasp now on her shoulder. Falling to the ground in a heap, she heaved in pain, but she didn't dare scream as they did. She merely hissed, watching blue uniformed officers surround her. Paramedics on the scene focused on her son over her. She was quickly handcuffed and dragged away. Her last sight was that of the children of Masuda Village, circled around her son like a murder. They all wore different looks on their faces - guilt, sadness, anger. All overwhelmed by disgust for her.
She smiled back, tears falling, though she felt nothing. She couldn't even mutter a final word to him before she was shoved in the back of a cop car. Her shoulder still seethed with pain, dripping red hot blood onto her dress and the seat. But for her, it was over. She may be imprisoned but she was free.
The remaining officers at the scene had to pry the boys off of Keita to allow the paramedics way to try to save him. He'd been shot in the stomach, then the chest. He had lost more than enough blood to kill. It seeped into the sand, turning it a hardening crimson. Hanabishi still held a handful of this bloody sand, unknowing of it. He gritted his teeth and clenched every muscle in his body to prevent himself from crying. Behind him, Toru held his shoulder whilst Seito sobbed into Borons arms. Boron cried too, silently into Seitos shoulder.
Glancing up at Toru, Hanabishi noticed the glimmers of tears. He too couldn't bare to cry. He merely squeezed his shoulder tighter and gazed away into the ocean and it's gushing waves. In the distance, other officers remained on the phone, some waiting for an ambulance, others waiting for Hanabishi's father to pick them up again. To get them out of this mess. But Hanabishi knew his father was no magical healer. Not even he could separate the blood from the sand. Not even the ocean could wash away this scene.
Hanabishi turned around and hugged Toru, burying his head in his chest. He couldn't watch any longer. He knew Toru continued to do so for them all. The sounds of the ocean and yells of paramedics blurred into one nasty white noise. He grasped Torus back. He wanted to hit something or scream, but he didn't want to cause more harm. Torus breath hitched and a gasp left his mouth. The arms that once hugged Hanabishi back left him to cover his mouth, before patting him on the back again.
"... Let's go..." he managed to say.
Hanabishi nodded into his chest and parted from him, turning around to see the mark of Keita still seeped into the ground. His body now laid on a stretcher, being lifted into the back of an ambulance. Next to it, his fathers truck. Nichiteru stood waiting for them again, his arms crossed, but not out of anger but out of patience. His expression covered in worry, looking them all up and down. They were all covered in blood one way or another.
Approaching their way home, Hanabishi stopped and dropped the now brown sand that he had squeezed in his hands. He clapped his hands of the rest of it whilst everyone else clambered into the back of the truck, leaving the front seat for Hanabishi. He stared at his father for a moment before glancing back at the whole scene once more and getting into the passenger seat. His dad followed in silence, starting up the truck with its signature puff of black smoke.
Driving in silence, Hanabishi could hear the muffled sobs of the other boys in the back. Blood had dried on his hands, but the thought of it disgusted him. Tears had begun to fall but he wiped them as quickly as they came. His father glanced at him periodically, as well as the rear mirror to look at the others. His own tears fell in silence, though he didn't wipe them.
"Hanabishi..." he begun softly, but didn't continue.
"Shut up shut up SHUT UP - EVERYONE!" he shrieked, bashing a fist against the back of his seat. "SHUT THE FUCK UP."
They all knew Hanabishi only said that out of sadness rather than anger. Nevertheless, it scared them enough to shut them up. Even Seito managed to quell his tears to a simple whimper to avoid his wrath. No words could sooth them knowing that somewhere, their friend - brother - was fighting for his life. All because of the one person who should protect them. The thought only bubbled more anger in Hanabishi.
"Do you even fucking care about us? HUH? ARE WE ONLY PAWNS IN YOUR LIVES?? ARE WE THAT FUCKING REPLACEABLE?" he screamed at his father, who couldn't reply even if wished. He merely kept driving.
"YOU HEAR THAT?" Hanabishi scoffed, twisting into a cruel laugh, "WE DON'T MEAN SHIT TO THEM! WE NEVER HAVE!"
Boron slammed a fist against the back of Hanabishi's seat, shocking him.
"STOP! Please... just stop," he cried.
"STOP? STOP?!" Hanabishi chuckled back, "I'LL STOP WHEN THEY STOP USING US! I'M SICK OF IT!"
"We- we all are Hana... please..." added Seito softly.
"PLEASE DIDN'T SAVE KEI HUH? HE'S PROBABLY FUCKING DEAD FOR ALL WE KNOW! WHO IS NEXT HUH?"
Nichiteru finally snapped back, stopping the truck abruptly on the side of the mountain. The boys startled in the back.
"Stop this. We don't want to hurt any of you," he replied.
"Then why? Why did Keita have to die for her?" Hanabishi sobbed, rubbing the tears away so aggressively it painted his face red.
"He's not dead yet - and he didn't have to. His mother wasn't thinking straight..."
"So not thinking straight gives someone the right to kill?!"
"Of course not... she was just - frustrated. I know how hard you boys tried to save her. But some people just can't be saved," his father said, his own voice coarse.
"Why... why Keita?" he mumbled, finally falling silent.
One question not even his father could reply to. He started the truck up again and begun up the mountain face towards the village. They all continued to sob in silence.
"I know it won't matter to you..." sighed Nichiteru, "But I love you all like my own children. I'm sorry you had to go through that."
Focusing on the road, he could hear the hitching of multiple voices as well as an increased sobbing.
"You- you wouldn't hurt us... would you?" Hanabishi whispered under his breath, turning away from his dad.
"No of course not. I love you."
Silent sobbing again. All the way until they reached the village. Together, they returned to the classroom where they awaited their parents arrival to pick them up. A safety procedure more than anything. Mariha sat in silence beside her brother, who stared blankly out of the open window. Their father quietly explained the situation to the parents in the hallway. The rest of them had dried their tears. Seito sat next to Hanabishi, still crying somehow, though quelling his wailing knowing it would upset his brother.
Boron stared at his father in the hallway whilst Toru curled up in his own seat, dwelling on the long conversation his family would be having with him later due to it all. Eventually, the parents entered to take their children, Nichiteru wishing them safety upon leaving. The only ones remaining were Seito and the Kuruwayas.
"He-hey Hana... are you okay?" said Seito with a weak smile.
"Of course, I'm fine," he spat back, crossing his arms and lowering his head.
Nichiteru pat Seito and Mariha on the backs to signal them going home. They both took the gesture as suggested and stood. The squeaking of chairs against the floor, then soft footsteps outside. Hanabishi remained as he was, his head lowered. He watched his father crouch in front of him and take his hands, of which he let unravel. With that, his whole body relaxed and he raised his head.
"He'll be ok... Keita is stronger than that. So are you. I'm proud of you Hana, but now you have to relax. There's nothing more we can do for him but hope for his safety," his dad said gently, squeezing his hands.
He snatched them away, "I know..."
"Let's go home. We can make curry together, ok?" he smiled.
"That's what Keita asked for... before he-" Hanabishi's voice cracked, "I'm fine... let's go."
He stood, keeping his head down. His chair slammed against the floor and his feet dragged as they left. They remained silent as the four of them walked home, Mariha leading them and Nichiteru trailing at the back. Once home, Hanabishi locked himself in his room, whilst Seito went to change out of his bloodied uniform and shower. Even Mariha was saddened by their grievance, perhaps not enough to shed a tear, but enough to let some glaze over her eyes more than usual.
Nichiteru stayed out of their way. He knew being in Hanabishi's would cause more harm than good for him, so instead he preoccupied himself with preparing dinner.
Elsewhere, the opposite happened. Toru was prodded with question after question - from his father, his grandparents, even his great-grandparents - as they all sat around a table. He shook, attempting to keep his composure in front of them as he sipped his sake, the sweetness lingering on the tip of his tongue. He would shake his head in response, and close his eyes, as though it would block out their voices and finally give him peace. During a brief silence, he abruptly stood.
"I have to care for Sutera..." he said bluntly, bowing his head in a simple thanks, "Goodnight."
With that, he didn't even change shoes before leaving. He simply left as fast as possible to the only safe place he truly knew - the Neko household. Eventually making it to the small shack they called home, he knocked with a heavy hand and was met by Haruma, whose child barely slept on his back. Noticing Torus reddened eyes and complexion, he gestured him in. He entered without a word and sat by the small blazing fire, of which some stew boiled on top. He let out a sigh that turned to whimpers then cries again. Haruma sat next to him and rubbed his back gently.
"It's okay..." he said, his voice rough but sympathetic, causing Toru to smile lightly.
"Maybe... maybe it will be soon," he replied.
Trembling, Boron couldn't stay still. He paced his house perhaps twenty odd times, mumbling to himself. His father had attempted to stop him but knew it wouldn't make much difference. He sat on the floor in the middle of where he paced, watching him.
"Dad..." he finally stopped, his back to him, his arms crossed. "Why do you want to stay here? In Masuda?"
His dad paused for a moment, "Tradition I suppose... we've been here for 12 generations now. Though, I wouldn't be surprised if you wanted to break it."
"We don't follow tradition anymore anyway..." Boron hummed, "So why stay?"
"Here... I can raise you with some sort of stability... but why ask all this now?" Eikan questioned his son.
"Keita's mother almost killed him today. I couldn't do anything to stop it..."
Eikan fell silent.
"Don't apologise. It won't change anything," Boron added harshly.
"Then I won't - but know I love you more than any woman or man I could meet. I'm not like Keiko."
"How would I even know?" sighed Boron, "You're so fucking distant sometimes! You could be plotting to kill me and I'd have no clue!"
"Boron... I'm sorry."
"I said don't apologise."
"Ok ok," Eikan said, raising his hands and standing, "I know I can be a shitty dad sometimes but I care about you Boron. I don't think I could live without you. I would never dare to hurt you."
Boron fell silent, turning around to meet his gaze. Stepping forward, he pulled him into a strong hug, grasping his back. For a moment, he didn't respond, but eventually warmed to it and hugged him back.
"Boron... I love you. I truly do. I'm proud of you for doing what you could today. You're the greatest son a father could ask for," he whispered carefully.
Before he could cry again, Boron parted and quickly stepped away.
"I'm going to go shower. Don't run away whilst I'm gone," he joked.
"I'm not going anywhere Bo," his father smiled back, watching him run upstairs.
Darkness draping over them, the Kuruwayas sat around the table for dinner. Seitos grandmother had joined them, confused by the silence, but happy at their entire presence. Nichiteru had prepared Hanabishi's favourite food, and Seito's favourite candy for dessert, though neither of them seemed excited about eating. To them, it seemed to be a chore. Their motions were sluggish and their expressions blank. They had both gotten paler somehow. Nichiteru watched, sick to his own stomach, unable to touch his food as he watched his own children unable to pick at theirs.
He sighed, breaking the silence. "It's been a rough day... I know that boys. But please, eat something."
Seito and Hanabishi glanced at each other before simultaneously eating a spoonful of their curry.
"Funny one," laughed Nichiteru lightly, "But you both need to actually eat. You're not going to feel any better on empty stomachs."
Seito's grandmother nodded along in silence to it, and Mariha only kept eating hers with no concern for the boys. Hanabishi sighed then chuckled under his breath.
"Thank you for the food Mr Kuruwaya," said Seito, finishing half his dish before pushing it away to signify being done.
"Oh Seito! I made soybean pudding for dessert if you'd like to stick around for that," Nichiteru smiled.
"... Thank you for the offer but I'll have to pass tonight Mr Kuruwaya," he said softly, "May I be excused?"
His grandmother nodded at him and he stood, pausing to glance over everyone before leaving for his bedroom. Hanabishi continued to pick at his food, eventually finishing it but skipping out on dessert too. He excused himself without having to ask, and went to bed early too. Finishing their own food and dessert, they all cleaned up, with no stir from the boys. Terue finished her cleaning and went to check on Seito.
Knocking on his door, she heard him stir before a muffled, "Come in," came from him. Entering and closing the door behind her, she found him curled up in the corner of his bed, his star pillow tucked between his arms. She sat down on the edge of the bed and placed a hand on his arm.
"I heard what happened today. I know how much you all care for Keita, but I'm sure he wouldn't want you risking your own health in worrying for him," she reassured.
"I just... stood there. I couldn't help him. He might be dead because of me," he sobbed into the pillow.
"It's okay Sei. Everyone responds differently to these things. There wasn't much you could do to begin with. I'm glad you aren't hurt."
"Maybe I should've been. I should've tried to protect him from the second one. But I stood there - useless," he groaned in frustration, throwing the pillow across the room and narrowly missing Terue.
"I understand how you feel Sei, but putting yourself in harms way would've just made things worse. You did the right thing."
Seito stared at her, tears dribbling down his pink face, "Did I really?"
She wiped the tears away, "Of course you did darling. Come here."
Without hesitation, Seito fell into her arms and sobbed into her shoulder. She rubbed his back softly as he did.
"Will Kei survive?" he asked.
"We can only pray."
Locked. Hanabishi had locked his door, and clearly had no intention of unlocking it until the next day. So Nichiteru stood outside, a hand against the door as though he may still be able to feel the comfort he wished he could give.
"I know you don't want to talk to me right now, and that's okay," he said in a voice clear enough to be heard on the other side, "But I need to know that you are ok."
Hanabishi didn't reply for a couple minutes. Then a muffled scream, possibly into a pillow, or his sheets, before silence again.
"I'm okay... I'll be okay," he exclaimed, with an emphasis on the "be".
"Glad to know. I'll be in my room if you want to talk more," he replied, "Goodnight Hana."
He didn't reply. He listened to the silence, followed by the sounds of footsteps growing distant, then actual silence. Deafening silence that allowed him to hear his own terrifying thoughts once again. He punched his pillow, then screamed into it again, but none of it did him any good. He wished he could run away from it again. Run to Keita's house, have him pat him to sleep, or play board games until the electricity cut out and they couldn't see. And only now did he realise how important Keita was to him. He was like an older brother to him. His best friend. It actually hurt him to think of him, because all he could imagine was his hand pressed on his stomach, the look of his fleeting smile, the realisation turning him pale.
It hurt more than any injury he could've gotten trying to save him.
After a moment of reflecting on this, he stood and paced in an attempt to tire himself, but he found himself more agitated than before. He knew Seito had already tired himself with his endless crying. The only person he could turn to was his father.
Creeping down the hallway, he knocked on his door to be greeted by his father, sporting some ridiculous pyjamas Mariha had made for him.
"Shut up," Hanabishi said, entering and shutting the door behind him.
"Do you want to sleep with me tonight?" he asked softly.
Hanabishi's mouth went to say no but his head nodded before he could vocalise anything. His dad smiled, gesturing to his bed. Climbing in, Hanabishi slid under the sheets, facing the opposite direction to his dad, who sat upright, a book in hand. He placed a soft hand on his head and pat him.
"Do you want me to read to you?"
Hanabishi tucked himself further into the sheets, "Yes please."
With that, Nichiteru chuckled and put on his narrator voice to softly begin reading to Hanabishi, patting him on the head every once in a while. Before they knew it, Hanabishi had relaxed and fallen straight to sleep, softly snoring to himself. Nichiteru nodded to himself and laid in bed himself, thinking the whole situation over. Soon, the snores of Hanabishi lulled him to sleep too.
And the village, once wrecked by sorrow, had fallen to silent sleep.