A/N: trigger warning: semi-graphic implied child death.
"But seriously, that was great, coach!" Akane beamed as they left the hospital.
More than great, actually. Just thinking about the fight they'd finished had her blood pumping again! Today the training had been on the beach, in the shallows with water tugging at your feet. One wrong move, and you'd slip and fall! It suited Nidai's fighting style; he was like a rock, never moving, never breaking. But Akane knew she would have gotten him this time! At least if, after one of her leaps, she hadn't landed on her ankle badly.
Not like something like that would have stopped her from trying to finish their fight, but Coach had demanded they stop and brought her to Tsumiki. She'd wrapped it up with…uh, what was the word…? Expertise? Yeah, that was it! Tsumiki'd long gotten used to them popping in to get their scrapes and stuff patched up—they and Komaeda, who always had some accident or minor bug or other, were in practically every day. Akane usually didn't make time to talk to weaklings, but Komaeda couldn't have been that weak if he was still chugging along. And, y'know, Tsumiki was helping her, and she was so timid and small…the least Akane could do was be nice, right?
Nidai, who was lending her his shoulder, let out a booming laugh. "Indeed! I can see you improving every day, Owari! But you've still yet to learn restraint. You mustn't overexert yourself…so pay attention to Tsumiki's orders!"
"Ugh…do I have to? It's not that bad, honest!"
He gave her a stern look. "Maybe so, but trying to push yourself with that injury could make it even worse. As your manager, I won't allow undue harm to come to you! SO I INSIST YOU LISTEN TO TSUMIKI!"
"Tch…" There was no way it'd get worse; a mere sprained ankle? Pfft, that was nothing. Sometimes she'd have to run from muggers on one as a kid! And even if it did get worse, she'd dealt with that before too! She could manage fine now! So there was no reason for Tsumiki to insist on no sparring for a whole week!
Akane shuddered. Your sweat on your skin, your heartbeat drumming in your ears, the movements of your body, those were the signs you were truly alive. If she didn't have those, how was she supposed to live? How was she supposed to keep the bad thoughts away?
It probably would have angered her more if she hadn't known Tsumiki and Nidai meant well. Nidai especially was always looking out for her; that's why he was here now, helping her back to her cottage. He…always looked out for her. Akane knew, in her gut, that he'd loan her his shoulder the whole week and bring her food and keep her company. Maybe they'd watch kung-fu movies or borrow some of Nanami's fighting games, that'd almost be as good as the real thing.
Or maybe…maybe he'd even do it to her.
Just the thought had her body trembling with excitement. It wasn't just addicting; it was like…like food! Like fighting! But of course, he would threaten to stop it if she continued to argue (he had before), so she grudgingly accepted his words.
That guy…only he could make me stand down with just talk…
And not just that. Lotsa strange stuff happened when she was around Nidai. Her stomach got all fluttery, and her heart beat really fast, and a compliment from him meant much more than from anyone else. Being around him made her feel weak, made her want to act more girly. Why? Why was that? Nanami'd smiled when she told her, but only vaguely said stuff about Nidai being special to her. Well duh, he was special. He was one of a kind! There wasn't…there wasn't anyone like him in the world.
…She just couldn't figure it out. But even if he sometimes made her feel weak, and sometimes annoyed her, she did know their connection was valuable.
Their chat on the way back was enthusiastic and fast, replaying the fight over and over. Several times, Nidai had to stop her from physically replaying a certain kick or punch. She just couldn't help it! Talking about it made her want to try it!
When they reached her place, she insisted on walking inside on her own. She'd endure help, but never a moment longer than she had to. Putting all her weigh on her uninjured foot, Akane turned and punched the manager's arm lightly. "I'll get you next time, coach! Just you wait!"
"Haha! I'd like to see that!"
Oooh, a challenge! With a playful growl, she pushed Nidai. And even with her ankle (see? More proof she didn't need to be restricted!), she did it forcefully enough that he stumbled. Instead of laughing and returning it, though, he gave her a reproachful look, again. "I've told you already, Owari, you need to listen to Tsumiki. It's time to rest."
Irritation sparked. She got it, okay?! He didn't want to spar, fine. He didn't need to keep reminding her when she just wanted a little fun! Akane threw out an arm to the side, blindly. "Aw, c'mon! It's not that—"
Wood and glass against her hand. Those same textures, moving away, falling. The sounds of an object hitting the floor. The gymnast froze.
"Oh shit!" Immediately forgetting about Nidai, she scrambled to what she'd knocked over—a framed picture. Lifting it, she scanned rapidly for any cracks in the glass. Oh please no, oh please no, oh please no…
There were none. She let out a sigh of relief. Her sprained ankle throbbed reproachingly as she stood up, but she paid it no mind. The picture was safe, and that was the important thing. Carefully, she returned it to its rightful place among six other pictures on a small wooden shrine.
"That's new," Nidai commented, his big, familiar presence at her back. Akane nodded, but didn't move away, her fingers lingering on the glass.
"Yeah, it just got put together a few days ago. Hinata drew the portraits for me…and Pekoyama helped build the shrine…I'm no good at either of those things."
I'm no good at anything but fighting and breaking small things…
Her throat closed up, like a piece of food had gotten lodged in it. A spear of pain and longing pierced her heart. Akane's eyes slowly, tenderly swept over the young faces.
Hanae, twelve and just starting to notice boys. Old enough to be ashamed of how ragged her clothes were, but still young enough to be delighted by the occasional hair ornament as a present. Too responsible, a stick-in-the mud…but when Akane was trying to look after their other siblings, she was trying to look after Akane.
Naoki, with his round glasses, held together by spit and prayers. He'd had them since he was four, even though his eyesight had changed over the seven years since. He'd dreamed of being a scientist and was always running around trying to study this thing or that. And his sweet tooth…hah, he always got embarrassed about that.
Taro,nine and as loud as her, a little fighter in the making. Scrappy and tough, but funny, always cracking jokes and pulling pranks. Insensitive at times, but always the second (Akane was first) to leap to his siblings' defense. She used to scold him for leaving bits of food out for that local, scrawny alley cat.
Rin,Taro's twin, the quietest of her siblings. While Naoki was babbling about his latest 'discovery' or Taro was chasing a shrieking Kaoru with frogs, he was in the background, lost in his own little head. On days Akane's efforts didn't turn up enough food, he distracted the younger ones from their wailing bellies with imaginative stories.
Sumiko, tough feisty Sumiko, missing her two front teeth. Eight and sportsy, but despite her tomboyish attitude, she loved dancing. On one of her birthdays, Akane'd managed to scrape together enough to buy her ballet slippers. She'd had to sacrifice her own dinner, but Sumiko's beam was worth it.
Bubbly seven-year-old Kaoru, with her hair up in pigtails because she'd once seen some of the models in their dad's playboy magazines and ever since then had begged to be 'pretty like them'. She never sat still, even when Akane was brushing her hair; she bounced impatiently, so eager to see herself in the river's reflection. Real smart, though, she'd always gotten good marks on her papers at school.
Little Haruto, the baby of the bunch, five and bossy and secure in the knowledge he was spoiled—but so, so sweet when he was in a good mood. He'd still sucked his thumb and was very proud of being the only leftie among them.
Precious, every one of their faces, every one of their names, which she would never ever forget. Too young to go, all of them, they'd all had their lives ahead of them—
Akane blinked rapidly, fury swelling in her at the feeling of hot, stupid tears that just wouldn't go away, they kept trying to slip out, but she wouldn't let them, it was weak weak weak—
A hand touched her shoulder. "Owari? Are you—"
"S-Shut up!" she snarled. "Don't…don't even say it. I'm not." Hold yourself together! Don't let anyone see weakness or they'll jump on it! She needed…she needed an outlet. She needed food or fighting or something to dive into, she needed to get away—
He reached for her chin, and she stubbornly turned her face away. "Owari…"
Why was he still here?! Why wasn't he going away?! Didn't he know this was making it worse?!
Akane always tried to stuff bad things deep down where they wouldn't bother her. Don't think about them, don't look at them, and she wouldn't be affected. But when she watched that bullshit vid of Nanami's pain…when Nidai had died in the Funhouse…she couldn't stop herself.
"It's okay, you know. You don't have to hold back."
And these, especially, were the memories she avoided most of all. She didn't want to forget her beloved little siblings…but she didn't want to think about their ends. So she didn't. She didn't talk about them to Nanami, she didn't think about the past, she didn't look at the pictures too long and ran the moment she felt that weakness swell. It was a fragile balancing act, remembering but not too deeply and she thought she'd gotten used to it. But all it had taken was Nidai being here—Tsumiki not letting her spar—taking away her usual escape routes…!
She'd cried more since she'd met these guys than in the rest of her life! It was…it was their faults! If she'd never met them, she wouldn't be so weak as to keep crying. She never would have been brainwashed by Enoshima, she never would have despaired, she never would have come home one day with murder in her heart—
And her siblings—
She tried to scream when she felt a hot streak slip from one eye, but it came out like Taro's body when she was done—
"Agh…I told you to SHUT UP!"
She swung around with a punch—and then with horror remembered what happened not moments ago. And that was just a careless swing of her arm! When he dodged, he'd retaliate to stop her, and if they really started to fight, then…!
Her fist connected solidly with his chest. A grunt of pain left Nidai. Akane's head yanked up. His eyes were squeezed shut, but…not in pain. Rather, his face had a calm look on it.
"C-Coach?" Why…why'd you let me hit you? Why…
"…I know you think tears are weak, Akane," Nidai said, and she started at the sound of her given name. "I know a strong woman like you wouldn't want to be seen crying. But not facing such 'weak' emotions only hurts you in the long run. If you run from them, you only hurt yourself. Facing them, that's true strength.
"So…don't hold your tears back. Cry, scream, even hit me if it makes you feel better. And the whole time…I promise I won't look. I promise…I won't think of you as weak."
L-Like it's that easy! Crying…was pointless. Crying…wouldn't change anything. She'd learned that when she was three and all her tears about her empty stomach did was make her dad yell at her. Crying wouldn't erase the fact her siblings were dead, it wouldn't wash their blood from her hands, it wouldn't let her go see them again and tell them just how sorry she was—
The burning in her eyes intensified.
And finally, Akane let herself weep.
A/N: Christmas is a time for family, so when better to release a chapter about Akane's? :3 *gets pelted with rotten oranges* Okay, okay, I'm sorry for writing something depressing!
Akane's another character who had a lot of potential, but got squandered in the plot. So I wanted to highlight her emotional repression + some of her times with her family.
See if you can find what reference I hid in this chapter~