Disclaimer: I own nothing. This series belongs to Shoji Gatou, Kyoto Animation and GONZO (c). The first version of this story published in 2012 took place after the Second Raid. Since I've read the light novels now I've changed it.
Kaname sighed. I peered down at her head. She had a habit of making this sound when she didn't want to tell me something, although this one struck me as forlorn and uneasy. It didn't match the cheery atmosphere from the falling blossom petals we stepped through like pollen. Truth be told, I don't think she had ever sighed quite like this.
"I can't believe it. I thought I'd never have to walk this way again." she says, disgruntled, "What if I can't make any friends? This was so much easier when Kyokyo was around. Here I am, top grades, and I'm the one has to do this all over again."
It was April, the start of the first Semester Kaname would be repeating. As part of the special response forces, there was very little reason for me to accompany her besides personal interests. My sentiments were very positive, so I did not mind going to school with her. Lifted from a professional link, I felt steady and content to go to school. I had not been called on a mission yet for over a month now, so I hoped the peace would last.
The Whispered saw I wasn't listening and said, "Remind me again. What's the plan when you call Mithril this afternoon?"
I thought back to the conversation we'd had a week earlier and recited:
"Dear Captain. As much as I appreciate the work and shelter you have provided me over the years, I would like to disengage from my working relationship with the organization for the sake of Kaname. Please tell me what steps are necessary to complete in order to achieve this, ma'am."
The girl forced a smile, but there was an underlying insincerity about the action. It was nothing to how hollow the words felt when I said them, like I had been forced to confess against my will. I wiped sweat on my uniform, hoping Kaname wouldn't notice.
Despite my intentions to leave Mithril for her sake, the truth of the matter was I still felt a great deal of responsibility toward the organization, especially since it was trying to rebuild after losing so many personnel. Like a gardener who dedicatedly spent every moment of his day grooming a range of flowers, I too felt a powerful inclination to nurture my home. Alas, it was ill-fated that Kaname and Mithril were part of the same soil.
When we passed the gates of Jindai High, I had hoped the facility would have remains of the familiar. It would have been almost identical to any school day it if Kaname's presence had not been unnoticed. There was no Kyokyo or waves from friends. In fact, it was as though I'd entered unaccompanied.
No one said anything.
Losing all confidence, we walk up the stairs, reach the class III-4 and sit in the chairs. It was early but the room was a quarter full of faces we didn't recognize. As though unwelcome, there were a number of hesitant glances in our direction. Kaname gives an acknowledging nod to the classmates, but I sit down and take out my study materials.
A young man with messy hair bows and introduces himself as Yu. "I heard a rumor we had new students coming in today, but I didn't imagine I would recognize you."
"Why?" Kaname asks, squinting suspiciously, "I think you're probably imaging it if you saw us from somewhere."
"Not at all." Yu says with a smile, "The two of you were around when Jindai got hijacked last year, right?"
"You are correct." I answer, "Although we were mere victims in the situation. Kaname was forcibly removed for a number of months which is why she needs to repeat. My academics were poor so it was recommended I was held back."
Kaname stares at me, but I introduce both our names to break the silence.
"You must be good friends if you're using Chidori's first name." one girl from in front of us says.
"Yeah, we're just really good friends – nothing worth gossiping over." Kaname says, blushing, "Anyway, tell me about you guys. I don't want to talk about myself."
Astounded, part of me wondered if she had used her answer to redirect the conversation, or if she honestly didn't perceive me as more than a friend. I quickly forgot about it as we started to acquaintance ourselves with the few students in the room.
Thankfully Miss Kagurazaka, who smiled at us in the way you would to someone at a funeral, didn't make us introduce ourselves in front of the class. Discounting the ones we had just told, it turned out only one other person in our class knew about our connection to the terrorist attack, and her name was the only one I remembered out of the year.
There is a sharp prod on my arm when I open my bento box. I look to my left to meet eyes with a girl.
"Hi. My name is Nagamine Atsuko." She says in a bright tone, "Do you like Gundam?"
I hear some giggles from behind me. "Hello Nagamine. I'm sorry, but I do not know much about Gundam."
"What? But it's so cool!" Nagamine looks ecstatic, "How can you like military stuff but not Gundam? It doesn't make any sense!"
I pause, wondering how the girl figured out I had a fondness for the military, but I noticed the corner of volume 32 of Arm Slave Montly poking out of my bag.
"Sousuke's kind of stupid like that." Kaname mentions "Don't let it bother you."
"I can rent you the DVDs. I've seen it a billion times!"
The student had the enthusiasm of a child at their first time at the zoo, although she had a maturity to her eyes that reminded me of Testarossa. The combination was unsettling, and whenever I heard her voice, I felt a firm discomfort I couldn't shake.
I said no thank you.
"Why did you get such bad grades last year?" Nagamine questions, "That's super irresponsible, don't you think?"
There is an uncomfortable rustling of paper from behind me.
"I didn't study hard enough." I reply simply, but it is part of the cover story.
"My parents would kick my butt if I told them that!" Nagamine said awed, "You better watch out or yours will come do the same to you. I can help you come up with better excuses. I know lots. Physically making yourself sick is a good one."
"That's dangerous." Kaname pointed out, "You'd be just pushing yourself back."
Nagamine ignored her, "its fine. I get such good grades it would never happen!"
From that day forward, I felt like I was on a mission and had speakers attached to my head at all times.
Nagamine was like a radio. Whenever you were around her, she had something to say, like her very purpose was to broadcast sounds to the world. It didn't take long for me to realize that this irritated a lot of people, for no one spoke to her much except me. I rephrased her comments back onto her.
"Come on! Why won't you call me Atsu-chan?" she asks.
"I don't feel like we are that close yet." I say. It was hours since we had been introduced.
"B-but we are! I've told you so much about myself!"
The truth was the girl seemed to talk about anything that wasn't herself.
Kaname alternated between being silent around Nagamine, to lukewarm. "I feel bad. The teachers told me she goes to one of those messed up kid institutions, but half the time I don't even know what she's talking about. I'm not trying to be mean."
We stepped off the train and were about to go our separate ways.
"Kaname," I remembered, "I couldn't help wondering if you just see me as a friend, like you said so this morning."
The Whispered glared at me, "What do you think, you idiot?"
I didn't answer. Honestly, I was unsure. Kaname didn't press the subject. I was ashamed that I found myself asking for assignments when I called Tessa. It was an automatic reaction, and when I thought to correct myself, I didn't.
When I told Kaname, she requested I try again. The same occurrence happened two times, so I pushed the plan to the back of my mind, not knowing how to solve the mystery. Kaname's impatience only grew as weeks passed. As much as she said she understood my hesitation, in her words, "it's still not an excuse to risk getting your head blown off every month or so!".
She had a point. I was called out to small missions less frequently with the tactical advisement of Commander Markudas, who was taking over Kalinin's role as military strategist, but any task with Mithril had a risk of death. Still, my heart churned at the thought of leaving, from both wanting to depart and wanting to stay.
The Whispered had not brought up the topic since the end of first semester, making me wonder if she'd given up or simply accepted the situation. The pressure she put on herself to succeed was so prominent nowadays the girl hid her disapproving face behind books, making it hard to tell the reasoning behind any given mood swing. The fact Nagamine was as constant as my own shadow repelled all new students, even Kaname at times. As a result, I spent a lot of time reading with Nagamine during first semester, which may have added to Kaname's frustrations. Still, I didn't mind the social outcast. I asked her to read study notes to me, and that satisfied her need for constant chatter.
Before I knew winter break had come.
It was the middle of the day on the Tuatha de Danaan, Wednesday. 15 past 13 hours. On the surface the sun had been stunning so I assume the weather was just as good today. It wasn't particularly cold, at any rate.
Why was I back in this submarine? To be honest, it was the Captain's idea. She wanted to get everyone back together for 'old time's sake'. I can't help but question her motives considering all the harsh memories involved in the vessel, but perhaps it was to start over again. I'm uncertain if such an approach would work, but I am willing to believe in Miss Testarossa's good will. The ship was on due course for the tropical island of Okinawa.
My pen froze mid-sentence as there was the rustling of paper. I turn quietly as an envelope was slid under my door. I hesitate, observing the sheet of white and curvy handwriting. Was it a bomb or an invitation to the fight to the death?
I moved out of my chair and walked briskly toward it, trying to keep my cool. It looked like just a normal envelope. The ink was bright blue, just like the pile of pens on Miss Testarossa's desk. It was probably one of the staff who had sent this, but who? If reinforcements were after us the alarms would have gone off by now. I had tested them many times.
I flinched and reached for my gun. Either someone had kicked the door or…
"Open it, you idiot!"
That was Chidori's voice. She sure had a way with words.
"Are you in danger, Kaname?" I raised my voice, "It is nice to know it's you!"
"Of course it's me!" The girl shouted through the metal, "I'm not – " she groaned, "Open up!"
There was a half-hearted knock, as though the teenager had given up. I hesitated and placed a hand on the door handle. "Tell me you're safe, unaccompanied and not being coerced, and then I'll let you in."
Kaname sighed. She didn't answer for a moment. "I'm safe and it's just me, Sousuke."
While my response was still not as civilized as she would like, I still kept pride in the fact that you can never be too careful.
Slowly, I pulled open the door, met with the downtrodden face of my beloved.
"Have you read it yet?" Chidori asked, peering at the paper on the ground. Jumping to my senses, I quickly snatched the envelope and ripped it open.
"Just a moment, Chidori." I scanned the message, growing more confused by the minute "You can't rush your…"
What was I now? The student and I may have confessed our love and kissed in the middle of a crowd, but did that mean I could call her my girlfriend? I would most certainly like to, but with the suspected impression that Kaname was upset with me, I was either too hesitant or polite to ask.
For those who are interested, the message Chidori slid under my door that day was as follows:
You are invited to an extravangza of fun this Saturday in the dining hall at 6:30pm. Make sure to dress up in the theme of Christmas as there will be prizes awarded to best dressed! We will then go out for dessert and karaoke at The Prince in Okinawa. Please RSVP as soon as possible. We would love to see you there! Food and drinks will be provided.
Best of luck,
"So, Sousuke?" Kaname said enthusiastically, "Are you gonna go?"
I lifted my eyebrows. Three of the girl's top buttons were undone, and the shirt was slightly creased, quite unusual for the young lady.
"What happened to your shirt, Chidori?" I asked, changing the subject. "Did someone attack you?"
"No! I just couldn't be bothered ironing it!" she protested. The color of her face would have matched the theme of Christmas, "Gosh, you're stupid."
Chidori was thinking of hitting me. It was obvious by the angle of her palm and the fact it had risen into the air. I couldn't help but wonder if there was another story behind the t-shirt. It certainly didn't look different to her usual attire. It was grey with black stars, one I had seen before when she wasn't at school.
The teenager resisted. "What's that face for?"
I poured over the words again, "I'm not sure I understand the meaning of this invitation."
"What is it you don't understand?" Chidori asked, "It looks pretty simple to me. You dress up, come to a party, have fun at Karoke, and come back."
Now that Chidori mentioned it, I recalled the Captain explaining that the trip had something to do with Christmas.
"If you want to help," the girl continued, "Tessa and I are going to prepare food. We'll have music and pretty lights, the submarine will never be the same!"
The light in her eyes was truly astounding. It was like she was a star, beaming down from the sky.
I scratched my head. "So what you're saying is, despite how mundane it sounds the event will still be worth going to?" I paraphrased.
Kaname nodded and her face lit up."You got it! If you want I could get Kurz to help you with a costume. What do you say?"
"I suppose I could do that." I agreed, tucking the letter in my pocket, "An event this festive will require a camera, although my wardrobe is likely too bland."
"That's why I'll get Kurz to help you!" Chidori said happily, "So does that mean you're coming?"
"I will if you think the experience will be beneficial."
"I do!" Chidori jumped up and down and gave a small cheer. How strange. I didn't think it was that interesting, but obviously this was important to her. I bowed curtly, with the intention of returning to my desk.
"I will see you in the kitchens, Chidori." I replied, in an official like tone, "When are you and the Captain preparing food?"
"Tomorrow at midnight, so no one knows what we're up to."
"12 am sharp?" I clarified.
"Yes." Kaname replied.
"Not a problem."