The two markers were surprisingly close to each other, making the trip a little easier. Cye Mouri was memorialized with a stone between those of his parents, while Rowen Hashiba was honored with a solitary marker not too far off; his tribute was the most satisfying to the party, left by those that truly cared about him and close to the resting places that they would someday enjoy. Flowers and letters of veneration decorated both, and three of the four members of the party gently cradled more. It was their first visit to them since the services; their grief was still fresh.
Kento knelt down in front of Cye’s marker, touching the cold stone with his fingertips. He carefully lowered a bouquet of flowers to the ground at its base and sighed, trying his best to fend off the tears. “H-hi, buddy,” Kento stammered, his voice starting to break. “Sorry I haven’t really been by in a while. Things’ve been busy. I guess Deirdre was here--she left you a daisy wreath. It’s pretty. They finally finished the new pool at school--it’s dedicated to you. You’d love it, man, it’s so big.....” He smiled a little as the first few tears started their trek down his face. “I’ve been taking care of your fish, just like you did. They’re not overfed or anything, and I moved ‘em to the living room so everyone will think of you when they see ‘em. I’m even takin’ care of ‘Yame’s flowers, ‘cuz you’d be mad if I threw ‘em out.” He laughed a little, pausing to swipe away tears. “Ya know, as much as I hate her, I hope she’s with you. I mean, there had to be some good in her...... She fell in love with you, right?.......... I really miss you, Cye. I can’t just talk to anyone else like I could with you, and no one else really enjoys the same stuff we did.... remember ‘Whoops Apocalypse’?............ O-out of all of us, you didn’t deserve this.....” Kento let a loud sob escape, more tears drenching his face. “I mean, we all knew you were gonna leave and all, and we shoulda kept an eye out or somethin’....... I-I promised to look out for ya, and I’m sorry I couldn’t......” He deteriorated into bawling, leaning on the stone for support. “I’m sorry..... I’m so sorry......” His crouch sank, and his knees fell onto the soft, wet ground. A gentle, damp nuzzle on his cheek eased his sobbing slightly; White Blaze purred against him, his presence calming. Kento draped an arm over the tiger as he got up, resting his hand again on the stone. “I’m sorry, Cye. I miss you a lot, that’s all. T-take care of yourself, wherever you are.” He walked slowly away from the memorial, giving one final sad glance to it over his shoulder before leaving for Rowen’s stone. Ryo and Mia were already there, carefully arranging the collection of tributes around the marker. “Hey,” Kento feebly offered as the tiger paced over to rest on the fresh grass.
Ryo looked up at his morose friend. “Hey. You okay?”
“Same as ever, bro,” Kento said as he knelt down beside him. Ryo smiled at the understatement; as pathetic as Kento’s current state was, it was the best he had been in a while. “Whatja doing?”
“Fixing up the gifts,” Ryo explained, gently putting a flower wreath over one of the flat marker’s corners. “Can’t see Ro’s name.”
“Who did this one? It’s cute,” Mia said as she inspected a small daisy wreath.
Kento smiled slightly. “Deirdre Shiga. You know her, from school.” He nudged Ryo with his elbow.
“I don’t really remember anyone from school. I just wanted to get the hell outta there,” Ryo responded.
“She was the American girl, Kyosuke’s cousin. She left one of those for Cye, too.” Kento looked down, taking in all the little items; there weren’t this many for Cye. “O-once, when she was in swing choir with Cye, she said Sage should play the horse’s ass for ‘Horse with No Name’. He hated her,” Kento laughed.
“He should,” Mia said. “That’s just mean.” She carefully placed the daisy wreath by Rowen’s memorial and started towards the jeep. “I’ll see if I can talk to him.”
“Yuli was here,” Ryo said as he picked up a folded note in a child’s scribbly handwriting. “I’m surprised he was allowed to come to the wake.”
“I didn’t notice,” Kento sighed. “Besides, he didn’t leave anything for Cye.”
Ryo read the note, a few tears starting to dampen his eyes. “It’s for both of them. I guess he just put it here. Why are you so angry about it?”
“It’s just not right. All Cye has are our flowers, Deirdre’s, and his sister’s. Why can’t he have all this?”
“It’s nothing we can help.”
“I know. I--........ I just don’t want everyone to forget about him.” A shadow loomed over Kento’s form, and he stood up, turning as he did. “Decided to stop by after all, huh?”
“Shut up,” Sage snapped. His eyes were cinched shut, and he folded his arms protectively over his chest; an expression of purest sorrow started on his face and managed to encompass his entire figure. “I have no right to be here.”
Ryo pulled two flowers out of his waiting bouquet and handed them up to Sage. “Here.”
Sage carefully took the two white and blue irises and just stared at them. He suppressed a sob and handed them back. “I can’t,” he whimpered. “It’s not gonna change anything....” Kento and Ryo looked at each other with muted dread; they knew where this would lead, and there was nothing they could do to stop it. “They’ll still hate me.” Sage tried to block out the returning tide but failed; they were back--every terrified look, every confused plea, every frightened word, every desperate shake or struggle. Their agonized screams still echoed around him, his name still on their lips. He wilted to his knees and tried his best to hide his face with his hands, hide from their betrayed stares and scared tears. They knew their killer, and their death cries would sound around him for all to know. A set of arms wrapped around his shoulders, prompting a terrified jump; his hands fell, revealing his saline-drenched visage. He looked up at his friends, his eyes consumed by a glow of gentle confusion. He rested a shaky hand on Ryo’s arm. “I never wanted to hurt them.... I never wanted to hurt anyone....” He leaned against his friend, his body convulsing with his weeping. “If I just coulda warned them..........”
“It’s okay,” Ryo said, doing his best to console him. “You didn’t do anything wrong. They know that.”
“And even if you coulda done something to change it, they wouldn’t hold it against you,” Kento offered, receiving an angry glare from Ryo for his efforts. He hastily picked up the two stray irises and held them out for Sage. “Y’know what would piss ‘em off at you? If you didn’t say ‘hi’.”
Sage plucked away one of the flowers and gently placed it under Rowen’s name on the marker, caressing it as he did. A faint smile appeared on his face. Slowly, his friends helped him to his feet and led him to Cye’s, letting him pay quiet tribute as he placed the iris among the meager gifts.
Kento let his eyes drift up to the baby blue sky, squinting as the sun threw its rays past the benign white clouds. “You think they’re happy?” he mused out loud.
“They’ve gotta be happy,” Ryo replied, joining the skyward vigil. “They’ve finally found some peace.”
Rowen struggled to open his eyes, but he immediately questioned his decision. He had awakened earlier, when the dim figures of doctors and nurses frantically raced around him. Wherever he was, he knew it was a long way from home, and the only person he knew in this strange new place was last seen convulsing lifelessly under crash pads. He didn’t want to be sedated for pain, to miss his last friend’s final moments for the sake of easing temporary physical discomfort. Still, he had to live, even if he was completely alone in an unknown land; he could never rest knowing he had the opportunity to survive and passed it up. The faint sounds of both a young woman talking and a radio playing “What’s New, Pussycat?” became louder, and he found himself stretched out in a hospital bed--no surprise there. A strange young woman sat next to him, his hand resting in hers; a cascade of charcoal black hair rolled down around her, framing her bright blue eyes behind their silver frame glasses. He couldn’t help but stare at her chest, wondering why the word VOLUNTEER across her T-shirt was in quotation marks. She was oblivious to his revival as she talked; as he listened, he wasn’t terribly tempted to let her know he was awake.
“...So I’m sittin’ there in study hall, and this little punk-ass creep who prob’y needs his MOMMY to iron his boxers starts givin’ me grief ‘cuz I did better than him in Spanish, so I took my binder and was gonna threaten to shove it where the sun don’t shine, but it dawned on me those Norman Bates-types like that kind of stuff, so I told him to sit and spin and moved over to sit with Lala. But Lala was havin’ trouble with this stoner punk who needed an industrial cleansing, and he started givin’ me shit, and so naturally we had to--” She stopped as she felt Rowen squeeze her hand and stared at him wide-eyed. “Oooops. Hi.”
“Wha’s yuh shut in cots?” Rowen moaned, his throat hardly able to propel the words.
“What?” the girl asked. She leaned over him to help ease his attempts, putting her ear near his mouth. Rowen tried again to summon up his voice, but only a painful croaking came from his throat. He poked at her shirt, emphasizing the quotes with stronger jabs.
“What was that for?” Rowen moaned, his weak voice drawn back by the girl’s forceful bitch-slap.
“Don’t poke my yummies!” she snapped.
“Just wanted to know about your shirt.”
“I’m a volunteer, okay? I’m here to cheer you up in a PLATONIC manner!”
“Damn good thing a nurse didn’t see that,” another girl said as she entered, her tall heels licking on the floor. She was dressed in the tightest and shortest clothing Rowen had ever seen, and it was all under a long maroon trenchcoat with fuzzy fringe around the cuffs and the bottom. Her auburn hair was kept in a tight bun, hidden from her brown eyes. She walked towards the first girl. “You wanna tell his friend or just leave?”
“I’ll go tell the nice one. You keep him company--and hit ‘em if he pokes.” The volunteer hurried out as the girl in heels raised one intrigued eyebrow.
“So you..... POKE, huh,” she said as she sat down by Rowen’s bedside.
“Shut up. I just wanted to know about her shirt,” Rowen explained, his voice growing stronger.
“What? Why it’s in quotes? ‘Cuz Kendy’s not a REAL volunteer--this is her detention. She mixed espresso with Boost, got into the costume closet at school, put on a little bitty loincloth, and swung on the gym ropes till she hit the wall and crashed. It was so funny, especially when her top flew off while she was running through the halls.” Rowen’s eyes went wide as the image of a hyper Amazon dashed through his mind. The new girl smiled wickedly. “Bet you feel like a little poking now, huh?”
“Shut up,” Rowen said, embarrassed by his obvious interest in the thought. “Where am I, and how’d I get here?”
“Wow, Question Boy. This is Crescent Hills, and you’re in the hospital.” Rowen rolled his eyes at the statement of the obvious. “As for the how, you just sorta fell from the sky. Why you and your friend were NAKED, I have no idea.” Rowen leaned back. Cye...... how long ago had he died? Was he somehow alive or not? The new girl grew a little concerned and sat up a little. “Hey, you okay?”
“Is Cye okay?” Rowen whispered, bracing himself for the worst case scenario.
“Your friend? He’s fine, ‘cept for a broken leg. They were about to give up on him when just sorta opened his eyes and woke up. Truly amazing.”
“But I saw him.... he was dead.....” Rowen smiled in a mix of relief and disbelief, glowing despite his weakness. “You’re sure he’s okay?” The girl nodded.
“....should be glad you didn’t have a skirt,” Cye’s voice said as it echoed over the thumping of crutches. “And he could’ve spanked you. That’s a lot worse than poking.” The volunteer girl held the door open as Cye entered, pale and thin under periwinkle pajamas and hobbling on metal crutches with his right leg in a cast. He looked at Rowen eagerly and smiled, hurrying over to him as best he could. “Rowen! You’re alive!!”
Rowen pushed himself up into a seated position and welcomed Cye with a gentle hug, finding the strength to pat him on the back. “Good to see you again, too!”
“After the third week, I didn’t know if you’d make it,” Cye said as he backed away. The girl in heels stood up and offered her seat to him, taking his crutches. “Thank you,” he whispered to her before returning his attention to Rowen. “I was so afraid I’d lose you.”
Rowen smiled at him. “Same here. Do you know anyone here?”
“Just Kendy,” Cye said, indicating the volunteer girl. She gave Rowen a grinning sneer. “She’s been a big help through all of this, and you shouldn’t have poked her like that.”
“I couldn’t speak! I’m sorry!”
“Just for that,” Kendy the volunteer girl said, stepping towards Rowen with a wicked look in her eyes, “I get a vengeance poke.”
“What..?” Rowen asked, casting a nervous look at Cye; his friend was a perfect match for the girl in cruel glee. Before he could react, Kendy was poking and jabbing his extremely ticklish stomach. In convulsive fits of laughter and futile struggles for freedom, he gave his protests and accusations voice. “Sta---stop!.... STOP!! Cye, you bastard!! Ba------BASTARD!!” He tried to grab Cye’s pajamas, which were shielded by the crutches. “You TOLD her! You TOLD, you TOLD, you TOLD!!!!” Cye responded only with a low, scary giggle.
“Almost done,” Kendy said as she stopped her tickle assault. As Rowen caught his breath, she leaned forward and kissed his forehead, prompting a surprised blush. “There. Forgiven.” She stepped back towards her friend. “ ‘Kay, Maurette, let’s go. You boys talk amongst yourselves till tomorrow.” The two girls vanished down the halls towards the elevators. As they left, Kendy’s voice echoed back into the room. “I wanted to do that for SO long....”
Rowen leaned back against the bed, still reeling from the benign assault. “That was evil.”
“She said to tell me about you so she could talk to you,” Cye said. “She and her friends are very nice, but I miss everyone. Don’t think we’ll ever see ‘em again.”
“Cye,” Rowen said, resting a hand on Cye’s arm. “I don’t know if we can go back to our old lives. I doubt it. But we have a great opportunity here. We should make the most of it.”
Cye smiled, a few damp tears highlighting his eyes. “You’re right. I guess I got that second chance I wanted after all.”
“We both did.”
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