TO: [+]CK Internal
FROM: A. Kurashiki Α
DATE: April 2, 2027
RE: FY 2026 Expense Reports
Please be aware effective--
Aoi pauses mid-sentence, overwhelmed by the pointlessness of the task before him; apathy so palpable it feels like a heavy woolen blanket thrown over his head. He is both at his desk, writing up a memo he should hand off to the contractor they hired to cover the administrative burden he and Akane used to shoulder entirely (back when it was just them in a tiny apartment, her on a netbook and him on a smartphone) and he is months ahead in Building Q, the floor rocking beneath his feet in imitation of a ship at sea. Busywork isn’t enough anymore; when he pauses long enough to think, he’s back at the mercy of the water and old memories and future possibilities.
The supplies are ordered, the technicians paid, the property deeds secured -- everything big is done. But trying to finish the little day to day of running the organization himself is so mindless he has nothing but time to think. Almost nine years of work lead to him, sitting at a desk mindlessly writing internal policy documents right before the biggest challenge of his life. Apparently it doesn’t matter that he didn’t finish high school -- he's living the salaryman life anyway.
Akane’s asleep. Aoi spins in his chair, too big and dark with a high uncomfortable back. A kid's idea of how a powerful CEO would decorate his office, albeit an office including a signed poster of his favorite soccer player from when Aoi was nineteen, a TV that he and Akane watch old cartoons on, and a handheld hiding under his bound ledger.
Aoi looks back at his computer, sighs, clicks through various files on the shared internal drive looking for other little projects that had been pushed aside, then realizes no matter what, he has to work on something that will be repeated ad infinitum. No wonder Akane has so many "headaches" whenever he needs help.
Aoi has a real headache, a pain that streaks down the right side of his face, along his cheekbone and to his jaw. He doesn’t feel anything else.
He moves to the kitchen and instead of a fifth cup of coffee he fills a tall glass of water and drinks it like it’s fine scotch; it’s better than the first snow of winter, than putting his feet up after a long day.
He doesn't notice Akane coming up alongside him until she appears at his elbow like a sylph. She grabs his upper arm and with a sleepy murmur drags him along to her bed. She shoves him in, flops on top of him, then cuddles and curls until he’s entangled in her. "Goodnight," she whispers. Her voice is like a silk cord dragging along his skin.
He puts his one free hand on the back of her head. "Goodnight."
Above all, she must live. Aoi will sleep when he's dead.
Akane’s sitting in the office, chatting with an associate in English. She doesn’t know Aoi can hear her or else she wouldn’t be making a joke at his expense just now. Her English is pretty good now. Did she learn that from him?
”No, it’s too hard!” Akane whines, shoving her English workbook away from herself, and she’s halfway to the TV before Aoi grabs the back of her shirt, halts her, and walks her back to the table.
“You can do it,” he says as he puts the workbook before her, opens it to her assignment, and hands her the pencil. “Come on, elementary school English is easy. Middle school is hard.” He walks his fingers across her shoulder and up her neck to tweak her earlobe. “And I don’t wanna think about high school, but I’ll do better at it than you will.”
“No you won’t!” She picks up the pencil and her eyes race across the page, filling in blanks as she goes. Every answer is correct but he nags her like a Mom on TV to try harder, slow down, and make sure her handwriting is neat.
Aoi knocks on the door and she goes quiet. “Yo. You hungry?”
“Yes.” She says goodbye to the caller and opens the door, eyes bright at the prospect of dinner. “Can we have…”
A klaxon drowns out her voice, and he covers his right eye as pain splits his head. Akane flickers in his vision between a child and an adult, then she disappears, and then --
Her hand catches his when he reaches for her, pulling it to her face so he feels she’s still here. “I’m okay,” she says softly.
But it’s not okay.
After dinner Akane pulls him into the lounge to watch a movie. He can’t focus on it and his head aches, so he rests his head on her lap. “I have to work,” he protests weakly, and she pets his hair and replies that he’s talking over the movie.
“It’s one day off.” She scratches his scalp. “And you can’t get anything done when you’re sick.” When she covers his forehead with her hand he can feel that yes, he’s burning up, and he sighs. “I’ll take care of you.”
”It’s okay," Aoi says over the sound of Akane keening. He pulls her in for a hug and she slides off the hospital chair to the floor. She curls up in a ball and Aoi kneels over her, shaking her gently. “I’ll take care of you Akane.” He rapidly blinks his wet eyes. “Mom and Dad can still see you from Heaven, so --” He gasps. “So --”
He doesn’t know what to do but cry.
Akane slides the thermometer under his tongue before he can shut his mouth and Aoi tries not to gag. “If you were sick you should’ve taken a day off.”
His mouth full, he can only roll his eyes. Akane retrieves a cold washcloth and holds it to his forehead with one hand and takes the thermometer with the other. He can’t make out what she’s saying, just that she sounds dismayed.
The rest of the night passes in snapshots: Akane helps him get to bed, Akane takes his phone out of his hand and scolds him to stop working, Akane replacing the washcloth and then bringing him a towel and telling him to change because he’s sweating through his clothes.
“Are you my big sister all of a sudden?”
“I am, and if you don’t behave you’re gonna stand in the hall without your phone.”
“Ugh,” he sighs but smiles when she wipes sweat off his face. “Anything but that.”
Akane kisses his forehead and then scoots off his bed. “I’ll be here if you need anything.”
Aoi cuddles Akane in her bed. She’s not happy even though he told her she doesn’t have to go to school tomorrow. Mom and Dad aren’t here to ask how to make her happy. “I’ll be right here.”