I knew it had drawn near (the moment of the end)
But I pretended not to see it
I wasn’t allowed even a temporary dream
This is… This is a dream, right? This isn’t happening right now, right? The room fills up with cacophony, protests rebounding off the walls of the AV room.
“Ryuuseitai is officially disbanded.”
Chiaki feels like he should be reacting more, but his mind is blank. Wiped clean. Except for that one echoing sentence.
Ryuuseitai is officially disbanded.
Ryuuseitai… his dream of being a hero has ended so quickly. Is it his fault? Should he have done more? A few days ago, he went to clean the unused pool—but his fears got the best of him, the dark ambiance sending chills down his spine. He ran. Just like a coward. Is he the reason why Ryuuseitai is suffering from this fate right now? Because he doesn’t deserve to be a hero?
Ryuuseitai is officially—
Chiaki shakes his head harshly. Sure, he can replay that one sentence in his mind over and over like a broken record, but that wouldn’t do him any good—he has to go and change things himself! He can do it, he only has to believe in himself! Believe! Believe…! It’ll be fine…!
“Hey, Morisawa.” A hand on his shoulder makes him jump up and tilt his head up to look at his leader—ex-leader—looking at him with regret, or maybe pity. “Sorry about this; you really liked Ryuuseitai, yeah? At least the concept? I’ll introduce you to my workplace; they’ll need a new stuntman once I’m gone.” He shifts his eyes towards the closed door, sighing. “None of the other guys work as hard as you do. That’s why you’re the one I wanna offer this opportunity to.”
Tears fill Chiaki’s eyes, the offer sounding too good to be real. The older boy pushes a small piece of paper, a meeting place and a date written down with neat, even strokes, into Chiaki’s ice-cold hands. He holds the note to his chest, almost like a prayer.
Ryuuseitai is officially disbanded, starting from today.
Even my screams can’t fix things
His arm aches, throbbing from all the twisting and yanking his seniors did.
“Hey, that freshman—isn’t he getting a little too full of himself?”
His back hurts; the pain of their shoes digging into him still fresh on his mind.
“That traitor of a bitch offered him a job instead of one of us. That motherfucker; we’re older than him! Why offer him a job when we’re right here?!”
His head hurts; just how many times did they shove him against the wall, or the floor?
“Ugh, I wish I could get my revenge on that guy. Just left us hanging and now we actually have to work. If that stupid freshman wasn’t here, one of us could have the job.”
His throat hurts, hoarse from futile screaming and begging.
“I think he deserves a little… punishment.”
Another wave of fresh tears roll down his cheeks, silent sobs escaping his lips. Every fiber in his body aches as he crawls and drags himself across the ground collecting his scattered clothes.
Blood rushes to his legs, the sudden movement nearly topples him over. Every step, every breath reverberates in his mind, the sounds growing almost deafening as his legs carry him away.
Is this… He deserves this, doesn’t he? There’s no reason why he wouldn’t deserve this. It was weird anyway; why did he of all people from Ryuuseitai get an easy way out?
He should… give his position to one of his seniors. They’re better suited for it, aren’t they?
Chiaki crashes against the telephone pole, nausea shaking his body. The buildings around him are upside down, cars driving on the ceiling above. There’s the bookstore he frequents, the bright light still recognizable even with blurred and mirrored sight, which means home is nearby… probably. The drumming against his temples only worsens with the blinding signs of the surrounding buildings and signs; he has no other choice but to squeeze his eyes shut. Here he thought his health had improved, yet look at him now, struggling to even make it home, groveling in a narrow alley. The inside of his nose burns, the distinct smell of antiseptics attacking his senses.
Not the hospital… Not the hospital…!
The ground beneath him is cold, just like his hands, as he curls up on it, wrapping his arms around his knees. He’ll just, rest his eyes for a little bit… Just until the nausea subsides… It will be fine… He doesn’t need to go back to the hospital...
Because my sorrow invited
“Morisawa?” Chiaki snaps his head up to look for the source of this soothing voice. The sight greeting him could only be described as ethereal, golden strands framing a face like a crown, his eyes shining like rubies.
“Are you okay?” the angel asks. “You look pale. Did something happen?” His voice sounds like soft bells, gently taking Chiaki’s breath away.
He isn’t religious, but in that moment he feels someone up in heaven sent an angel to him. To retrieve him in the nicest way possible, yet he doesn’t even deserve it. Or maybe the “angel” is a valkyrie, taking him to Valhalla. Preparing daily for a war… Is that what he’s supposed to do?
“Am I dead?”
The blonde’s eyes widen. “What made you say that? Of course not!”
Unable to meet his look of shock any longer, Chiaki turns his gaze towards the ground. He should be ashamed of himself; of course he’s alive! What even made him think he’s not? Ugh, he’s so stupid, so stupid—
Warm hands, small hands, run through his hair, gently patting him. Chiaki lifts his eyes to see a tender smile on the angel’s lips.
An angel, his thoughts provide him yet again while his lips curl upwards, returning his smile. “Thanks, I feel way better now!” Whether that’s the truth or a lie, Chiaki doesn’t quite know himself, but he convinces himself it’s the truth. “Oh—did you need something from me?”
He shakes his head, his hair following his movements smoothly. “I just thought it’d be nice to talk to you! Or; well, actually…” He purses his lips, making Chiaki frown.
“If there’s anything I can do to help you, just say the word. I’ll do it, no matter what it is!” Chiaki tries to sound comforting, dependable. That’s what a hero would do, right?
The words of gratitude the angel gives him in response has Chiaki’s face heating up. “Thank you, Morisawa. I just have to consult about this with someone and then I’ll come see you again.”
But the angel had already left. Chiaki didn’t even get a chance to ask his name.
Chiaki fidgets under his spot, trying hard not to lower his head under Itsuki’s scrutinizing gaze. They are classmates, yet Itsuki has always felt like someone way above his level. It’s wrong of Chiaki to put someone his age on a pedestal, but he just can’t help himself. Always sitting with his back straightened, never paying any attention to anyone else… Other people would say it’s arrogance. Chiaki refers to it as confidence.
So… this is ‘this’ that Nito had talked about the other day? Chiaki joining Valkyrie? Is this even right? Valkyrie… that’s the top unit in their grade, as far as he remembers. Does he even fit in here? He doesn’t think he’s anywhere near their level… Even in Ryuseitai, Chiaki was the least skilled person. But... Chiaki’s jaw tightens and he looks straight back at Itsuki. If that’s the case, he just has to make up for it with practice!
“We’ll see how long you will last in our Valkyrie,” Itsuki eventually says, his face softening immediately when Nito’s lights up like a christmas tree.
“Welcome to Valkyrie, Morisawa!” Nito eagerly says, a bright grin on his face.
Chiaki’s heart fills up with happiness; when was the last time someone who isn’t his family looked at him with this amount of joy? “I, uh—” His face heats up when he stumbles over his words, “I’ll do my best.”
“Oh, don’t worry. Itsuki will help out.” Nito replies and pats Chiaki’s shoulder.
That… actually worries him more. He doesn’t want to disappoint either of them, but if Itsuki will watch and help him practice… Chiaki’s heart sinks. He can already visualize the disappointment. Visualize the deep frown on Itsuki’s face, his arms crossed, tapping his foot impatiently.
“I’ll be here, tomorrow right after school,” Itsuki, his new unit leader, huffs. “My time is valuable, so don’t make me waste it.”
Step, step. Turn. Freeze. Slowly turn his head.
"No, that doesn't look right…" Chiaki mutters to himself.
Starting position. Repeat.
Chiaki frowns, the mirror reflecting the creases on his face. How do Itsuki and Nito look so graceful while doing these moves? Chiaki still looks awkward; he’s been repeating these moves for an hour now and there’s still no improvement. At least he doesn’t feel any improvement. He glances at Itsuki, who’s watching him practice—just as promised. “Um… Itsuki-kun…” Is he willing to help him?
“Non!” Itsuki shakes his head. “This is no good at all! What have you even been doing these past months?! This is unacceptable for Valkyrie!”
Chiaki winces but leans in eagerly. There’s not much he can do by himself; any advice Itsuki will give him is valuable. Anything to make the looks of disappointment disappear.
Chiaki raises one eyebrow when Itsuki steps closer to stand behind him, then both as Itsuki puts one hand on Chiaki's hip, the other around his right wrist. "Follow my lead. I’ll show you properly how it’s done, so pay attention!”
The places Itsuki's hands touch burn even with the clothes covering his skin. Heat rises on his face. Yeah, he knows Itsuki is gonna lead him through the steps, but does he really have to go and touch him like that…? Wait, this isn't the time for weird thoughts; he has to focus! He turns his head to look at Itsuki, his blush deepening even more from their close proximity. "Please take care of me."
One day when he and Nito are practicing on the roof, curiosity gets the better of him.
"Why did you want me to join Valkyrie?" The two person unit, the Valkyrie they had been up until Nito invited Chiaki, that Valkyrie did well—heck, well is an understatement! Valkyrie is the best in their grade, the top unit! And all of a sudden Chiaki became part of that. It was weird arriving at school and being the center of jealousy and envy. But Chiaki isn’t anyone special, nor does he possess any special skills. So why did Nito reach out to him out of all people?
"I was just worried that I won't be enough to hold up Valkyrie; Itsuki has a lot of expectations. But more than that—" Nito pauses abruptly and jerks his head towards Chiaki, his eyes wide. Like he said something he shouldn’t have.
"More than that…?"
Nito bites, chews around on his bottom lip, his eyes darting around before his shoulders fall in defeat. "You looked like you needed it…"
Like he needed it? But Chiaki was perfectly fine! His solo activities kept going even before Nito invited him, so what does he—
Chiaki raises his right hand to brush over his cheek. It’s wet. More and more tears fall and obscure his sight. Hiccups shake his body. Is this how much Ryuuseitai meant to him? So much that Chiaki spills tears even after its disbandment?
Of course it does! Knives twist and dig into his chest, cut his heart into a million pieces, drench the knives with blood. Ryuuseitai was—is—the unit he admires, the unit he wanted to be a part of, the unit he wanted the whole world to see. Rebuild Ryuuseitai? There's no way he could do that! It wouldn't be the same; Chiaki is not cut out to be a leader; that plan is setting itself up for failure!
Valkyrie is nice but it isn't what he was looking for! His dream shattered into pieces, along with Ryuuseitai's disbandment. Ryuuseitai—heroes are the reason why he is here right now. Heroes are the reason why he was able to stay sane confined to his hospital bed. If heroes weren't there, what would have become of him? Chained to the hospital, unable to recover, waiting for his death? Just like Tenshouin?
Arms wrap around his body, the comforting warmth of Nito's body heat enveloping him. "Nito-kun…?" Chiaki’s voice comes out in a whisper, almost inaudible.
"Please, Morisawa. You have—" Nito cuts himself off after another uncontrolled sound of his breaking voice, instead hugging Chiaki’s form even closer to himself.
Seconds pass, even minutes; Chiaki doesn’t know how many but eventually he relaxes in Nito’s embrace and wraps his own arms around him. He vaguely registers the scent of lavender; a scent that reminds him of home. He’s lucky to have someone like Nito by his side; if he wasn’t there, who knows where Chiaki would have ended up? Wind whips around his head, his stomach churning from the sight of the depth, the distance to the ground. If he climbs over the fence of the roof he could end it. It’s so easy. Three steps. Three steps to end his misery. His vision spins, his hands clench harder around the fence’s handle. There’s hands rubbing his back; his mind being yanked from his image of the school roof back to reality. To Nazuna.
“I…” Chiaki’s voice is shaky but he pushes on. “Thank you for being here, Nazuna-kun.”
He nearly misses it, but he’s able to make out Nazuna’s quiet voice: “You’re welcome Chiaki-chin.”
Sharp pain shoots through Chiaki’s ankle, and he staggers mid-dance, unable to hide his discomfort.
Itsuki snaps his head towards him. “What’s wrong?” His eyes are furrowed, whether in worry or annoyance, Chiaki can’t tell.
“Nothing! Nothing.” Chiaki immediately waves off and shifts his weight onto his left foot. The pain subsides into a dull ache but… Chiaki bites his lip. He probably won’t be able to dance the way Itsuki wants him to now. Still, he needs to catch up somehow. But the way Itsuki stares at his right foot tells him he got found out. At Itsuki’s request Chiaki sits down, wordlessly rolling his right pants leg up and removing his shoe.
Itsuki’s frown deepens at the sight of the angry red swelling blossoming on his skin and takes some tape out of his bag. Right, tape exists. Why didn’t he think of taping it up? “What did you do?” Itsuki asks, kneeling in front of him.
“I just sprained my ankle during my stuntman job,” Chiaki replies and hisses when Itsuki makes contact with the swelling. He really should have been more careful! “But nothing serious! It’ll be better soon.”
“Nonsense! I can’t have one of my dolls damaged—” Itsuki puts the roll of tape away, “—so cancel that job of yours immediately!”
“Cancel the job. Valkyrie has no need for that.”
It’s the job his former leader gave to him; is it really okay to just… ditch it like this? Itsuki tells him he should and he’s his current leader so it must be okay… right? Chiaki nods, the soft smile Itsuki gives him in response filling his heart with happiness.
“Good.” Itsuki’s praise washes over him, goosebumps spreading over his body, “Is there anything else I should know?”
Chiaki opens his mouth, about to answer, but shuts it closed again. Not that he thinks Itsuki is untrustworthy or anything… It’s just something he doesn’t want to let people know; it’s too personal, too sensitive to share. Telling someone would be like taking off protective armor, leaving himself bare, vulnerable, to any attack. He should tell Itsuki—he’s his new leader after all—but the thought of Itsuki judging him for his weakness… Chiaki wants Itsuki to rely on him. If he knew how weak, how sick Chiaki actually is, would he treat him differently? Would he ban Chiaki from Valkyrie?
There’s a hand threading through his hair, playing with his strands. “A bit longer would be nice…” Chiaki hears Itsuki mutter to himself.
The armor slowly chips away.
“I don’t know why my Nito thought it would be good to have you in Valkyrie—” Chiaki winces, their chat during lunch some time ago still fresh in his mind, “—but now that I made you into one of my marionettes I won’t allow you to take any damage.”
So that means...he cares?
“I have poor health,” Chiaki blurts out and squeezes his eyes shut, hyper aware of the way Itsuki’s fingers still in his hair. “I have a weak immune system—low blood pressure—the transition from spring to summer always makes me get sick—” Chiaki clenches his cold hands. There, he said it! Itsuki is gonna flip out; he just knows it!
And as Chiaki had expected, Itsuki’s eyes widen in horror, the fingers in his hair tightening almost painfully. “Why didn’t you say so before?!”
Itsuki removes his fingers from Chiaki’s hair and palms Chiaki’s cheek instead. “Listen, you will come see me every morning, every day without fail. You must be in top condition for Valkyrie!”
Upon feeling the sensation of Itsuki’s hand on his skin, Chiaki reopens his eyes. He looks at Itsuki like he just spoke French to him, gaining a huff from Itsuki. “So…” Chiaki tries to process what Itsuki had just said. “You want me to come see you every day to… check my health?”
“Do you want me to spell it out for you?”
“No, no. I just—” Chiaki can’t stop the wide grin from appearing on his face, “—I’m so happy you don’t think any less of me! I’ll do my best not to disappoint you, Leader! I’ll come see you every day even if you think I’m annoying!”
“Non! Don’t annoy me!” Itsuki complains, but Chiaki didn’t miss the way his eyes softened.
The armor has chipped away completely. If it meant keeping both Shu and Nazuna safe, he wouldn’t mind taking a sword to his chest.
My feelings tightened the inside of my throat
I couldn't swallow them, nor could I spit them out
Chiaki fumbles around with his brand new blue tie. From today on he’s a second year… Another year of doing his best! Fight, Chiaki! You can do it, Chiaki! He straightens his back and pulls up the corners of his mouth, ready to tackle the new school year. The upperclassmen have graduated, so now there’s nothing he needs to be wary of!
The school yard is a blurry mess; both because of the amount of new students and the lack of glasses on his face… Itsuki told him to get used to walking around without glasses for their performances, but Chiaki doesn’t want his eyesight to get worse, so he brought them with him, safely within the glasses case, for him to wear during class. It feels weird walking around without glasses after wearing them for so long, but he’ll get used to it. Just like he got used to his hair tickling his neck.
There’s a lot of interesting faces—more like hair colors—walking around; a mop of red hair, a mop of orange hair, oh, some glasses, silver, blondes—is that a katana??? Is that even allowed…?
His confusion vanishes completely once Itsuki’s silhouette enters his line of sight. Chiaki’s face lights up and he immediately runs over to the corner Itsuki is standing at.
“Please let me join Valkyrie!”
Chiaki freezes. A new person in Valkyrie…
The first year has dark messy hair but the most eye-catching thing about him are his eyes. Strange, but beautiful. One blue, the other gold. Hands clasped together, looking at Itsuki with hopeful, sparkling eyes. Only to lose their light at Itsuki’s negative answer. Yet, an expression of determination shows up on his face soon after; he starts singing and dancing, showing off his skills to Valkyrie.
He's good, Chiaki thinks with dread and glances at Itsuki. Itsuki could kick him from Valkyrie, in exchange for the new kid. Is this the end for him? Will this be his final moments with Valkyrie?
Nazuna grabs Chiaki's shaking hands, unspoken words of solace between them.
"I don't need another doll I have to train," Itsuki huffs and looks at Chiaki, "I have my hands full with that one and he requires my full attention."
His chest tightens at the new kid's crestfallen face, yet Chiaki feels relief. He still gets to be in Valkyrie. Valkyrie needs him. Nazuna needs him. Shu needs him. Chiaki nearly tears up from the sheer happiness he feels.
But still—as he watches the back of the freshman, walking away from them… Chiaki can't stop the feeling that the new kid should be in Valkyrie instead of him.
Sometimes you could hear them. Two voices; one shaky, hoarse, worn down from neglect, the other loud, pitchy, missing notes more than often. Sometimes you couldn’t hear them, their voices carried away by the wind, inaudible to everyone else but them.
A laugh escapes Chiaki. “We got pretty good, don’t you think?”
His response is a nod, a smile, an agreeing noise. No words.
Chiaki’s face falls. As much as he’s embarrassed by Shu’s over the top adoration of Nazuna and his voice, he has to agree with him. He misses the moments of Nazuna talking to him, his melodic tone washing his worries and anxiety away. He misses the moments of Shu getting flustered when Nazuna would reprimand him, embarrassed over his public display of affection.
All that is gone because of his natural growth.
Right. He can do this. With Shu and Nazuna, Valkyrie, by his side, nothing can go wrong. They are the top idols of the school! There might be some...questionable rumors surrounding Shu and some other kids but everything will be fine! It has to be fine… If it won’t, Chiaki will do everything he can to not make them fall.
Ryuuseitai fell, Valkyrie—Valkyrie can’t fall. It can’t.
The sky I looked up to, so I could follow your prayers
Is illuminating the distant future
Chiaki bends over, sweat running down his face. Exhaustion is already taking over his bones, every movement aching painfully as he struggles to catch his breath.
“Why can’t you do this right?!” Shu’s words assault him, stabbing his chest with every syllable. It’s only natural; Shu has shown him how to do it a million times already, yet Chiaki still can’t do it the way he wants.
Apologies start falling from his lips but he shuts his mouth at Shu's sigh. He’s angry...
“As much as I don’t want to show you to anyone else, we are the only ones doing real art. I have to show everyone that Valkyrie is the most beautiful of all idols! Everyone else is just a sham! We, Valkyrie, are real idols!"
What he says makes sense… Everyone else at Yumenosaki doesn’t even put effort into being an idol. Ryuuseitai getting disbanded proved as such. Chiaki has to put more effort, even more effort, into his practice. For Valkyrie.
"I… I don't want people to lose hope in idols like they did in heroes… We have to show them how it's done! I might still be lacking skill but I’ll do my best not to drag you down. I want everyone else to see the brilliance of idols again!"
An acclaiming smile from Shu, a look of surprise from Nazuna.
Chiaki grins. Right. He can do this. "Let's show them what Valkyrie is made of!"
Though the words you etched into me
May burn up, or may fall apart
“Nazuna-kun, Nazuna-kun! The other day Oshi-san praised me—Do you think I’m getting better?” Overjoyed, Chiaki goes through the motions from their new song, his movements smooth, just the way Shu wants it. “I wonder why it took me so long to get this right… I think from now on I’ll be better! I can feel it!”
To make Valkyrie—Nazuna and Shu the number one in the world; that’s his dream. He wants everyone to see their beauty and their efforts. He wants everyone to praise them, love them, and appreciate them. That’s enough for him. If that happens, Chiaki will be happy as well. That’s what he wants.
“Ch-chiaki-chin,” Nazuna clears his throat and grimaces. It must still be difficult for him to get his words out after neglecting to use his words… yet he’s putting in the effort to talk to him. Chiaki feels his heart skip a beat. “Don’t—overwork yourself.”
Overwork? What is he talking about? Chiaki feels fine; sure, he’s passed out multiple times during class recently, but that’s just because he hasn’t slept well. That’s not because of his practice for Valkyrie. In fact, he should probably practice more. Get onto Nazuna and Shu’s level… The ugly part of himself whispers how much of a miracle it is that Chiaki is still there with them. Shu could have easily kicked him out, his skill too much of a disappointment—and yet he didn’t. He wants to repay that.
“I’m glad you’re worried about me, but I’m okay! In fact, I’m sorry for making you worried,” Chiaki hugs Nazuna. A small gesture, but it’s what Nazuna always does when Chiaki is worried or sad. Does it make him feel better? He hopes so, he doesn’t know how else he should cheer Nazuna up. “I won’t overwork myself, I promise. I won’t do anything that makes you sad.”
“fine…” Chiaki glances at their opponents for their battle. Ran, Tomoe, Aoba… And Tenshouin. The kid he used to see in the hospital. Is he well enough to be able to perform? Isn’t it gonna be hard on him?
Shu calls his name, making Chiaki focus immediately on him. Chiaki loves it when he calls his name, his eyes softening when Shu steps closer to fix some details on his stage uniform.
“Just focus on Nito and I, like usual. You don’t have to think about anything else,” Shu says, almost whispers as he raises his hand to Chiaki’s face. “I trained you and Nito well, there is no way my creations will fail.”
Chiaki smiles and closes his eyes, leaning into Shu’s hand caressing his cheek.
We are gonna get out there and win.
At least that’s what he thought until his and Nazuna’s voices disappeared from the speakers, leaving only the instrumentals and Shu’s live singing.
"It’s thanks to you." Tenshouin smiles at him, a gentle smile.
Chiaki’s eyes plead, scream, what do you mean…?
As if reading his mind, Tenshouin once again speaks up. "We won because we have the student council on our side. Do you know what that means?"
Not even waiting for Chiaki's response, he turns his back on him, leaving him and Valkyrie behind while fine basks in the sunlight of applause.
The student council.
The same one he helped gather signs for the petition to re-establish it.
Like strings getting cut from a doll, he feels himself sinking down to his knees, right beside Shu. The sweat on his hands suddenly feels stickier. He can almost smell the blood. If he just opens his eyes and looks down at his palms he’s sures they’ll be dyed red. Because—
Because those hands are the ones wrapped around Valkyrie’s neck.
Chiaki digs his fingers into his palm, leaving crescent shaped marks. Thick drops of tears fall from his eyes.
This is his fault. His fault alone.
If… If he hadn’t helped Hasumi when he asked for signs, this would have never happened! He wanted to be a hero so desperately, to help people in need when they needed it, yet that’s what hurt the people he loved the most. If that’s the result, why help people at all?
Ah, if only I could
Turn back time