Chapter 2: Face to face
Seated on the couch of what for months had been his hiding place, with arms and legs crossed, he waited for the doorbell ring broke the silence. There was no sign of nervousness in his gaze, neither in his motionless body; however inside himself, like few times had happened in his life, he felt a sense of dread, almost similar to fear. Fear that she couldn’t understand, fear that his outstretched hand would have been rejected. Fear that the promise he had made would have vanish like the smoke of the cigarette he was consuming while awaiting. The seventh, to be more precise.
In his mind resurfaced the memory of the day when he had left forever Subaru Okiya’s shoes, returning to be simply Shuichi Akai, ready to the final act against the Men in Black: the same day he had shown his real aspect even to her, confirming what she suspected a long while. Discovering that behind her neighbor, who she had always looked critically, was hiding the Organization’s traitor as well as her sister’s ex-boyfriend, hadn’t been pleasant. But the worse thing, probably, had been discover that Dai Moroboshi had never existed, that even that one was a lie to add to the others. Dai Moroboshi was Shuichi Akai, an FBI agent who had used her sister, the only relative remained to her, to infiltrate the Organization. This should had been what she had thought at the time.
Despite that, there hadn’t been time for a real clarification: the urgency to develop the final moves in that battle lasted too long had the priority over everything. So they had remained until the end two perfect strangers who actually knew very well who was the one and who was the other one. Now there weren’t excuses anymore: no Organization to defeat, no race against time. It was time for the day of reckoning.
He put out the cigarette in the ashtray, looking towards the clock hung over the living room’s wall: a quarter past three.
- What is she doing, a Christmas lunch?- snorted suddenly the young detective, seated before him, who should have noticed his gesture.
- Maybe she changed her mind-
It wasn’t a possibility to rule out: even her, just like him, was dreaded for that encounter. Not that she thought he wanted to harm her, no, but the idea to listen words that she didn’t want to hear from the mouth of someone she held a grudge against couldn’t be easy for her. Maybe he had waited too much, maybe the moment of truth had already slipped away like a moving train. Inside himself he hoped it wasn’t like that. He didn’t love leaving things unresolved, especially the ones closed to his heart.
- No way, if did it she surely would have called me!- he tried to reassure his friend - I guess she’s just taking her time to get set for all this-
He didn’t manage to answer that the doorbell he had hoped to hear for the past two hours , finally rang. A short ring, sign that the finger which had push it wasn’t determined to do it.
- Here she is! I’ll go open the door and then I retire in the room next and I’ll let you talk- he advised him, heading toward the door.
- Okay, thanks again boy- he simply answered, giving the hint of a smile.
He remained alone waiting to see the figure of the girl appearing on the living room’s doorstep. He took a long breath, thinking and rethinking about the right words with which he should have started that conversation. The two guys’ voices were becoming closer more and more, now he could even understand clearly what they were saying.
- I’ve already told you to not worry, you don’t take any chances here!-
- I don’t trust you, I know you’re lying!-
- Why would I lie to you? You have already understood who is the person in question, right?-
He perceived from his friend’s insecure voice tone that he was doing a huge effort to not collapse under the weight of that web of lies in which he himself had dragged him.
- Exactly because I understood I’m asking you if you’re sure there won’t be consequences!-
She, on the other hand, was like always inflexible in her diffidence, that drove her to never believe in anything or anyone. Since he had met her she hadn’t changed one iota in this.
- If you have understood you shouldn’t even ask me, right?-
- Listen…you don’t know who that man really is, you don’t know him! For you he’s just an FBI agent who helped us, but the truth is that there is more behind this!-
- These are things that concern you and I won’t go into. If you are so scared then run away, but it’s not like this that you’ll put an end to this story! In my opinion you should deal with this question once for all and close off even this chapter. I’ll be there, I won’t leave you alone!-
He smiled when he heard the determination in his words, words that expressed all his wish to leave behind a story lasted too long. In that moment his seventeen, almost eighteen years old must have weighed like forty. However, instead of getting rid of his chains, he was concerned about unleash the ones of his friend, who in that moment needs to be released more than him.
He couldn’t help but thinking that in the years to come he would have become a great man, one of the best he had ever known.
- Will you promise me?-
The voice’s tone of the girl had become quieter, sign that she was surrendering to the weakness of her fears. He had saw a few times her human side, the one that allowed her to show her fragilities and her need of protection: the one that encouraged him to promise Akemi that he would have protected her from those who tried to drag her into the darkness.
- If it makes you feel better, I’ll hide near the living room, so if you need help I’ll rush to your aid, ok?-
He smiled again: so now he was playing on “the enemy” side, that little detective. He couldn’t give him all the wrongs, since he was the reason why his friend was arguing with her.
Maybe it was better like that, she needed a right-hand man more than him in that moment.
- Come on, now go to the living room and listen what he have to say you-
The conversation ended and the echo of the words in the hallway replaced with the one of the steps of just one person. Slow, hesitant steps, belonging to a pair of legs that were moving more by passivity than by own volition.
He kept his eyes focused on the doorway, until the girl’s thin figure appeared. She was noticeably grown since the last time he had seen her before being rejected by the Organization. She was a woman now, a beautiful woman. The only thing that remained unchanged was that serious expression on her face, a mix between impassivity and anger, with a slight mark of melancholy. And obviously her eyes, so similar to her sister’s ones, but lacking of the same light for obvious reasons. Probably she didn’t realize how she was great, or maybe she just had fear of exhibit herself too much after years of grips.
They stared at each other for an obliterating lapse of time, apparently endless. It was clear that neither of the two managed to find the right words to start the conversation, but since he had been the one who wanted to see her and had planned that acting, he had the duty to speak first.
- You came, in the end- he decided to talk, cracking a smile.
He didn’t receive an answer, the girl restricted herself to stare at him with an almost threatening look. The resentment she felt toward him was palpable more than ever.
- You stay there or you sit?- he invited her to make herself comfortable on the opposite couch, in an attempt to put her mainly at ease.
Again Shiho didn’t say nothing. He saw her shrug her shoulders, perhaps without even realizing it, as she wanted to protect herself from the one who she considered an enemy more than an old and unpleasant acquaintance.
Slowly, she moved first one foot and then the other, reaching step by step the couch, without taking her eyes off him. She felt like his hunted, she nervously waited for him to attack her. Even if in the past she had been one of the wolves herself and he had been “the lamb” who sacrificed himself to fight them, suddenly he had found himself to be the wolf and she was the lamb who was trying to escape from him. Life’s paradoxes.
He heard her swallow loudly, while she seated with the same slowness with which she had reached him.
- I guess you already knew I was the mysterious person- he resumed to talk, this time with the intent of making a longer speech.
- What do you want from me?!- she nastily interrupted him, almost assailing him.
Finally she decided to talk, even if not in the more friendly way.
- Calm down, I don’t want to harm you, if it’s that what you think- he reassured her.
- How can I believe you?! You pretended for months to be the cordial neighbor who brought stews and soups, when actually you had placed hidden cameras and you delighted yourself to peek at every single movement I made, like a puppeteer who moves his puppets! You made fun of me! It’ wasn’t enough to have done it with my sister?!-
That last sentence came like a frozen shower, attended by a punch in the stomach. He still felt guilty, because he was guilty for real. He thought that she also saw it that way, the only way in which it could have been possible to see that sad story. He used Akemi, and he was responsible for her death. Even removing Camel’s mistake and the fact that the Organization’s men were pitiless and ruthless with anything or anyone, the common denominator remained was only ever him. If he couldn’t forgive himself first, how could he expected her to do it, since she was the one who had suffered more than anyone else for that loss?
- I can’t blame you- he only managed to say, closing his eyes.
- So, what do you want from me?!- she continued to attack him, without calming down.
- Simply giving you the explanations you deserve. You have already made a picture of the situation, but there are things that you don’t know and you should know them. I don’t want to justify myself, nor trying to change your mind about me: I just want to tell you how things are, without lying anymore-
- And why should I believe you?!-
- Because for the first time I’m showing you my true colors, not Subaru’s one and not even Dai Moroboshi’s one. I’m Shuichi Akai, an FBI agent- he opened his eyes, staring at her.
He waited a moment, observing her reaction. For the first time since she had set foot on that living room, he saw her relaxing her nerves a bit: a good sign that designated her predisposition to listen him. If she stayed just a minute longer seated on that couch, for him it would have been a goal.
- Talk!- she ordered him - But be quick, I don’t want to stay all the afternoon with you!-
- As you wish, Princess- he laugh at it, letting out a smile.
Unlike her sister, she had a temper difficult to handle. If she had lived in the Edo period, probably she would have been a brave general, able to command an entire army bending it to her will.
- Is there anything you would like to ask me, before I talk?- he invited her to satisfy her curiosity, if she had some.
- You are the one who wanted to see me to talk, so I’m not the one who has to make questions- she highlighted with sharp tone.
- That’s right. Then I can start-
With a last, long breath, he silently searched inside himself the right words and the necessary strength to say them.
- Let’s talk about your sister. Or better, let’s talk about the way I approached to her. The FBI was making some researches about the Organization, which in those years was active even in America. During the researches, it came to light that among them there was a very capable and high valued scientist, a sort of treasure for the men in black, something to keep locked up because too much important to let it free. It goes without saying that the scientist were you-
He did a little break, staring at her again: her expression was radically changed. The anger she had shown before seemed to have been dissolved like snow in the sun, giving way to the wish of knowing. He managed to catch her eye.
Now certain that she wouldn’t have gone before she knew even the rest, he resumed again.
- Managing to reach you was a craved goal, you could reveal us the Organization’s deepest secrets; however getting closer to you was quiet impossible, because like I told you before they hid you as you were their treasure. There was an only way to communicate with you: your sister-
He watched her clenching her fists, while swallowing loudly: by now it should have been clear even to her where he was getting at with that speech.
- So I approached her with an excuse, hoping that my plan went fine. I managed to earn Akemi’s sympathy and consequently event the privilege to meet you, the famous scientist: at that point getting secret information was an almost achieved goal. It was as if I had gone in the Organization’s heart, a perfect place to start to damage them. But something went wrong in the plan I thought in the last detail…-
- That’s enough- she interrupted him, saying those two simple words almost whispering them.
- Do you need a break? I guess it’s difficult to listen and stand all these things in one fell swoop, so if you want we can…-
- I said that’s enough!- she interrupted him again, now raising the voice’s tone - I don’t want to hear a single word anymore!!!-
She talked gritting her teeth, with the fists clenched so hard that her knuckles turn yellow. She had stopped looking at him and of the interest she had shown at the beginning of his story didn’t remain even a shadow. The anger was back, stronger than before. He couldn’t blame her, he was saying her bluntly that he had used her and her sister for his plans, as these were for a good purpose. However he couldn’t let her didn’t heard the rest of what he had to tell her, something more important that everything he said until that moment. It was the part he wished she heard more than any other. Even though he knew he couldn’t get her forgiveness, at least he wanted to try to show her his good side, the one she doubted of.
- You came here knowing that it wouldn’t have been a pleasant talk: you really want to leave now? We still have many things to talk about…- he tried to convince her to stay, but without putting too much pressure on her.
- I TOLD YOU I DON’T WANT TO HEAR YOU ANYMORE!!!- she cried out, raising her head sharply and watching at him like you watch at your sworn enemy, the one you want to snuff out.
He opened his eyes widely, stunned by such a vehemence. He knew she was a tough girl, the kind of girl who didn’t let herself get pushed around, but he had never seen her in that state. She shivered, perhaps without even realizing it, bloodshot eyes because of the effort to contain the anger and probably even some tears that she didn’t want to show him.
In that moment he realized that there was nothing more he could do to hold her, that whatever he would have said would have seemed the nth lie. In her eyes he was now seen as the culprit who was trying to clear his conscience.
- I DON’T CARE IF YOU ARE FROM FBI AND YOU USE THIS AS AN EXCUSE TO JUSTIFY EVERYTHING YOU DO, BUT WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO MY SISTER HASN’T JUSTIFICATION!!!- she stood up, continuing to cry out in his face with all the breath she had in her body - YOU DEPRIVED ME OF THE ONLY FAMILY THAT REMAINED ME AND NOW YOU’RE TRYING TO DUPE ME WITH YOUR PATHETIC EXCUSES?!?! JUST KNOW THAT IF YOU WANT MY FORGIVENESS YOU’LL NEVER GET IT, ALL RIGHT?! NEVER!!!-
She quickly walked away towards the door that led out of the living room, as if she wanted to escape as far as possible from him. His task was to protect her, but in that moment he felt not so different from those who harmed her for years.
He didn’t move from the couch, aware of chasing her wouldn’t have helped at all, except for being hated even more, as far as was possible. He couldn’t and he didn’t wanted to force her if she wasn’t in the mood, even though this implicated leaving her with the wrong idea about him.
- I’ve never demanded your forgiveness, I just wanted to clarify some things- he simply said, but without having the audacity to look her in the eyes.
- You’ve been all too clear- she scornfully answered, calming the voice tone but keeping an icy coldness in speaking -You know what? In my opinion you made a mistake when you decided to be an FBI agent, you had to join the Organization right away: you would have been a perfect criminal-
Those words, shot like a bullet from a gun’s barrel, hit him straight to the heart. He, the “Silver Bullet”, had been hit smack dab in the center. Without saying a word nor responding, he felt even that nth blow that life had reserved him, avoiding to show the pain. In front of her he couldn’t fall apart, he had to appear strong and determined, like an elder brother would have done with his little sister who was learning how life could be unfair and petty. However, he couldn’t stop that pain which had flood in his chest when she told him that for her he was just like a criminal. How could he protect her if she thought those things about him? How could he keep the promise he had made to Akemi?
The sound of her quick steps which were distancing as they approached brought him back to reality: she was leaving. Needless to run after her and persuade her to stay, needless to try to convince her he was a good person: in that moment she wasn’t willing to listen him, and perhaps she would have never been.
- Wait Ai!- he heard the young detective’s voice, who had been hidden near for all the time, followed by the sound of his steps while he was trying to join her running.
He must have heard everything and like every time his nature prompt him to find a solution. Unlike him, he didn’t want to give up at the first obstacle, perhaps because in that story he had emerged has one of the goods.
He stood up from the couch, walking slowly towards the door and exiting in the hallway, determined to reach them. Even though he couldn’t do anything, he wanted to hope that Kudo could resolve the situation. But what he heard was only the confirmation of the failure of his plan.
- You can’t leave like this, give him the chance to explain you!- he tried to convince her to stay.
The young scientist didn’t so much as look at him, she stood still in front of the entrance door turning away. He could imagine the expression on her face in that moment, the same she had with him before.
A syllable pronounced quietly, but full of anger, scorn and disappointment.
- You promised me…-
- Eh? What are you talking about?- asked the boy, who hadn’t understood.
- You promised me you would have protected me…-
- I’ve been in the hallway near the living room all the time, just like I promised you!- he justified himself.
- DON’T PLAY DUMB!!!- she cried out, finally turning and looking at him.
Her eyes were full of tears, some of which had already fallen down her cheeks. Before that guy of whom she trusted blindly until that moment, she could afford to cry, thing that she didn’t do when they were alone in the living room. He was a stranger, an enemy who didn’t deserve to see her deeper side.
- Ai…- the young detective only managed to say.
- YOU KNEW EVERYTHING FROM THE BEGINNING, YOU KNEW WHO THAT MAN WAS AND WHAT HE DID TO MY SISTER, BUT DESPITE THIS YOU BECAME HIS INSEPARABLE PLAYMATE AND TOGETHER YOU PLOTTED BEHIND MY BACK!!! YOU EVEN HOSTED HIM IN YOUR HOME, WITHIN A STONE’S THROW OF WHERE I LIVE!!! ACCORDING TO YOU THIS MEANS PROTECTING SOMEONE?!?!- she continued to inveigh, unable to control herself.
- It’s not what you think…you should listen what Akai-san have to say you. It’s not a monster as you believe-
- OF COURSE, NOW YOU TAKE HIS SIDE, HE’S THE GOOD GUY AND I’M THE SPOILED PRINCESS!!! DO YOU REALIZE WHAT HE DID?!?! IT’S HIS FAULT IF MY SISTER IS DEAD!!!-
- I can understand how you feel, but if he decided to talk to you face to face it means that he’s really regretful and that maybe there is more behind the appearance…-
- YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL?!?!- she clenched her fists - DO YOU HAPPEN TO LOST THE ONLY MEMBER OF YOUR FAMILY WHO REMAINED YOU?!?! YOU ARE ONLY A PRESUMPTUOUS SONNY WHO PLAY THE DETECTIVE, TOTALLY INSENSITIVE!!! YOU TRAMPLE ON THE FEELINGS OF PEOPLE WHO ARE CLOSE TO YOU JUST TO FIND OUT THE TRUTH! YOU’RE A TRAITOR, JUST LIKE YOUR FRIEND WHO YOU DEFEND SO MUCH!!!-
- This is not true!!!- he also raised the voice tone, hurt by that statement.
- Enough, I don’t want to stay a minute longer in this house!-
She dried her tears with a gesture of annoyance, grabbing the door handle and opening it wide, ready to run away from what had become a prison more than her neighbor’s house.
- You can’t leave like this, Ai!- he stopped her, grabbing her arm.
- LEAVE ME!!!- she wiggled out of him, repelling his hand with brutal force - AND STOP CALL ME AI! MY NAME IS SHIHO, UNDERSTOOD?!?!-
- Forgive me, it’s a habit- he sighed - And then for me you will always be Ai- he tried to crack a smile, in an attempt to calm down the conversation’s tones.
- As for now I’m anything for you. Don’t you dare come find me, because I swear I’ll make you pay dearly!-
First it was his turn, and now the poor Shinichi. The second bullet had left the gun, the other Silver Bullet had been hit. They had lost the battle, on all fronts.
- But…Ai…- he pronounced those syllable with difficulty, unable to form a sentence with a sense.
There was no answer this time, just the sound of the door which slammed closing, leaving behind itself a battlefield on which laid two corpses.
Lighting up a cigarette to chase away the tension, he joined his friend, who had been stood still staring at the door. He put an hand on his shoulder: the only gesture he could make in that moment to comfort him. He had just lost a friend and it was his fault. For a moment he thought to have the power not only to push away his loved ones, but also to push them away even from people around him. Maybe she was right, he wasn’t born to be “one of the goods”.
- I’m sorry, I put you in this troublesome situation and now you’re paying a high price for taking my side. You had to deny to know, so she would have forgotten at least you-
- I couldn’t lie anymore, not after having drawn her here deceptively-
His voice tone was lower than usual, without that enthusiasm which it usually had. He understood how he felt, a traitor of the worst kind. Now they had another things in common, even though it wasn’t the best.
- I understand, you’ve done too much. But at least you can still hope to obtain her forgiveness. You’ll see that once she have cooled off she will accept to clarify with you, you’re really important for her- he tried to make him see the glass half full.
- If I know her well she won’t forgive me so easily. I betrayed her trust, I didn’t keep the promise I made her- he shook his head.
- Yes you’ve kept it. You have always protected her, even today. You promised that you would have stayed near while we were talking and you did it, and when she ran away you have chased her instead of coming to me: this demonstrate that more than me you were helping her- he cracked a little smile.
- The problem is that she didn’t see this: the fact that I’ve drawn her here with a lie and that for all this time I’ve never told her that I knew what happened with her sister, but despite all I decided to ally with you, Akai-san, led her to think that I was defending the murderer of the only member of her family who remained her. If only she were not so stubborn and listen to what people have to say…!- he put a hand to his forehead, continuing to shake his head.
- She’s not totally wrong- he admitted.
- Eh?!- he turned to look at him, incredulous - What do you mean? We all know that you’ve always been helping us from the beginning, and what happened to Akemi was that criminal gang’s fault!-
- They pulled the trigger…but I loaded the gun-
Silence felt in that room became cold, although spring had already arrived. It was difficult to find other words to say, both understood each other but neither could do anything to relieve his friend’s pain. Aware of their mistakes, the only thing they could do was accept the consequences.
- Tomorrow I will talk with Doctor Agasa, maybe he will be able to reason with her- said finally Shinichi, to give both a last glimmer of hope.
- Do you think it will work?- asked the FBI agent, a little bit skeptical.
- I can’t guarantee it, but it’s the only thing we can do now. Give it a go will not make the situation worse than it already is-
- You’re right. I hope that at least for one of us two things will work out- he smiled, reciprocated by the young investigator.
He didn’t want to contradict him, because he wanted Shiho to have back beside her the person she trusted more than anyone else, the one that had made her find the will to smile at life. And obviously he also wanted his friend to stop paying for something that he didn’t do. He knew perfectly that for him there was no hope, but he didn’t want to deprive that young man who always saw everything with optimism to make an all-out attempt. He deserved the best, he who was the real Silver Bullet of the story.
She opened the door with the fury of a hurricane, running in as if it was the only place where she could find a refuge from a world that continued to chase her and turn its back on her. She stumbled in the carpet, falling down on her knees. She remained in that position, by now out of breath and strength, with a hanging head and her fists clenched. She cried, she cried to get rid of that pain which was bursting her chest. Her body shaken by sobs seemed the one of a wet chick which was shivering from the cold. She felt lost, abandoned, betrayed. In her mind continued to be projected the smiling image of her sister, who was calling her name many times.
- What happens Ai?!- bore down on her Doctor Agasa, worried to see her in that state.
Even him didn’t manage to call her by her real name, the force of habit prompted him to call her by the alias that he had given her himself. Despite that, it had never bothered her, because that odd scientist by now far from the prime of his life had become for her the closest thing to a family. The family that she couldn’t have had.
She didn’t manage to answer to his question, the pain was too much to be able to express it by words. All that she could do was clinging to him, as if he was her only lifeline, unleashing the crying on his chest.
- Come on, now calm down my child- he caressed her back, in an attempt to make her stop.
Those words came to her ears like the sweetest of the melodies. She had never had the privilege to hear them from the mouth of her real father, nor from that of anyone other. In that moment she thought that even if she would have never had a friend anymore, she wouldn’t have mind that much. It was enough for her to have the chance to remain in that house, with the only person who would have never deceived her. The rest didn’t matter.
She stayed in his arms for an indefinite time, until devoid of strength and tears she lapsed into a deep sleep.