A council of war was immediately held in the Council House. The Elders wanted our injuries treated but Hideo and I declined. They were already discussing the war that could happen after the death of Mayu and Akira. Ni hindi ko na pinakinggan ang usapan dahil wala na roon ang isip ko.
“Babalik din si Mommy.” “Magkikita pa naman tayo.”
A dry laugh escaped my lips as I recalled our last encounter few days ago. Ang mga salitang binitiwan namin. Mga salitang ang daling binitiwan pero hindi na pala mangyayari.
Tiningnan ko si Hideo at nakatingin lang din siya sa kawalan. His stoic expression and soulless eyes almost brought me into tears. It was like that time again.
“Hideo, we should start preparing—”
“Let us grieve first,” I said, after staying quiet the whole time.
One of them shot me a look. “But the Shinigamis—”
I summoned my dagger and swung it toward his neck. There was a collective gasp among the Elders and commanding officers. Blood started trickling down his neck but I didn’t withdraw my dagger.
“We just lost our friends. Two young kids just lost their mothers. Can’t you give us even just one day to take in everything?”
Some shifted uneasily in their seats as the tension rose in the air. I pulled the dagger back and the Elder heaved a sigh of relief, but before anyone could say anything, I put the blade on my own neck.
“Or do you want me to kill myself right here? Will you still discuss that fucking war while my dead body lies on this table?” I asked, the blade touching my skin. “Maybe that way, you’ll understand our situation.”
Isang nakabibinging katahimikan ang bumalot sa paligid at nag-iwas ng tingin sa akin ang ilan. I was trying to quell the anger and pain inside me but they were making it hard to do.
“Michiko,” Hideo called in a controlled voice.
I heaved a trembling breath and my dagger disappeared from my hand. Naglakad ako papunta sa direksyon niya at agad na hinatak ang kamay niya.
“We’ll discuss everything tomorrow,” I said as Hideo stood up. “For now, let us grieve for our fallen friends.”
Tahimik kaming naglalakad ni Hideo papunta sa Senshin Village. People were giving us curious looks but thank goodness we could still mask our expressions. Ilang minuto pa ay nakarating kami sa harap ng bahay niya at naabutan namin si Nathan sa sala. There were papers and books everywhere and he was drawing something on a blank paper. Sinundan niya kami nang tingin hanggang sa iniupo ko si Hideo sa couch.
He gave us a puzzled look as he stared at Hideo’s wounds. “Are you okay, Dad?”
His breathing quivered but he still managed a smile. “I’m okay,” he softly said.
“Nathan,” tawag ko at agad siyang tumingin sa akin. “Could you stay in your room for a couple of minutes?”
He gave Hideo one last look and nodded. “Okay.”
Binuhat niya ang coloring pens at mga papel sa braso niya at naglakad patungo sa kwarto niya. As soon as we heard the door closed, Hideo’s shoulder slumped and tears started welling in his eyes.
“It’s my fault,” his voice wavered. “I . . . I shouldn’t have allowed everyone to leave . . . I . . . It’s all my fault . . .”
Halos madurog ang puso ko nang marinig ko iyon. I, too, blamed myself for failing to protect them even though I knew that the situation was already out of my control. I cupped his face and made him look at me.
“It’s not your fault,” I softly said. “They died because of Shinigamis, Hideo.”
“But . . .”
“Listen. Mayu and Akira wouldn’t be happy if you keep on blaming yourself.” I gently wiped the tears off his cheeks as he looked at me with a heart-wrenching expression. “Besides, I’m still here. I told you, didn’t I? I won’t leave you alone.”
He hugged my waist again like a frightened child. “Erika . . .”
Hearing my real name from his mouth made me wince. I couldn’t even remember when was the last time someone called me that because I hated that name. Pakiramdam ko kasi, bata ulit ako. Mahina ulit ako.
Alternative names weren’t just used to hide your identities. For some, it was turning over a new leaf. It was like being a better and stronger person. An identity that could hide and protect your weaker self.
“I’m . . . I’m tired of hearing promises . . .” he mumbled.
“Aaron . . .”
“But please, just this once, promise me you will stay here,” he sobbed as he pulled me closer.
I drew a shaky breath. “I can’t. You have to let me go sometimes, Aaron.”
“But how can I—”
“They don’t have anyone to use against me,” I reasoned. “So the only thing they can do is use their strength. That’s why we need to be stronger. And we can only get stronger through experiences.”
“But I’m afraid I’d lose you too,” he whimpered. “I can’t bear losing anyone anymore.”
I gently removed his hands from me and cupped his face again. “You won’t lose me. That, I can promise,” I smiled. “Besides, Naomi still needs us. We have to be strong for her. And you have to be stronger for your daughter. Okay?”
He slowly nodded. “Okay . . .”
Muli akong ngumiti sa kanya. “We only have a day to be weak and vulnerable. Cry until you can’t. Tomorrow, we have to be back to our old selves again.”
Matapos iyon ay sinabi kong magpahinga na siya. Naglakad ako palayo at naabutan ko namang nakasilip si Nathan mula sa pintuan ng kwarto niya.
“He isn’t okay,” he murmured and he looked at me for confirmation.
“He’s not,” I mumbled back.
Pagkasabi ko no’n ay naglakad siya papunta sa sala. Hideo immediately hugged him and I lightly smiled upon seeing that. Mabuti na lang at mayroon siyang makakasama.
He would be okay. He needed to be okay.
I had been running on empty while I treaded through the forest. Gusto kong umiyak ngayong mag-isa na lang ako pero ayaw lumabas ng mga luha ko. Pakiramdam ko, kailangan ko pa ring maging malakas kahit walang nakakakita. Even my consciousness wouldn’t allow me to be weak. It just felt empty.
Pakiramdam ko, ubos na ubos na ako.
I wanted to visit Rielle and tell her everything that happened. I wanted to say sorry for making Hideo cry. But my body could only take me as far as my cabin. The pain from injuries that I had received while fighting and escaping, and exhaustion finally caught up on me and I was so close to passing out.
Marahan kong binuksan ang pinto pero napatigil ako nang may maramdaman akong presence sa loob. It was his presence. I stood on the doorway, staring at Kid who was sitting on my bed.
“Why are you here?” matigas kong tanong.
“I visited Rielle,” he answered.
When he saved me and flew with me yesterday, there was a little hope at the back of my mind that he would help me again. Nang makarating kami sa airport few hours ago, nawala na lang siya bigla. If he were with me, I thought I could have saved Akira . . . but I realized how futile that was.
He was a Shinigami, after all.
“Leave,” I said as I walked toward his direction but I was surprised when he threw something. Agad ko iyong sinalo. It was a bloody knife and a pistol.
“There were Reapers following us,” he stated. “I had to take care of them and extract the information I needed.”
Reapers? I didn’t even feel anything when we landed on the airport. Or maybe I was too distraught to even sense their presence.
I slowly approached my bed and plopped beside him. “Please leave,” I mumbled. “Gusto ko nang magpahinga.”
“In that state?” tanong niya.
Napatingin naman ako sa kanya. It would be better if he was still the smart mouth and sarcastic guy like before. I needed someone whom I could channel this anger, but when he saved me a while ago, I was reminded of Rielle. That despite their twisted views and beliefs, they could still be good.
Hah. What happened to him in the last few years? When did he become this tame? Is he even the same guy I knew five years ago?
Bigla naman siyang tumayo at kinuha ang medicine at first aid kid sa cabinet. He started disinfecting and dressing the wounds on my arms and shoulders. I gave him a curious look but he continued putting a gaze around my wrist.
“Still returning the favor. huh?” I commented as I remembered what he said before and how our situations had been reversed.
“Yes,” he replied.
Muli kaming tumahimik at hinayaan ko siya sa ginagawa niya. I just stared vacantly as my mind drifted back to the time I was still with Mayu and Akira.
According to the initial report, Miyu drove by herself why carrying Mayu’s dead body inside. Halos sira-sira na rin ito nang makarating sa campus. The Technology department was still analyzing everything that Miyu captured and recorded, and they would submit a report about it tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Vivien was still unconscious, and Kohaku was contemplating whether to let the Technology department erase her memories about the death of Akira or not.
My thoughts returned to the present when I felt him shifting his position. Pumunta siya sa likuran ko at narinig ko ang mahina niyang pagsinghap. The wound on my back must be nasty. Almost all of their attacks were concentrated on my back as they kept on coming behind me.
I winced as I felt his hand on my back but I was surprised when his other hand reached for face. The next thing I knew, his right hand was already covering my eyes.
“Tough day, huh?” he suddenly commented.
Hindi ko alam kung paano o kung bakit pero bigla na lang nanubig ang mga mata ko. The emotions I had been suppressing for several days just poured out of my eyes. It started with stifled sobs until I was already crying my heart out.
I was supposed to be the emotional pillar. I was supposed to be the toughest among us. But for the first time in years, I broke down and let my emotions drown me while someone was around.
My hands trembled as I yearned for comfort. My voice cracked and quivered as I wailed for the death of my loved ones. And for the first time, I allowed myself to crumble, even if it was in the arms of an enemy.