Napahiga na lang si Rainie habang hinahabol ang hininga. I wanted to plop on the ground, too, but as her teacher, I wanted to appear as invincible as possible.
“Ma’am Michiko,” tawag niya habang hinihingal. “One more time.”
Halos mapangiwi ako nang marinig ko iyon. Damn, this kid’s too spirited. I knew I told her that I’d train her so she could keep up with her friends’ combat skills and to prepare her for the future, but she was too passionate for her own good. Still, she had improved a lot, especially with her short-range attacks, just after three years. She might be the best fighter next to Nathan in their batch, but Reiji’s still the best one when it comes to control.
“No,” I returned. “Reflect on your techniques and sequences for today. And Akane,” sabay tingin ko sa kanya. Her shoulder tensed. “If you want to be a dual wielder, improve your left side coordination. Reina would be a good model for you as she’s one of the better dual wielder in the tribe.”
“Yes, Ma’am!” sabay salute niya pa.
Nagpaalam sila sa akin matapos ang ilang minuto. Few moments later, Naomi emerged from the southern part of the forest.
“Hey,” she greeted.
She was covered in soot and some scratches. On her left hand was a black duffel back. As expected, her mission was successful.
Sabay kaming pumunta sa campus pero dumaan muna kami sa Intelligence division. She brought the relics and documents she recovered from a fallen village. From what I remember, that was the hometown of the Hansen clan who got annihilated by Shinigamis.
Naabutan namin doon sina Hayate at Hiroshi na mukhang may bago na namang dinedevelop na device. It turned out Hiroshi was asking for advice regarding teleportation devices. I think they were trying to replicate that Custos technology they had seen before to see the possibility of “human teleportation.”
“No, no, that’s not how it worked,” Hiroshi grunted before Hayate noticed us.
Sumandal na lang ako sa pader habang nag-uusap silang tatlo at nagbibigay ng ilang advice si Naomi.
“By the way, nasaan si Reina?” tanong ko. “Hindi n’yo ba siya kasama?”
Hayate sighed. “Weaponry,” he muttered. “Akane asked for some advice and she got excited.”
Napailing na lang ako nang marinig ko ‘yon. Hindi ko naman sinabing agad-agad siyang mag-training pero isa rin itong si Reina na hindi alam ang salitang moderation.
Pagkatapos namin doon ay dumiretso kami sa bahay niya. The house was empty when we arrived and I told him Nathan went to Shima, according to Rainie.
“I can’t wait to see his progress,” I muttered while making two cups of tea for the two of us. Meanwhile, Naomi went to the bathroom.
‘I just hope Sir Kyo’s not too harsh on him,’ she commented.
I snickered in return. ‘Oh, I’m sure he is. I wonder how he would use the different combat techniques he learned from me and from Sir Kyo. He must be much stronger now.’
‘Now, I’m not sure if I should be proud or scared.’
Natawa naman ako sa comment niya. ‘Ano ka ba, be proud! That’s like having my fighting style and Mitsuo’s in a single person.’
‘That’s definitely scary.’
Habang hinihintay ko siyang matapos ay chineck ko rin ang schedule ko para sa ilang missions na nakapila para sa akin. Like Naomi, I had chosen to prioritize doing class S missions than being a permanent professor in the campus. It had been a year since I had this scheme. Besides, Hideo assigned me to observe the new Shinigami base closely. Dumadalaw naman ako rito once a month at pangatlong araw ko na ngayon.
“So,” Naomi started while drying her hair, “how’s the domestic life?” Sinamaan ko siya ng tingin at tinawanan niya lang ako. “What? Isn’t it similar to that?”
Pakiramdam ko talaga ay ginagantihan lang ako nito sa lahat ng pang-aasar ko sa kanya noong mga bata pa kami. She would always open that topic and ask questions with a teasing smile on her face.
“I heard that,” she commented.
“Totoo naman,” I returned.
She chuckled. “But you aren’t even denying it. Besides, you look happier now.”
Naalala ko tuloy noong unang beses akong pumunta sa cabin niya. Even without telling to, we visited each other and would talk about things. I didn’t realize his presence had become a huge part of my life that I would go to his place whenever I feel alone.
A year ago, Hideo accepted my proposal to do missions outside and sometimes, Naomi and I would team up for the most dangerous ones. Three months later, Hideo said I should monitor the Shinigamis’ movements in case something odd happens.
And that led me to live in that place.
“Kailan ka uuwi?” tanong niya.
“Baka after a week pa,” sagot ko naman. “May missions ka pa ba?”
“Hmm, wala na for this week.”
I smirked. “Then that means we can drink.”
It felt like someone was drilling a hole in my head. Nahihilo pa rin ako kahit buong magdamag na akong tulog. Paano ba naman ay halos two straight days kaming uminom ni Naomi.
I told her she only had a low tolerance in alcohol and to prove me wrong, she said she wouldn’t pass out before me. Hanggang sa pag-inom, competitive pa rin.
Ang naaalala ko lang kagabi ay ang pagpunta ni Nathan sa cabin ko kung saan naming pinlanong mag-inuman. We invited Hideo, too, but he was too busy. Nathan fetched his drunk mother and carried her on his back.
Sakto namang pagbangon ko ay nakita kong pumasok si Hideo. He just stared at the empty bottles strewn all over the floor. I could tell that he was already judging us.
“You’re here for a week and you spent half of it drinking,” he remarked while sitting in front of the low table. I groaned as I massaged my temple. “Bakit may pag-judge?”
Hindi naman na siya sumagot. Instead, he opened another bottle and drank by himself. Gusto ko sana siyang samahan pero hindi na talaga kaya ng sikmura kong uminom.
I was about to sleep again when I felt a familiar presence . . . but Hideo was already summoning his sword. It happened so fast that I could only watch their weapons clanging against each other.
There was a noticeable tension between them. They were both aware of each other since before but they hadn’t had the chance to fight or face each other again after their first encounter, which was during a case when we were still students.
They slowly pulled back their weapons and stood here awkwardly. Pareho silang napatingin sa akin at napahiga na lang ulit ako.
“Just entertain yourselves,” I said while pulling the comforter. “Ang sakit ng ulo ko.”
Little by little, my consciousness slipped away, and the last thing I saw was them slowly sitting and then drinking in silence.
My eyes fluttered open and the first thing I saw was the clear sky from the windows and the sound of the waves hitting the cliff. Napabangon ako bigla nang ma-realize kong wala na ako sa cabin ko.
I tried recalling what happened and it took me a few minutes to remember everything. Oh, god, did they really drink together?! I couldn’t even imagine what transpired when I fell asleep.
Agad akong bumaba at ang naabutan ko na lang ay ang pagkaing nakahanda sa lamesa. Without second thoughts, I ate the food he prepared and took a bath afterward. Medyo um-okay na rin ang pakiramdam ko matapos makatulog at makakain.
Nasaan kaya siya?
As if on cue, he appeared beside me and collapsed on the couch. There were scratches on his arms and one deep wound on his shoulder. I was about to ask about what happened when he muttered something.
Ah. He must be with Darwin.
“He finally landed an attack on you,” I commented as he removed his cloak.
He had been training him after years of avoiding the kid. He might not acknowledge it but Darwin had become his apprentice. Sometimes, he would show up at the front door and stubbornly asks Kid to train him again. He would shyly bow whenever he sees me and sometimes, would also ask me about weapons.
Kinuha ko ang first aid kit at agad na nilinis ang sugat niya. Based on the depth and shape, that child must be using a tanto, a Japanese short sword.
Shinigamis’ way of training was also different. They would attack as if they were in a real fight, hence, they would always get injuries, sometimes critical, if they weren’t focused.
“How is he?” tanong ko.
“I broke his arm,” he muttered, earning a frown from me. “Accidentally.”
He lay on my lap and let me dress his wound. Bigla ko namang naalala ang mga nangyari bago ako nagising kanina. I cleared my throat and started asking questions.
“So . . . what happened between you and Hideo?”
“We just drank . . .”
I stared at him in disbelief. “For real?”
“ . . . and threatened each other.”
“Said he’d hunt me down if I make you cry.”
Halos maubo ako nang sabihin niya ‘yon. Damn it, did Hideo really say that?
“What a nonsense threat,” he muttered.
“At ano namang pagbabanta ang sinabi mo sa kanya?”
He shrugged. “That’s a secret.”
Magtatanong pa sana ako pero pumikit na siya. Few seconds later, he was already asleep.
I stared at his face and gently traced the faded scars on it. I remembered how I thought he looked much nicer when sleeping the first time we met. It had been eighteen years since that happened.
We may not say it out loud, but we’ve been each other’s support system. I honestly didn’t expect to be as close as this with a Shinigami other than Rielle. I tried to not get attached to his presence when I was still sheltering him because of the strife between our tribes, but I failed.
I was also scared of the consequences. If the council finds out about it, there would surely be another bloodbath. And I didn’t want to see another tragedy.
I thought the attachment I felt would naturally fade away when he left but he made it hard for me as he kept sending notes and weapons as gifts. He also said the next time we see each other, we’d be enemies and I’d be his first casualty, but ironically, he was the one who saved my life when I thought I was going to die.
It was also astonishing how his attitude had changed over the years. Maybe it was the effect of living with humdrums and being away with his fellow Shinigamis. But I still get surprised whenever he becomes gentle and carefree.
My shoulders and fingers flinched when he suddenly reached for my hand that was on his face.
‘What are you doing?’ he groggily asked, his eyes still closed. ‘You have a lot of scars on your face,’ I commented. ‘Does it bother you?’ ‘Hindi naman,’ sagot ko. ‘I just realized you’ve been into many fights.’
He left out a tender chuckle. ‘Honestly surprised how I’m still alive right now.’
Mukhang nakatulog na naman siya dahil hindi na siya muling nagsalita. He was still holding my right hand and a quick smile escaped my lips. He could get really clingy when sleeping, something I didn’t expect from someone like him.
We stayed like that for three hours. I fell asleep for a while, too, but woke up when he bolted upright.
“Ah, shit, I forgot that I’m meeting Keith,” he cursed under his breath.
Agad niyang sinuot ang cloak niya habang sinundan ko naman siya palabas sa cabin. I’d just train outside since I had been relaxed for a week.
He had already opened the Black Dimension but he turned to my direction and ruffled my hair. He gave me a teasing smile. “I’ll be back. Don’t miss me too much.”
I snorted at his remark. “Hah. I won’t.”
Tumalikod na siya pero saglit na umiling. ‘Such a liar.’ ‘Just go,’ I said while pushing him inside. ‘See you later, Erika.’
I watched as he disappeared from my sight. Nanatili akong nakatayo roon habang nakangiti. Really. That guy was unbelievable.
When he said I could live with him, I thought he was just joking. But just like what he had said, we were already living together when I saved him that time and we were already used to each other’s presence. And growing old alone would be a bit lonely.
“We want you to be happy,” Naomi and Hideo would always say whenever we talk about our lives.
I remembered when Hideo wouldn’t even want me to go out of the campus. He was so scared to lose me, too, after we lost our friends and his family. He was still having second thoughts when I requested her my current setup but I assured him that I would be careful.
Since then, he was actively trying to persuade the council to end the bad blood between the Senshin and Shinigami tribes and start to build the bridges again.
That would surely take years or even several decades, but I’m glad he’s taking the initiative. For a better future for his daughter, and for the future of next generations of Senshins and Shinigamis, he’s willing to bury the hatchet.
But for now, despite the clandestine life we are living, I am happy.
And maybe, when that time comes, we could tell the future children a story of how a Senshin and Shinigami could love and defy everything just like what happened to Hideo and Rielle; and a story of how a Senshin and Shinigami could live and grow old together . . .