ROSE HACHIOJI IV
Little light enters the darkened warehouse where the N.P.F. members have made their base of operations. Her hands bound behind her back, Yuriko struggles vainly against the rope binding her to the steel chair. She shivers as a man places his hand on her shoulder. "It's no use, little lady," he says, licking his lips. "But don't worry. We won't hurt you. We'll just be using you as bait to lure out that halfer!"
Yuriko responds by struggling against her binds even more, though she is unable to say anything due to the gag in her mouth. She shivers again as the man places a knife against her throat. "Keep calm, little lady! We need you to be a good little bait for that halfer. Right, everyone?!"
The dozens of N.P.F. members gathered inside the building voice their approval. They shout and stamp their feet, some waving weapons in the air. "You tell 'em, Boss!"
Suddenly, the door to the warehouse bursts open. The mob who had gone after Tsukiko tramps in, their chests heaving up and down. "T-Takagawa!" they shout. "They're coming! That halfer!"
"All right!" says Takagawa. He caresses Yuriko's cheek. "Heard that, little lady? Your halfer friend's coming to rescue you!"
Yuriko continues to wriggle feverishly, her eyes screaming for her where her voice cannot. But try as she might, her bonds refuse to give way.
Meanwhile, Takagawa moves into action. "Okay, men! Get into position! We're gonna rid this town of another dirty halfer today!"
Tsukiko and Ryota watch the scene develop from a break in the warehouse wall outside. Ryota glances at Tsukiko; her attention is entirely focused on Yuriko inside, her hand clutching her knife tightly. Ryota shakes his head. "This is gonna be tough. There's a bunch of strong-looking guys inside. I think the best strategy is to—"
"You stand back," Tsukiko says. "I'll handle everything."
Within seconds, Tsukiko has slipped past the open warehouse door. Ryota reaches out a hand, but only grasps air. "Tsukiko, wait!" he says. "You can't just rush in like that!"
With a sigh, Ryota stumbles after Tsukiko. He barrels through the door, only to find that Tsukiko is already in the thick of battle with the N.P.F. members. Ryota scans the room, his eyes finding the spot near the back where Yuriko is being held by Takagawa.
Ryota's eyes meet Yuriko's. The latter watches Ryota with round eyes, silently pleading for someone to end her anguish. "Yuri-chan!" Ryota shouts. "I'm coming!"
Just as Ryota says this, however, one of the N.P.F. members creeps up on him from behind with a metal pipe. Ryota ducks at the last second, sidestepping away. He raises his baseball bat. "You wanna fight, then, you bastard?"
"Hahaha!" Takagawa laughs from next to Yuriko. "You foolish kids! Do you really think you're any match for a group of adults? If you're gonna defend a halfer, you're just as bad. The garbage bag should go out with the garbage!"
Pulling her knife out of the back of another N.P.F. member, Tsukiko turns her attention towards Yuriko and Takagawa. The number of N.P.F. members left standing has noticeably dwindled. Seeing this, Takagawa gives a strangled yelp. He looks around the room. "D-d-don't come any closer, halfer!"
"Give Yuriko back!" says Tsukiko. "Or else!"
"You think I'm afraid of you?!" Takagawa shouts back. "I have friends in high places! Do you know how many halfers I've buried while the city government looked the other way?! I'll kill you too!"
Tsukiko takes a step forward. But she stops almost immediately. Takagawa brings a knife to Yuriko's throat; the latter tenses upon feeling the cold blade against her skin. "Stay back! I'll cut her throat, I will!"
Through her gag, Yuriko makes a stifled noise that sounds a lot like Tsukiko's name. But Tsukiko hesitates, her teeth biting her lower lip. By her sides, her hands are clenched as she watches the scene unfold. "How dare you… put your hands on Yuriko like that?!"
"Forget about the boy!" Takagawa shouts to his men. "Get that damn halfer! She's the only one that's important!"
Yet even as Takagawa speaks, the last standing N.P.F. member falls to the ground with a bloody thud. Ryota rests his bat on his shoulder. "Last one," he says, looking directly at Takagawa.
Takagawa gives another shriek, his grip on the knife intensifying. "Useless idiots…!"
"There's nowhere left to run!" Ryota says. "Give up while you still can!"
"L-like I hell I will!" responds Takagawa. "Don't you see that I have a knife on your friend's throat here?! I'm the one with the leverage! One wrong move and I'll stain the floor with her blood!"
"You sick bastard!" says Ryota. "Tsukiko! We should—Tsukiko?"
Tsukiko stands still, barely breathing as looks straight ahead. Her entire body is tense, her eyes fixated on Yuriko and Takagawa. 'There has to be a way out of this without him hurting Yuriko…!' she thinks. 'He'll kill her if Ryota and I make a move—what if Ryota calls the police? No, that'll be the same result. What if I try and call the police in secret? No, he'll notice. Perhaps if we distract him—'
"Hey, put the knife down!" Ryota says, pulling Tsukiko out of her reverie. "If you do, we promise you won't get hurt! What is there to gain from hurting Yuri-chan?! Nothing!"
Takagawa's grip on his knife slackens, but only for a moment. Within seconds, he pulls Yuriko closer to him by the hair and presses his knife against her throat. "Lies! All lies! Halfers can't be trusted! Just look at her! She'll kill me as soon as I let this girl go!"
Ryota glances at Tsukiko. She remains unmoving, her teeth bared, but displaying no other sign of having heard Takagawa's words. Ryota lets out a growl. "That's not true at all! Tell him, Tsukiko!"
Tsukiko does not say anything. Walking over to her, Ryota cups her hands in his and pulls Tsukiko's knife out of her grasp. The girl's eyes glimmer, but still Tsukiko does not speak or move.
"Here," Ryota says, holding Tsukiko's knife up for Takagawa to see. "Now Tsukiko doesn't have a weapon. She can't hurt you even if she wanted to. Will you let Yuri-chan go now?"
Several moments pass in which the only thing can be heard by either Tsukiko or Ryota is the pounding of the blood in their ears. Eventually, Takagawa exhales, his knife moving away from Yuriko's throat.
Ryota relaxes as well. Grinning, he steps forward, hand outstretched. "Great. Now—"
"No, I can't trust either of you!" Takagawa says. "Halfers are dangerous! They'll destroy this country! This is the only way for me to get out of here alive!"
Tsukiko and Ryota watch, in slow motion, their eyes growing round, as Takagawa swings his knife hand back. Yuriko's eyes turn into saucers as she realizes what is about to happen as well. Her legs kick out, but she is restrained by the ropes binding her to the chair. Ryota gives a shout. Tsukiko reaches out a hand. But nothing stops the blade from slashing straight across Yuriko's throat. Blood spews everywhere.
"YURIKO!" Tsukiko cries, leaping into motion. Before Tsukiko is even halfway to Yuriko, Takagawa escapes through a backdoor in the warehouse and disappears out of sight.
Tsukiko places her hands on Yuriko, the blood quickly painting her hands red. Ignoring that, Tsukiko places her hands on Yuriko's throat to try and staunch the bleeding. "Y-Yuriko!" Tsukiko says, her voice quavering. "Hold on! W-we'll call an ambulance! You'll be okay, Yuriko!"
"Damn it!" Ryota slams his fist against the metal door through which Takagawa had escaped. He lowers his head, holding back tears. "H-how could…?!"
"Ryota! An ambulance!"
Wiping his eyes with his arm, Ryota nods. "I know!"
Meanwhile, Tsukiko places her attention back on her friend. Already, Yuriko's face appears deathly pale. Tsukiko continues to hold both hands fast against Yuriko's throat, tears streaming down her own face. "You'll… you'll be okay, Yuriko! D-don't die, Yuriko! You're… you're my only friend, Yuriko! You can't die!"
Tsukiko opens the mailbox. There is only one envelope inside. She slits open the letter as she walks, her schoolbag draped over one shoulder. She begins reading.
'Thank you for your concern regarding patient S-0391. Unfortunately, due to privacy laws, we are not at liberty to disclose the condition of hospital patients to members of the public who are not considered authorized family members. Thank you for your patience and understanding. We hope that you will continue to place your trust in our services.'
Stepping through the sliding doors of the train, Tsukiko crumples the letter in one hand and stuffs it in her skirt pocket. Tsukiko stares out the window as the train begins moving. 'It's been two weeks since we got you to the hospital, Yuriko…. Isn't there a way to know how you're doing?'
Tsukiko exits onto the platform, the train having arrived at her destination. Within minutes, Tsukiko finds herself in the familiar hallways of Hachioji International School. Entering her classroom, Tsukiko finds many of her classmates already sitting in their seats. Tsukiko makes her way to her desk, walking past Yuriko's empty one as she does so.
Throwing her bag on her desk, Tsukiko slumps forward with her chin resting on one hand. She continues to stare at Yuriko's empty desk. The memories of the aftermath of the clash with the N.P.F. return to her.
Tsukiko stares at the closed hospital room door, her clothes and hands caked with dried blood. Ryota stands next to her as well, his face deathly pale. At last, a doctor wearing a surgical mask steps out of the room. The two students assail him almost immediately.
"How's she doing, doctor?" Ryota asks. "Will she be fine?"
"Somehow, yes," says the doctor. "She'll have scarring on her neck for the rest of her life, but she'll live. We can't yet assess what quality of life issues there may be with regard to her throat, but we're optimistic she'll make a full recovery."
Ryota breathes a sigh of relief. "Thank god!"
Tsukiko suppresses a smile, tears brimming in her eyes. The doctor excuses himself, but not before pausing briefly upon seeing Tsukiko's hands. "You ought to wash up. There's a restroom normally reserved for hospital staff down the hall. I'll instruct the nurse to let you in."
"Y-yes!" Tsukiko says.
Just as the doctor departs, the door to the hospital room opens again. A middle-aged man with graying hair exits. He frowns upon seeing Tsukiko and Ryota. "You two," he says. The man clears his throat. "Thank you for helping my daughter. The Yagami family owes you a great deal."
"O-of course," says Ryota. "Yuri-ch—Yuriko's our friend, after all."
"If it's okay with you, we'd like to see Yuriko," Tsukiko says.
The elder Yagami stares down at Tsukiko, his eyes briefly glancing over Tsukiko's bloody hands. "Ah, about that. I would prefer if you two do not see her for a while. She is very traumatized and needs some time to recover. It is our family's wish that she only be visited by close members of the family and by hospital staff."
"Th-that's understandable, I guess," Ryota replies. "But when do you think we'll be able to see Yuriko again? We just want to see that she's doing well and let her know that we're there for her."
Yagami closes his eyes. "I do not know. But please understand our position. We will let you know when it is appropriate to see her again."
The school bell rouses Tsukiko from her thoughts. As the teacher begins writing on the board, Tsukiko sighs. 'How long is Takeshi Yagami going to restrain us from seeing Yuriko? Even inquiring about her condition with the hospital hasn't worked.'
"Ah, before I forget, I have some important news to announce," the teacher says. "This morning, I received some news from the father of your classmate Yagami. As you know, Yuriko Yagami has not been attending classes for the last two weeks due to an undisclosed illness. Unfortunately, Mister Yagami has indicated to me this morning that Miss Yagami will no longer be enrolling in this academy and will be transferring to another school."
"What?!" Tsukiko says. Her palms slam against the top of her desk, her face paling. While the teacher turns back to his notes on the board, Tsukiko stares at Yuriko's empty seat. 'She's… gone? Just like that? Without even saying goodbye?'
The day passes slowly. Tsukiko watches the sun crawl across the blue sky, gradually inching towards the center of the sky before dipping towards the horizon again. At last, the bell signaling the end of the last class of the day rings.
Standing up, Tsukiko packs her things silently. All around her, her fellow classmates exchange afternoon plans with each other. They gossip and crack jokes, while Tsukiko zips up her bag. Without a word, Tsukiko slips past them and exits the classroom. None of them inquire after her.
Outside in the main hallway, Tsukiko runs into Ryota. As usual, he is surrounded by a large group of his male friends, most of them on the baseball team. Tsukiko walks past without a glance. Ryota, however, notices. He stares at Tsukiko's retreating back, his face darkening from a grin into a scowl. "Hey, Tsukiko!"
Tsukiko does not respond or even look back. Ryota's face falls even further. One of his friends grabs him by the shoulder. "Let it go, Ryota. Amherst-san's always been sorta weird, even for a halfer. It's probably better for you if you don't associate with her."
While Ryota's friends pull him away, he takes one last glance at Tsukiko. But she has already disappeared from sight. 'Tsukiko… you haven't said a word to me or even looked at me since that night at the hospital. Is everything okay…?'
Walking alone, Tsukiko finds herself at the bridge overlooking the river where she and Ryota had spoken previously. She leans against the railing, looking out at the river flowing steadily away from her. A cool breeze drifts by, causing the loose strands of Tsukiko's hair to wave along.
"Perhaps it should not be a surprise," Tsukiko says out loud. There are no cars on the road behind her. No other pedestrians disturb the road either. The only person in Tsukiko's immediate vicinity is herself. "For a few weeks, I thought I knew what it was like to have a place in this world. To be among people who genuinely cared about me. But that's impossible. I'm a halfer. The rightful heir to the throne of the Grand British Empire. My fate doesn't lie in this place, Japan….
"In the end, I am destined to be alone, after all."
A/N: That's it for this backstory mini-arc. Stay tuned for news regarding the resumption of the ROSE main story.