Trauma Button A Paradox Live Fansite
Hidden Track "MEMORY" (The Cat's Whiskers Chapter)
Birdhouse Any Remember.

It was a rainy night.

After the events of the Paradox Live had time to settle, Bar 4/7 had become quite peaceful. Thanks in part to the rain, this was a particularly slow night, with few customers stopping by.

"... Yohei," Saimon said, "you've been playing the piano more than usual lately."

"Suppose so," Yohei said. "Rainy days put me in the mood for it."

"Alrighty! Then Ryu-kun has a request! How 'bout something more like boss battle music? Final boss music! VERSUS: Black-Spotted Demon King Deluxe!"

"The hell are you going on about...?"

Saimon nursed his drink while Yohei played piano, and Ryu lay splayed across the sofa with the aforementioned cat, Black-Spotted Demon King Deluxe, sitting on his head. As Yohei finished playing and the sound of piano faded away, the bar was filled with the sound of the falling rain.

"... hope Shiki took an umbrella with him," Yohei said, glancing outside.

"He'll be alright! Ryu-kun slipped an umbrella into his bag before he left! It was small and silver and super stylish!"

Yohei looked at Ryu. "Well, that explains where my missing cocktail shaker got off to."

For as much as things had settled back into normal for The Cat's Whiskers, there were still some changes that had come about as a result of the Paradox Live.

First and foremost, Shiki had been getting out a lot more. Now that he had cleared up the misunderstandings and been able to find closure on his somewhat tumultuous past with Nayuta, Shiki had been going to hang out with the cozmez twins on a regular basis. It wasn't to say that this had solved all of his problems by any means, but he had certainly begun to smile more. Despite his timid nature, he was regaining some of his light.

Moreover, the matter of the land being bought out, which had been a source of great stress for Yohei and Saimon, had been sorted as well. Once the Paradox Live was over, the real estate had pulled back noticeably; it was clear that they had been being pressured by Alter Trigger. They had been able to safely buy the land even without the prize money. They had managed to achieve their ultimate goal: protecting the bar.

Indeed, many of their problems had been solved; but they had only managed to protect what they still had. There were still some things that they could never get back.

"Hey, Saimon," Yohei said.


"... do you think Tsubaki-san is still smiling down on us?" Yohei said.

Saimon paused for a moment, then said, "She is. You're still playing piano, after all."

"... guess I can't argue with that," Yohei said, and he turned his gaze to look out the window. The quietly-falling rain traced long vertical streaks down the glass, just like they had on that night so long ago. If he was remembering right...

The peaceful calm of the evening, the gentle patter of the rain, and the knowledge that they had succeeded in protecting the bar that was precious to them-- all of these together lured Saimon and Yohei down into a memory of the distant past.


Sure enough, it had been raining that night, too.

The sound of the rain choked out everything else, dimming the light that poured out of buildings and drowning out the human voices. It was a night as quiet and still as a funeral, and walking around in it felt like some kind of grave sin.

But there walked a young man, treading along the wet road, slinking around like a stray cat. His cheap shirt was soaked from the rain, and he dragged his beat-up sneakers across the asphalt.

His bangs hung in his face and obscured his vision, but it was like he didn't notice it at all. His gaze was laser-focused on his feet, and he walked without so much as looking where he was going; but he wasn't lost, and he walked straight ahead.

Though it felt as though he shouldn't be able to hear it, the sound of a piano somewhere far away had cut through the rain. He followed it, and eventually, it led him to the front step of a store. The sign declared its name: Bar 4/7. He paid the sign no mind at the time. The door was narrow and heavy, and it insulated the world inside the bar from the one outside it.

For people who are so inclined, bars are like a secret hideout from the world outside. The narrow entrances provide shelter for guests as they enter, and a good bartender provides an amiable air for those who came to sit at the bar. They're a place for the weary to rest. This, surely, was why the sound of piano had managed to make its way to him, even through the rain and the thick door protecting the bar from the world outside.

Standing here, he could hear the sound of piano coming from inside. He made up his mind; he leaned against it and pushed the heavy door open.

Inside was a camellia[1] in full bloom.

The air was filled with the kind of gentle melody that he had never heard before, and a warm glow that was softer than the sun in spring. Her slender, pale fingers moved across the piano keys, and he swore he was looking upon an angel.

That night was the first time that he had ever truly encountered music in its purest form.

At this point in time, the woman at the piano was named Yuzuki Tsubaki; the man with her was named Saimon Naoakira, the same as he would be in the future. They were a little taken aback by the young man's sudden appearance, but then they gave him gentle smiles.

When the young man came inside and closed the door behind him, it was like the world outside was gone again. The atmosphere inside the bar was so warm and welcoming that it nearly made him want to cry.

This one night changed the life of 17-year-old Kanbayashi Yohei.


At the age of 19, Yohei had come to treasure the weight of the bar door. The air outside was still stiflingly hot, but none of it reached the inside, and the contrast with the air-conditioned comfort was stunning.

It was easy to find the person that he was looking for.

"Saimon, you got a second?"

Saimon greeted Yohei with a laugh. "You know, I've worked here for quite a while; and yet you're still the only underage person I know who would barge quite so brazenly into a bar." Saimon indicated a seat at the far end of the bar with the tilt of his head, and Yohei took it. Saimon began to mix a drink-- a little bit of lime juice, grenadine, and a bit of simple syrup, all in a goblet-style glass filled with ice cubes; then he topped the glass up with soda water.

"Your Summer Delight, sir," Saimon said as he pushed the drink towards Yohei.

"You're acting all cool about it, but you're still just giving me a mocktail," Yohei said.

"Well, I very well can't give you alcohol, can I?"

Yohei scoffed. "You could have at least put a lime slice on it. I may as well make my drink myself at this rate," he said with a cheeky look. Nonetheless, he picked up his glass and lifted it to his lips, taking a sip of the red concoction. It wasn't going to get him drunk, no, but the taste was pleasant and refreshing.

Once he'd had the chance to drink a little bit, Yohei started to speak again. "I feel like that event we did on Friday went well. I'm feeling good about it," he said.

"I agree," Saimon said. "I think that laid-back musical style suits us rather well, as expected. I had no trouble with the lyrics, and I feel as though you were able to express yourself well with the music as well."

"Sure was," Yohei said. "That track I made? A masterpiece." As he spoke, he gestured cheerfully with his glass.

It occurred to Saimon that Yohei looked good holding a glass; perhaps working at a bar would suit him well. Saimon narrowed his eyes mirthfully. "The piano accompaniment and the finger snapping all worked together better than I could have imagined," Saimon said. "It really evoked the image of rain falling off of the roof."

"There you go with all the high-minded compliments," Yohei said. "Though I guess that's what happens when you study linguistics, huh?" He paused. "Speaking of, how's all that graduate school stuff going? Seems to me like it'd be keeping you real busy."

"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't busy," Saimon said, "but I still have plenty of time to devote to XXXX. I'd say it even helps me with writing lyrics, if anything."

"... yeah, I can see that. Your lyrics have had a kick to them lately," Yohei said.

"Well, I'm relieved to have my partner speak so highly of my work," Saimon said.

"And that's with the track I made. To tell the truth, I don't think anyone's gonna top that," Yohei said. "... you know what? I heard that that event we did the other day was even getting some international attention. If we keep it up the way we've been, I think we'd be able to take it overseas."

"Do you think that will be what makes us as popular as Buraikan?" Saimon mused.

"What? What do you mean by that?" Yohei said.

"Well, I just think that chance is a part of success," Saimon said. "You also need to be lucky to have an opportunity to make it big."

"Why are you leading off with something like that? You got a weird look in your eye."

"I hope I'm not sounding too defeatist," Saimon said.

"C'mon, at least pretend you think we've got what it takes. Don't dance around it with qualifications and shit."

"I have faith you understand what I mean," Saimon said.

"Hm. I guess I'm just not as humble as you are," Yohei muttered. He took another sip from his glass, as though the acidity of the lime would counteract the sweetness of Saimon's words of trust. "Be a bit more direct. You act cool, but I know you're burning up, too."

"Hot flames still burn silently, you know," Saimon said.

"But you're planning to go all the way to the top too, right?" Yohei said. "You want to surpass Buraikan?"

"Of course."

"Then you could stand to act like it. The way you act all humble and say all that weird shit... with your words and my sound, I think we can totally do it. It's within reach. We can just make our own luck."

"You certainly are proud of that track," Saimon said. "I would have thought you were more inclined to aggressive rap."

"I mean, good music is good music, even if it's more laid-back or whatever. The sampling went really well, but I think the most important thing is that Tsubaki-san's work on the piano--"

"My my, what's this? Are you guys gossipping about me behind my back?"

A high, delicate voice cut straight through the low, resonant conversation between the two men. Yohei instantly snapped to attention and raised his eyes.

Saimon called out her name: "Hello, Tsubaki." His low, gentle voice was colored with the sound of love.

In Yohei's eyes and Saimon's voice was a person that the both of them loved.

"T-Tsubaki-san!" Yohei exclaimed on slight delay, his lips stumbling around the shape of her name.

It was difficult to succinctly describe this woman-- at the time known as Yuzuki Tsubaki, and who would later be known as Saimon Tsubaki. If he had to put it in one word, Saimon would have said that she was elegant.

It certainly evoked the beauty of her velvety hair and snow-like skin, but her beauty wasn't simply in her appearance. Rather, it was in the refinement of her every gesture, be it reaching out with a slender hand or the light steps she took. She carried with her a powerful core and an apparent inner strength. Rather than calling her "pretty" as one would think of a person, Yohei thought of her as truly beautiful. It was the beauty of serenity, the way he saw it.

And when she saw Saimon and Yohei, she smiled as bright as a camellia in bloom.

"Good evening, Yohei-kun. It's been a while, hasn't it?" she said.

"Ah... yeah. I didn't know you'd be at the bar today," Yohei said.

"And yet, here I am," Tsubaki said. "But yes, I've been a bit focused on writing music for a while, so I haven't had the chance to catch you."

"So if you're here, does that mean you've come up with something you're satisfied with?" asked Yohei.

"Mm, no, it's not done yet," Tsubaki said. "But Naoakira told me that I've been getting too caught up in working on it. I hadn't been by the bar in a while, so it's a nice change of scenery."

Saimon chuckled. "When Tsubaki is absorbed in her work, she doesn't even sleep while she's in bed. She'll fall asleep on the sheet music she's working on, but she still complains every time she wakes up with ink on her face."

"Oh, come on, Naoakira!" Tsubaki protested. "You don't have to tell him that much!"

Tsubaki furrowed her eyebrows as she scolded Saimon; he merely shrugged, and she laughed. She reached out and smoothed his hair with her fingertips.

Even such a small gesture has a way of demanding attention when seen under the soft light of the bar. That's why Yohei couldn't help but stare. Her fingers were perfect for a pianist, and at the base of one slender finger sat a silver ring. All at once, he became acutely aware of Saimon's hands, currently set to polishing a glass. At the base of one finger was a matching snow-silver ring.

"So, what were you talking about? I heard my name," Tsubaki said, picking up the conversation right where they had derailed it.

"Ah, I was--" Though he hadn't been doing anything wrong, Yohei awkwardly scratched his temple like a child who had been caught in the middle of pulling a prank. "That is to say, I was just talking about how I was able to make a good track thanks to you, Tsubaki-san."

"Hehe, thank you," Tsubaki said. "I gave a listen to the version that you sent me. The time signature was a bit unconventional, but it had a real jazz swing vibe; it was really nice. I knew you had a gift for music, Yohei-kun."

"... ah, well," Yohei said, "it was Saimon who actually did the work with the sampling software--"

"I did the work with the software, but it's still decidedly your song," Saimon said. Preempting what Yohei was going to say, he pressed on. "I can follow step by step instructions in the manual, but I can't say I have the sense of how to arrange it into a hiphop beat. You might well understand Tsubaki's music better than I do, Yohei."

Yohei scratched his cheek again, even more embarrassed, but it was clear he was at least a little pleased to be praised. "Ah, knock it off," he said. "You can say all that, but if I had to try and peck it into the software myself, it'd be total amateur hour crap. I really have to figure it out for myself one of these days..."

Though Yohei would continue to be really bad with technology, it was even worse at this point in time. Strictly speaking, he was much more of an analog person rather than a digital one. He could tune a piano with a delicate and deft hand, but he was so abysmal with technology that he couldn't even set a digital wristwatch. He was, however, very good at taking care of a hand-wound watch, something of a sought-after enthusiast skill.

Tsubaki's opinion was that Yohei simply thought in very concrete terms, and the way she saw it, this also meant he had a talent for understanding sound as though it were a physical thing. Saimon was well aware of his talent, too.

There was no need to pick on the fact that Yohei had entrusted all of the typing to him.

Of course, until just a few moments ago, Yohei had been talking himself up and had been so proud of himself. He'd had a sudden change of heart the moment he was in front of Tsubaki. Saimon understood this inclination very well.

Perhaps, Saimon thought, he should look into getting his hands on an antique sampler.

"Of course, if you were a bit better at using a computer, Yohei, you'd probably be able to do all of it on your own," Saimon said. "But, you already more than pull your weight. You don't have to do everything by yourself. That's why we teamed up as XXXX."

"What a rave review, Naoakira," Tsubaki said, "... but, I agree."

"I trust him completely," Saimon said. "He's my Yasha, after all."

"Ah, the hell am I supposed to say if you put it like that..." Yohei muttered, and he sulked a little bit as Saimon and Tsubaki looked at him and smiled. As if trying to escape from their gazes, he knocked back the rest of his drink in one go.

MC Yasha and MC Shura... the two phantom rappers who made up the legendary group Buraikan. Saimon viewed Yohei as though he were his Yasha.

One day, they had gone to see a live performance by Buraikan, and they had been blown away. Shura's theory and intellect provided the bedrock for the overwhelming talent of Yasha, and together they created an overwhelming performance.

Saimon had expressed his admiration for Buraikan, and Yohei suggested that they rap together.

I'll be your Yasha, Yohei had said. Saimon, team up with me. I'll make you my Shura.

Thus began XXXX. That day, their admiration had instead become a goal to reach for.

Tsubaki, too, had found an ideal form of music on that day. Buraikan's music was something special; it was founded on the idea that music is something that connects people to each other. Your boundaries fade away, allowing your unseen heart and soul to connect with others. It was truly wonderful. Ever since then, Tsubaki had been trying to find music that connected people.

It all started with Buraikan. That excitement turned into a dream, which turned into a goal, and it continued on to now.

So needless to say, Yohei could not help but be proud that Saimon called him "my Yasha". There was no point in feigning humility about that.

Instead, he held out his glass.

"Saimon. Refill me."

"Ooh, I'll have one too," said Tsubaki.

"You, too?" Saimon said. "It's just a virgin cocktail[2], you know."

"Yeah, but I like the virgin cocktails you make," said Tsubaki.

"You could at least call it a mocktail..." Yohei muttered sullenly.

Saimon, watching both Tsubaki and Yohei at the counter, laughed and began to prepare a fruit knife. Yohei snapped to attention and pointed accusingly at Saimon. "Hey, come the fuck on!" he said, then turned frantically to Tsubaki. "Tsubaki-san, this rat bastard wouldn't go to the effort of slicing a lime when it was just the two of us."

"I just knew you would ask for a second round, Yohei," Saimon said.

"Bullshit!" Yohei exclaimed. "Listen to me, Tsubaki-san. He's only putting in the effort because he's married to you, Tsubaki-san. For a guy who looks all proper with his glasses, just because you're newlyweds it doesn't make it any less underhanded to try and make moves on you."

"The newlyweds thing notwithstanding, I'm not sure what my glasses have to do with anything," Saimon said.

Tsubaki laughed at the two of them having their back-and-forth as though it were a comedy act. Her face looked so young at times like this. Then, she narrowed her eyes gently and she turned to look at Yohei. The look made him a bit nervous, and he felt heat rise in his cheeks.

"Naoakira is just playing with you. But... you know, your face is a lot nicer now."

"W-- the hell are you talking about out of nowhere like that?" Yohei blurted.

"Maybe it's just because I haven't been to the bar in a while," Tsubaki said, "but I still remember the first time I saw you. Back then, you looked like... like you didn't want anyone to get near you. You had cold eyes and you spoke so sharply. It was like you were mad at the world. You were so jagged around the edges, like a piano that was out of key. But..."

While Tsubaki was absorbed in her memories, Saimon placed a goblet glass in front of her. The bright red mixed drink was decorated with a green slice of lime.

"... but now, I think you have a much gentler sound. I wonder what it is... I suppose in terms of classical music, it's like... Träumerei[3], I think."

"... her metaphors are as difficult to understand as ever," Yohei said as an aside, "but, I think I get it."

"It's always a bit of a challenge to translate her synesthetic expressions," Saimon agreed. "Sometimes it feels like I'm majoring in linguistics just to have a shot at understanding her."

"Now what are you two talking about so cruelly?" Tsubaki interrupted. Now that it was her who was being teased, her mouth twisted into a bit of a pout.

Two thoughts hit Yohei simultaneously: she's beautiful and she's cute.

Then, of its own accord, he was hit by a burst of memory of his own.

All of the discord he faced at home. The cold stares of the people at the facility where he got sent off to. He never had any faith in the adults around him, and he lived like a stray dog. He ended up falling in with the yakuza, but even so, he got no satisfaction from it. This was the life he had lived in the past. Every single day, it had felt like there was a wind blowing in his heart-- and at the end of it all, he had encountered the gentle sound of piano.

Yohei was more acutely aware than anyone of the pain in his own past. That's why he knew just as well how much that piano had guided him out of it, and how much it had meant to him to meet Tsubaki and Saimon that night.

"Well, that's all to say, I'm just glad the two of you are able to play music," Tsubaki said, looping back around to the point. She raised her glass to her lips, and took a sip of the red summery drink and let its refreshment wash over her. Then, she said, more to herself than anything: "after all, music really is what connects people to each other."

That was Tsubaki's ideal; her dream.

"The two of you are living proof of that. I've thought over it a lot, ever since we went to see Buraikan that day, but... it's really the only conclusion I can come to."

"I agree," Saimon said. "Yohei took something that I thought I could only look at from afar-- Buraikan -- and turned it into a goal. It connected us. ... I really can't thank you enough, Yohei."

"... the piano did it way before I did," Yohei mumbled.

"What was that?"


Yohei went quiet to try and hide his embarrassment. He merely looked at Saimon and Tsubaki over the top of his glass, watching as they laughed together. His feelings for Tsubaki were not simple affection. To him, Tsubaki was like a ray of moonlight cutting through the clouds on a rainy night. She had accepted him when he had felt he was worthless. She let him play the piano.

"Your talent is truly something special," she had said.

As he grew older, he had had enough time to realize that the feelings he harbored for her were love-- and more than enough time to realize that this was a love that could not be fulfilled.

But that was alright.

Tsubaki had led him down this path, but Saimon had taken his hand as well.

If he hadn't heard the piano that night, if they hadn't called out to him that day, if they hadn't gone to the Buraikan concert that day...

"It's not enough to just reach the level of Shura and Yasha, right? You're going to surpass them?" Tsubaki said; both Saimon and Yohei nodded.

"Yep," said Yohei.

"That's correct," said Saimon.

Tsubaki smiled.

Because of the two of them, Yohei was able to walk the path of music in the here and now. Tsubaki and Saimon were both the lights that lit his path through the night. Simply saying thank you was not enough; he wanted to make Tsubaki smile. But, he also wanted to protect Saimon's smile. And that meant...

That's why he was more than happy to see the two of them spending their time together laughing and smiling. Even if it had to come with pain in his heart or sadness in his eyes, he would give them his heartfelt blessings and applaud them. It would be something that Kanbayashi Yohei could take pride in doing for the two people who saved his life.

Saimon was not altogether oblivious to the turmoil in Yohei's heart. That's why he thought it would be tactless to address it head-on. He, too, wanted to protect Tsubaki's smile; to show that he was happy when it was the three of them talking together like they were now; to show that his marriage to Tsubaki was not a mistake. This is how Saimon could repay Yohei's pride.

Without saying as much, they wished that the warmth between them on nights like this, with their beloved Tsubaki between them, cloaked in the gentle sound of music, would last forever. This was surely the happiest they could be. Wordlessly, these slightly clumsy men played out the sessions[4] of these peaceful days together.

The inciting incident happened just a few days later. Thinking back on it, they would remember that they had a very unusual visitor just before it happened.

A middle-aged man dressed in a traditional kimono walked into Bar 4/7. At first, Saimon thought he was just an eccentric; but Yohei, sitting at the bar, reacted in a way that immediately clued Saimon in to their guest's identity.

"Old man? What're you coming around here for?"

This was Suiseki, the head of the clan to which Yohei had once belonged.

"Ah," the man said, "is it so really wrong for me to come have a nice drink every now and again?"

The man took a seat at the bar beside Yohei, and he ordered a vodka martini. When he added a request that it be shaken and not stirred, Saimon caught on that he was making a reference to a famous movie, and he chuckled as he indulged the man's request. Soon, Saimon presented a glass decorated with lemon peel, rather than olives; Suiseki took the glass in good spirits and clinked glasses with Yohei beside him. The sound served as a cue for Yohei to start talking.

"I haven't seen you around in a while, old man," he said.

"Ah, it hasn't been that long, I don't figure," Suiseki said. "But you know, Iori's been really worried about you. Thought I'd pop in and report back."

"Hah?" Yohei said. "That fuckin' guy... I thought he seemed pretty cool headed about it when we parted ways."

"Well, he's still young," Suiseki said. "He might not look it, but he's pretty concerned with how you're doing. You're from the same crop, after all.[5]"

As Suiseki talked, Yohei was hit with a wave of memories from his time in the group. There had been no place for him at the institution he'd been housed at, and he'd been living like a stray. While he'd been living like a hoodlum, the Suiseki had picked him up, and from the very start, Iori had been in his business.

They had both worked hard as though they were in constant competition with each other. They got into fistfights over bullshit arguments over nothing, and had been scolded together by the old man countless times. They had once tried to pull off a stunt at a cherry blossom viewing that had gone so badly they'd been laughed out of the proverbial room. When Yohei had been unsure whether he should part ways with the Suiseki to focus on XXXX, Iori had told him to do it if that was what his heart was set on.

If you're gonna do anything, whole-ass it, he had said.

That was, probably, what being friends meant. The memories were extremely vivid in his mind.

"... old man, did you come here alone today? Where are the rest of the guys?"

"Ah, they're out at another bar. This place wouldn't fit all of us, they'd just end up making a mess," Suiseki said with a smile, and he lifted his glass to attend to his drink.

A cocktail made from a recipe like his begins to deteriorate from the moment it's made, so the best way to enjoy it is to savor it quickly. Saimon felt at ease with a customer who understood and respected this as well.

"To tell the truth, the thing about Iori's just a front," Suiseki said. "Matter of fact, I just wanted to come see your face in person."

"Ah, that's..." Yohei said. "I'm the one who pulled a dishonorable stunt like ditching the family. You don't have to waste time worrying about me even now."

"Ah, bullshit!" Suiseki said. "You're still the same underhanded bastard at heart, ain't you? Nothing dishonest about a man deciding on his own path and getting back on the straight and narrow. The thing is, I also wanted to come to tell you. Your rapping's good."

"Eh? You listened to it?" Yohei said. "My-- I mean, our rap?"

"That big festival the other day... that whatever-it-was-fes. Gonda and Ijima both said it was a great song. Takenaka even took off his sunglasses to have a proper cry. Said it reminded him of the son he left behind in his hometown."

"... hah? Wait, wait, did everyone in the group listen to it? ... fuck's sake, that's so embarrass--"

"Dumbfuck, you ain't got nothin' to be ashamed of!" Suiseki cut Yohei off, slapping his own knee uproariously. "You achieved somethin' great by following a path you thought was right for you! Be proud of yourself! Be proud of that! It was a great performance! It was what you call a full house, yeah? It was worth it to go round playin' maneki-neko to attract that many visitors!"

"Ah, that's... I mean. Thanks, seriously." Of course, Yohei was happy, but he couldn't help but still feel guilty, as though he had been selfish by declaring that he wanted to live his life for hip hop. He was of course, happy that everyone from the family had taken the time to come to the show, but it still felt kind of like realizing belatedly that your entire extended family had secretly been in the audience at a school sports day.

Being mindful of Yohei's pride, Suiseki kept his voice even. "To tell you the truth, I was worried at first. But then I heard that sound, and I got it. You said that day that you wanted to take things seriously for the sake of the person who believed in your sound... I get it now. You went and found yourself a great partner, Yohei."

Suddenly, Yohei was acutely aware that eyes were on him, and he looked up. Saimon was smiling at him across the counter.

"... the hell you want," Yohei muttered.

"Oh, nothing," Saimon said. "I was just thinking that I was happy too."

He knew exactly what he was doing.

Suiseki laughed out loud at the sight of the two of them. He drained his glass of the last of his martini and slowly rose up out of his seat.

"Well, that's all there is to it," he said. "I wanted to see your mug again, Yohei, but I wanted to get a good look at the gentleman too. The both of you are lookin' good, and the alcohol was great. I can say I'm satisfied."

"Ah, old man... are you going already?" Yohei said.

"Yep! I got what I came for, after all," Suiseki said. "We'll all be showing up to listen to your performance next time, so make sure you book a bigger venue so we can all fit."

"... yeah, sure thing," Yohei said. Then he stood up and crossed over to hold the door for Suiseki as he left. Waving over his shoulder, Suiseki walked off into the night in a merry mood.

Yohei stood watching Suiseki's back with slightly narrowed eyes right up until Saimon called out to him.

"It's my first time meeting him," Saimon said, "but he certainly seems like a pleasant man."

"You'd hardly believe he's a yakuza, right?" Yohei said. "But he's no fuckin' joke when he's angry. For real."

"It sounds like you speak from experience," Saimon said. "Did you get told off a lot?"

"... shut it."

Saimon laughed, but then said, "But even so. It makes me want to listen to him, too. We've got to make sure we book bigger events."

By Saimon's reckoning, it was a good thing that there were people who spared concern for Yohei taking a new path and coming by to congratulate him on his successes. Once more, Saimon was struck by the thought that he had made the right decision taking up hip hop and starting to do music with Yohei.

"... anyway, Saimon. The old man came by and it kind of derailed me, but I actually came here to talk about one of our new songs. I figured the crowds have died down so it's alright, yeah?"

"Indeed. ... you want to work on punching up our third song, I'm sure?"

"Yeah. I think it's gonna be a bit of a challenge, but once we find a footing, I'm sure it's gonna be worth the effort," Yohei said. "... I know that we've kind of been building up XXXX's style with the past couple songs, but we've got to keep pushing it even further, or--"

"Or we won't ever surpass Buraikan and reach the entire world, right?" Saimon interjected.

"Are you making fun of me?" Yohei said.

"Of course I'm not. That's the goal, right? To be the Shura and Yasha of a new era," Saimon said.

"That's what I'm talkin' about!" Yohei said with a grin, and he fished some notes out of his pocket. He had written down some vague ideas for the track that he wanted to convey, and a big part of XXXX's songwriting process was Saimon taking these scattered thoughts and helping to verbalize them logically.

But, that was where this meeting was cut short.

"Ah, but... can we do this a bit later?" Saimon said. "I have to run out to that teahouse that serves fruit."

"That late-night place?" Yohei said.

"That's the one," Saimon said. "I had been having trouble finding good-quality lemons[6], so they helped me out and let me look around. I was planning to go give them my thanks after closing up the shop."

"S'fine. Courtesy is important... or whatever the old man used to say," Yohei said.

"Thank you. Please drink this while you wait," Saimon said, placing a tall glass of a dark-brown carbonated drink in front of Yohei. There was the faint scent of lime, but not of alcohol.

"Isn't this just a fucking Coke?"

"I'm still not going to serve you alcohol until you turn 20," Saimon said. Then, he put on his jacket and took his leave.

Yohei picked up the glass and swirled it around. Even if it has to be non-alcoholic, there was no reason to treat him like a kid, he thought, but took a sip anyway.

Once he took a sip, though, he found that it was still a cocktail, albeit still without alcohol; there was something else mixed in with the Coke that cut through its sweetness.

"... what was this called again," Yohei said out loud to himself. "It's not the real thing so there's no point in trying to guess what it is, but it was... Cuba Libre or something like that, right...?"

"It's a Rum and Coke, isn't it?"

Tsubaki emerged from the back of the store, and Yohei nearly choked on his drink.

"Ah, uh, T-Tsubaki-san, I didn't know you were here."

"Mm," Tsubaki said. "I played a song earlier today, but I wasn't feeling too great, and then it looked like you had a guest coming in, so I was hiding out on the second floor."

"Wasn't feeling too great..." Yohei repeated. "Are you overworking yourself again? You know Saimon's been really worried about you, you gotta get some proper sleep if you're not feeling good."

"Maybe so," Tsubaki said with a faint, slightly troubled smile. Thinking back on this moment, Yohei would remember that he had a faint feeling of discomfort even then. "But that's not the point," she said. "That cocktail you've got, Yohei-kun. I think it's a non-alcoholic rum and coke."

"Is that what it is? I guess that would track, it's sweet enough, but doesn't it kind of defeat the point to make a non-alcoholic version? Like, who's ever heard of a rum and coke without rum?"

"Do you know what a rum and coke means in cocktail language, Yohei?" Tsubaki said.

Much like there are words associated with flowers, cocktails too have certain meanings associated with them, too. Tsubaki taught this to him once.

"... ah."

The meaning of a rum and coke was let's indulge.

"Wait, so-- ah, man, Saimon can be so fucking weird," Yohei lamented.

"You say that, but you don't seem mad about it," Tsubaki said. With a laugh, Tsubaki joined him at the counter. With her this close to him, Yohei couldn't help but feel a bit nervous. Saimon wasn't going far, but he probably wouldn't be back for a little while yet. For a moment, pain twisted deep inside of his chest. It was the pain of trying to punish himself before he even had the chance to get any funny ideas.

Whether she knew the turmoil going on inside of Yohei's heart or not, Tsubaki began to talk about Saimon.

"I'm glad you're here, Yohei-kun. If it were just me alone here, I don't think I'd have been able to light a fire underneath Naoakira like that."

"Not at all. It's really all thanks to you, Tsubaki-san," Yohei said.


"Yeah," Yohei said. "You told me that my sound was something special. You were the first person who acknowledged my talent. Without that I never would have been able to ask Saimon to make music. And besides that..."

He paused for a little bit before continuing, but he felt like it was now or never, so he forged ahead. "... do you remember what I said back when we saw Buraikan? I said that that was the first time in my life that just listening to music made me happy. But... that was a lie," he said. "I didn't understand what happiness really was at the time, and I couldn't put it into words right. But I realize now, the truth is..." he said, and trailed off.

"... the truth is?" Tsubaki prompted.

"... the first time it made me happy was when I met you, Tsubaki-san. That day, the sound of your playing piano... that sound I heard on that rainy night saved my life." He couldn't look her in the face as he spoke. He kept his eyes down and tried his hardest to force the words out of his mouth.

Simply trying to express himself made his heart beat louder than the speaker blasting bass at a club, and his blood burned hot as magma as it surged through his body. It was a desperate confession, like it was done at the last minute-- the only kind that Yohei could let himself make.

Tsubaki stared at him catlike for a moment, and then she lowered her eyes and laughed. "Do you not want to play the piano anymore, Yohei-kun?" she said.

"Huh?" Yohei felt as though his heart had been gripped tightly in Tsubaki's hand. At the time, he hadn't played piano in a long time. The last time he played was... at Saimon and Tsubaki's wedding. He had presented a piece of music to them as congratulations. Ever since then, he had kept his distance from the piano, as though bidding goodbye to an immature love.

"Your piano playing was lovely, Yohei. You had a talent for it that he and I never have. I really think you could have been a lovely pianist."

"... thanks," Yohei said. "But right now, the music I make is hip hop with Saimon."

"And I think that's wonderful. But... that doesn't mean you have to leave piano behind. Your piano is your sound, I think." As she spoke, Tsubaki glanced over at the old grand piano that sat in the corner of the bar. The piano was still tuned to perfection, even while Tsubaki wasn't playing music anywhere near as often as she used to. Tsubaki had no doubt whose doing that was.

"You can make music even without the newest equipment," Tsubaki said. "Traditional instruments work just as well, you know, but you don't need handwritten scores, or direct recordings, or samples of my playing. Music can be just as accessible and easy as humming along. I think that the piano would be a great help to you, Yohei-kun. And Naoakira, too."

Tsubaki stood up from her seat at the bar. She crossed the room, pulling out one of the chairs from the floor as she did, and placed it alongside the piano.

"No matter what form it takes, I think music has the power to connect people.So I'm going to need you to take care of Naoakira for me, Yohei-kun."

"'Take care'? What are you--?" Yohei began, but was cut off as Tsubaki took a seat and beckoned to him. After a moment of hesitation, he sat down beside her. He opened the top of the piano for her, and her pale fingers danced along the keys. She played softly, like a whisper. She was playing the song that she had been playing on the day that Yohei had first met her, and it seemed to say: you already know, don't you?

After a moment, Yohei apprehensively reached for the keyboard, and began to play alongside her.

The gentle melody of their piano duet filled the quiet bar. They pressed the keys in a synchronized rhythm, turning from individual notes into a harmonious chord.

It was strange; it was almost like they were communicating with each other through music more deeply than they ever could have through words or physical contact. They shared emotions through the sound that made the air tremble. The boundaries between them faded away; their hearts, laid bare, were connected, and their souls were practically as one.

The day that Saimon and him had formed XXXX, the feeling that he had at that Buraikan performance; this was a feeling equal to that, perhaps even more lovely.

Music connects people to each other. That was Tsubaki's ideal-- her dream -- and it was made real here.

He could sense her feelings through the tempo as she played across the keyboard; as he was given the melody, he handed it back in turn. He followed in her footsteps, unraveling each melody and remaking it as his own. It was effortless, and the sound brought them impossibly close.

Eventually, Tsubaki's performance faded away. as she reached the end of the piece as written on the score. But Yohei didn't stop; he continued to play, improvising from the heart. From that point on, it was simply Yohei's performance, as if Tsubaki had handed off the baton to him to carry that melody along.

As she listened, Tsubaki smiled.

"... your sound is wonderful, as expected."

Yohei didn't respond to Tsubaki's words, so absorbed was he in the sound that he was spinning. The melodies flowed into one another; the color of the sound changed as he played, recombining into ever more new sounds, on and on into eternity. He felt as though he could play without ever stopping; the song could go on forever.

And then, right as the melody reached a climax--

The song ended with a sudden cacophony of discordant noise. It was as though all of the keys had been slammed at once.

"... huh?"

Yohei's stunned sound ushered in the overwhelming silence that followed. He didn't immediately understand what had happened; his mind was in music mode and wasn't processing what he was seeing in front of his face.

Tsubaki had collapsed onto the keys. He couldn't make sense of anything-- it all just bounced off of him, from the silence of the bar to Tsubaki's body that had gone limp, as though the strings holding her up had snapped in two. He didn't register it as the door opened; as Saimon rushed in and ran towards Tsubaki, crying her name, it happened in slow motion and the sound was muffled in Yohei's ears.

He felt as though he had just fallen asleep and wandered into a bad dream.

... if that was the case, he really ought to hurry up and wake up already.

But it wasn't a dream-- or perhaps this was itself waking up, the dawning of a harsh reality. This was the beginning of the end of the dream.


So you've been participating in a clinical trial.

"... uh huh. I'm sorry, Naoakira. I've caused you and Yohei a lot of trouble..."

What? You've done nothing of the sort. You haven't done anything like that.

... but... why a clinical trial for phantometal? I hadn't realized you had anything to do with that...

"... dreams. I thought, maybe, I could finally see them..."

... dreams?

"Phantometal... phantom lives.... it all felt like the possibility was there... for music to connect... people to one another..."

Your dream is a wonderful one. But you can take a bit of a break for now. Don't worry. You don't have to rush to pursue your dreams, you know?

"... Naoakira... I'm sorry... I'm so sorry..."

It's okay. You don't have to apologize to me, Tsubaki. Save your voice. Get some rest, and soon you'll be back to normal. Then we'll be able to talk about music again, as much as you want.

You can do that, right? Let's just keep calm and work on getting better, alright?

Once you get discharged from the hospital, let's go on a trip. We can rent a cottage in the mountains or something like that, where the air is clean, and we can get immersed in the sound of nature. We'll have to make sure there's a piano wherever we stay. We can use the sound of the leaves as our percussion to keep time. And I'll make cocktails every evening. We can toast while watching the moon. And then, we can... we can...


If you just get a little rest, I'm sure everything will go back to normal.

"I'm so sorry..."

Hey, you don't have to apologize! Everything's going to be okay! Metal erosion? Terminal illness? Not a problem at all. Who's ever heard of something like that, you know? They've just made some kind of mistake. Tsubaki, you're...



If they say there's nothing they can do, they must just be lying.


That's right, Tsubaki. Yohei is working on an amazing song. It's not polished yet, but I'm sure that when he's finished with it, it's going to be amazing. I'm sure it'll be good enough to get attention overseas. I have no doubt, it's going to capture hearts the world over.

Tsubaki, he became my Yasha, just as he promised he was going to. I made it here. I finally reached the point where the thing I wanted is finally within reach. We can go together. I'll show you the point where Yohei and my dreams are connected...

"Yo...hei... kun..."

Yes, that's right! Yohei! You remember Yohei, right? The person who led us down the path to our dreams. He's worried about you, too, Tsubaki. That's why--

Look at me, Tsubaki.

Smile for me, Tsubaki.

We're going to do it. We're going to be the next Yasha and Shura... we're going to be the next Buraikan.





"... who was that, again...?"


It was a clear, sunny day without a single cloud in the sky.

Close to the hospital, there was a little river; a cold, wet wind blew over the surface of the water and across the bridge that stretched across it. Leaning against the partition, Yohei watched the water flow past.

It had been one week since Tsubaki collapsed.

At first, it had been a complete surprise. When Yohei and Saimon arrived at the hospital, they told them that it was just simple anemia; but anemia alone wouldn't explain some of her symptoms. Tsubaki would have to be hospitalized to recover from the fatigue and to monitor her. This felt like the right thing to do; the hospital was large, and funded well by Alter Trigger.

Even so, a week can be a very long time to wait.

Anxiety was starting to well up inside of Yohei's heart, but he knew he had to not show it.

At first, he went to visit Tsubaki extremely frequently, but she scolded him for coming too often. "Don't be such a worrywart," she had said, laying in the hospital bed. "Just focus on what you have to do for yourself." Certainly, he thought, once she was discharged, she would tell him off if he kept looking dejected.

That's why today, while Saimon had gone to the hospital, he was waiting outside. Saimon was deeply worried about Tsubaki. No surprises there. They were a married couple, after all. Yohei had no intention of interrupting their time together, and so he hadn't gone along. Instead, he planned to try to cheer Saimon up when he returned.

"Yo, Saimon," Yohei said, raising his hand in greeting as he saw Saimon departing the hospital and walking towards him. Saimon raised his head slowly, as if he registered only on delay that he was being addressed.

"... ah, Yohei. My apologies, I'm sorry for making you wait," Saimon said.

"Nah, s'fine," Yohei said dismissively. "How's Tsubaki-san doing?"

"She's been pushing herself too hard, so she's not regaining her strength very well... but I'm sure she'll be discharged soon. Your concern is appreciated," Saimon said.

Yohei couldn't help but notice that Saimon's answer, for as hopeful as it was, was still very vague. "... Saimon, it looks like you're really tired, too. I know you're worried and all, but don't you go collapsing on me too, alright?"

"Is that so?" Saimon said. "I hadn't noticed..."

No surprises there either, Yohei thought. Saimon had been spending all his time at Tsubaki's side. If he overexerted himself and collapsed, he would probably just blame himself for his weakness. That was just the kind of person Saimon was. ... at least, that was how Yohei thought at the time. That was why he had decided he was going to try to raise Saimon's spirits.

"Hey, Saimon. I've got something I wanna show you. I'm sure it'll take your mind off of all of that," he said.

"Something to show me?" Saimon said. "Did something happen?"

"Wanna take a guess?" Yohei said, pulling an envelope out of his pocket with a bit of a flourish. Saimon immediately recognized what it was; an identical envelope had come to him in the mail as well. He reacted to this recognition with surprise, but Yohei misread his expression.

"It's an invitation from overseas!" Yohei announced, his voice practically bubbling over with excitement. "You remember that festival in America? The one that Buraikan played at before they disbanded? It seemed like the organizers heard our music, and they were interested in having us performing at the next one!"

Saimon was struck speechless. He was completely bowled over-- to think that an invitation to fulfill his dream would arrive with such timing.

"... hey, Saimon?" Yohei said apprehensively.

Standing right in front of Saimon was his partner, holding out the passport to the dream they had been chasing. All he had to do was reach out and take it, just like he had before, when he had told him that he would become Saimon's Yasha. It was just like in the past, when Yohei had asked him to become his partner.

But things had changed far too much for him to take that hand so easily again. It wasn't the same.

Why now? Why did this opportunity have to strike now? Why?

Why when Tsubaki was...?

Saimon cursed. He cursed fate, every bit of luck both good and bad that had culminated in that moment. What should have been a moment of joy, overwhelming excitement at a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, had turned to ash in his mouth and sent pain surging through his broken heart.

"Hey, what's gotten into you?" Yohei said. "Isn't this great? If we go ahead and take this chance, then our name'll be everywhere. Even from here, Tsubaki-san will be able to keep up with--"

"I'm sorry," Saimon cut him off; the words came out automatically, before he could stop himself. The apology came out before he registered that he was saying it, and once it was out, he knew that it was decisive, that the circumstances had changed far too much.

"I... I can't do this right now."

These words were the sound of Saimon's heart breaking.


The only sound was the murmuring flow of the river. Yohei stood alone on the bridge once more, watching the water flow by him. He had no idea how long he had been standing there-- how long it had been since Saimon had left him alone here.

There were countless questions rushing through his head.

What had happened to Saimon? Was the passion that he had felt that day gone now? Or... was Tsubaki not doing as well as Saimon was pretending she was? What had gone wrong?

No matter the reason, the reality wouldn't change. Saimon had left. Their dream was dead.

The cold, wet wind blew straight through his hollow, empty chest.

He had nothing to say. There was no reason for him to stay here now, but he couldn't seem to move. He stared at the river, tracing its path as it twisted away into the distance. Eventually, the river would reach the ocean, and from there, it would spread across the world. But as for his and Saimon's dreams...

"... hey. What happened to us, partner?" The words came out of Yohei's mouth of their own accord. "Is our dream really over? Is our sound really gone?" The words spilled out. He couldn't stop them. Before long, he couldn't hear the murmur of the river; he could only hear the piano notes that echoed around inside his head, in his memories. The song that Tsubaki had given him had been echoing inside his head for a long, long time.

"Hey, partner. Do you remember that day? We thought the entire world was in our grasp."

The words came out in a natural rhythm; before he knew it, he could swear he could hear distant piano notes hiding underneath the rustling of the trees, echoing far away.

"Hey, partner. What the hell am I supposed to do? Where did things go wrong?"

It didn't rhyme. It didn't resonate at all. It was just words spilling out of his heart, spreading out like ripples on a pond. Though he wasn't aware of what he was doing as he talked to himself, it was like a poetry reading-- it was almost like a form of rapping. Instead of rapping on the beat, he was simply reading out the lines over the music in his head.

"Hey, partner. Give me an answer. In the silent city where it doesn't rain... it's gotten so damn cold."

Yohei just had to face the feelings inside of himself, the sadness, the faint sound of piano ringing in his head. Maybe he was just talking to himself, trying to find some comfort in it by making some kind of pathetic noise. But hip hop isn't just about being a badass; it can come from sorrow, too.

And then--

"Hey, big brother[7], are you crying?"

The sound of a child's voice dragged Yohei back to reality. He hadn't realized when it had happened, but there was a child standing beside him on the bridge.

It was a young boy, dressed in the gown of a hospital patient. His body was pale and thin, and his shaggy hair was growing out of control in every direction. Where on earth had he come from? Had he escaped from the hospital that Tsubaki was staying in? Yohei had a dozen questions that sprang to mind immediately, but before anything else, he wiped the tears out of his eyes.

"What do you want, kid? Where'd you come from?"

"Far away. A place really far away from here," the kid said. Yohei glanced down and noticed that the boy's shoes were beaten up and ragged. "Far, far away. I'm trying to find somebody."

"You lose your friend or something?" Yohei said.

"... frand?" the boy said, repeating the word 'friend' with a curious, faltering pronunciation, as though this was the first time he had ever heard the word. It was immediately obvious that this boy had some kind of special circumstances, perhaps that had kept him sheltered and isolated from the rest of the world.

"No, it's not that," the boy said. "I'm looking for my big brother."

"'Big brother'. Ain't that me?"

"Hmm. Well, not really," the boy said. "I'm lookin' for a different big brother. My caretaker big brother. The real nice one. We were together at the facility, but then he disappeared off somewhere."

Once he heard the word 'facility', Yohei had a decent idea what this kid's deal was. The way he saw it, he was probably housed in some shithole institution, and this "caretaker big brother" was probably an older kid who had been nice to him before he had up and vanished. Now this kid had escaped on his own to come look for him. Yohei was making a lot of assumptions, but he figured it was probably something along those lines. He felt like he understood this kid's circumstances, because he'd been there himself.

"Got it," Yohei said. "So you live in a facility. Does it suck living there?"

"Yeah. Everyone does stuff to me that I don't like them doing. But my caretaker big brother was nice to me. I was sad when he went missing, so I came to find him," the boy said.

"... then it sounds like you gotta go find mister caretaker big brother, doesn't it?" Yohei said. "You ain't got time to stand around talking to me." If the circumstances were different, perhaps he would have dug a little deeper into this boy's strange circumstances; but the circumstances weren't different. He deliberately chose words to try and nudge the boy to leave him alone so he could wallow in his self-loathing.

But then the boy said something that caught Yohei's attention.

"But I heard someone singing."

"Singing?" Yohei said.

"Yeah. That was you, right? You were singing, big brother, right?" the boy said.

"... was I?"


Yohei hadn't realized it until the boy said something about him-- that the words had been spilling out of him, that he had been rapping. Even now, even as disappointed and dejected as he was, he couldn't simply let go of rap, even if Saimon wasn't going to be there doing it beside him.

"And, more than that, I heard piano, too," the boy said, much to Yohei's surprise.

"... piano, huh?" Yohei said.

"Uh huh. That really pretty sound-- that's piano, right? Caretaker big brother used to let me listen to the piano. And it's real weird. While you were singing just now, I could hear a bit of piano playing, too."

Yohei was struck dumb.

"... big brother?" the boy said. "... big brother, are you crying? Are you hurt?"

Indeed, Yohei's chest hurt. He couldn't stop the heat from welling up behind his eyes. His heart was overflowing with emotion, and it spilled out as tears that streaked down his cheeks. He couldn't ignore it anymore. That music was continuing to echo inside of him now, like it had been doing this entire time. Even if Saimon left, even though the road to his dream had reached a sudden dead end-- that sound that echoed once continued to echo still, it would never disappear entirely from inside of him.

"Hey, are you okay?" the boy said, looking at Yohei with a concerned expression. The next moment, though, he flipped like a switch. "Oh! It's big brother!" he exclaimed, rushing past Yohei. Yohei's eyes followed him as he ran. Looking out from behind his tears, he could see a young adult man dressed in a long white coat.

The man looked surprised to see the boy; the boy, with his hands trembling a little bit, hugged the man tightly. Presumably, this was mister "caretaker older brother".

It certainly seemed like one-in-a-million odds.

The young boy, who seemed totally oblivious to the world around him, was running around dressed like a hospital patient, looking for somebody without a single idea of how to find what he was looking for-- and yet, by chance, he was able to find the "big brother" that he had been looking for here on this bridge. Maybe if Yohei hadn't been here, if his inadvertent song hadn't drawn the boy to him, this wouldn't have happened.

When the man noticed Yohei, he contemplated for a moment, and then bowed his head without a word. The boy also waved to Yohei.

"What're you gonna do now, kid?" Yohei said.

"Hmm... I think someone is probably going to come to get me. But I'll stay with my big brother until then."

... Yohei could tell, between the boy's words and the expression on the man's face, that the boy was probably going to be returned to the facility he had escaped from. Miraculous as this meeting was, it was only temporary, like a shooting star or a sparkler. Even so, the boy seemed to have found the connection that he had been looking for, thanks to Yohei's song and the sound of piano.

"... the fuck? Guess she was right after all."

Yohei laughed and he lifted his tear-streaked face. He started to walk away, but as he did, the boy called out to his back.

"... thank you, piano big brother!" he said. "Do you think I'll see you again sometime?"

Yohei kept walking with the boy's voice at his back, and then he tossed a vague wave over his shoulder. He didn't hesitate. "Yeah. We'll meet up again, long as I keep playing music." He was sure of it. "Music connects people to each other."


In the hospital room, piano music was playing.

When Saimon had asked if there was anything that Tsubaki wanted, she had replied that she wanted to listen to music. When he had asked if it would be alright to use a music player in the hospital room, the doctor had conceded, saying that because it was a private room, it would be alright. The fact that they seemed to be affording them special treatment troubled Saimon.

They sat alone together in the hospital room, illuminated by the light of the setting sun. The slow, soothing piano music echoed off of the walls, dyed a rusty red by the sunset. Saimon sat slumped in a chair beside Tsubaki, who was lying peacefully in bed.

Time passed in 4/4. One quarter note to a beat, four beats to a measure, one bar at a time, his time with Tsubaki passed by.

Tsubaki's arm, with slender pale fingers that had been born to play piano, was hooked up by needle to an IV to give her a constant stream of a sedative drug.

"... I have no regrets," Tsubaki said quietly, her lips moving behind the ventilator. Compared to how she had been the day before, her condition was much more stable, and she spoke clearly. It could have been a sign that she would pull through and make a recovery; but the discoloration on her skin where she was hooked up to the support made it difficult to keep up the illusion that things would be alright. She was being given huge quantities of the drugs; that was the only reason she was so lucid now.

Every so often, a doctor would come into the room. They would tweak the equipment that Tsubaki was hooked up to, and then they would jot down some figures with great enthusiasm. They would blithely remark that Tsubaki was not going to survive, and would then casually say to take it easy as they took their leave. It was clear that they were more interested in the data that this opportunity provided rather than in their patient's life, and it made Saimon feel like he was going insane.

But even so, Tsubaki said, "I have no regrets."

"Music... connects people to each other. I think... the metal... has that power too. I think... the research... was probably useful..."

It was true that every year, phantom lives were getting more and more impressive. This was, doubtlessly, due in part to the research that Tsubaki had contributed to. Moreover, the data that they were gathering in the hospital right now would surely be used to better treat and control metal erosion in the future. It would all go to the furtherment of phantom lives and the ability for music to connect with one another.

... but why did this have to be the toll it took? What good was it if this was what it meant?

The sound of the piano felt like it was piercing Saimon's ears; the gentle melody was like sandpaper on every last one of his nerves.

The music that Tsubaki loved would not save her life. The research that she had given so much of herself to would not save her life.

"... you know what's kind of sad?" Tsubaki said. "I feel like my memories are fading away a bit at a time."

Saimon couldn't say anything. He was afraid that if he opened his mouth he would simply begin to cry. But he felt, somehow, like he already knew what Tsubaki was going to say before she said it.

"The first time we met... our first date... our wedding... little by little, just a bit at a time, I feel like it's spilling out of my mind..." Tsubaki said. "I can't... I can't even remember the name of the boy who played piano for me."

Saimon couldn't let Yohei see her like this. Not after Saimon so cruelly, one-sidedly put an end to his dream. Up until the very end, he had to be the one to end things himself-- that was how it felt.

"So... I'm sorry... for being selfish..." Tsubaki said.

"It's alright, Tsubaki. I understand."

Just as he thought he would, the moment he opened his mouth, he had already begun to cry. His voice trembled and was thick with tears as he tightly gripped Tsubaki's hand and said her name.

The thick needle embedded in her arm dug in painfully, but Tsubaki smiled and furrowed her brow.

Gently, so that she could speak clearly, Saimon pulled Tsubaki's respirator away from her face, just as though he were lifting her veil away from her face on their wedding day.[8]

Tsubaki's lips were pale blue, and her words melted into the sound of the piano.

"... I don't want to lose the thing that's most important to me."

Saimon understood that this was her dying wish-- that it would be too sad for her to lose her last memories.

This was the least he could do for her.

"... thank you, Naoakira."

Her lips were cold.

"... I'm going to play piano again, you know..."

"... yeah, you are," Saimon whispered. "... good night, Tsubaki."

Gently, as though pressing down a piano key, Saimon turned off the life support system.

And with it, he turned off everything.

His passion, his love, his friendship, his dreams. Everything turned off. There was nothing left.

When he told Yohei that Tsubaki had passed, he announced that XXXX was dissolved permanently.

This was to be his final decision.


In no time at all, two years passed by.

Sure enough, it had been raining that night, too.

The sound of the rain choked out everything else, dimming the light that poured out of buildings and drowning out the human voices. It was a night as quiet and still as a funeral, and walking around in it felt like some kind of grave sin.

Saimon walked alone on the wet asphalt road.

Ever since Tsubaki's death, ever since the end of XXXX, Saimon had walked alone.

He had devoted himself entirely to his linguistics studies. He turned away from music, and turned his back on Bar 4/7. Linguistics was the only thing he had left without her. He gained a reputation for being one of the most brilliant students at his institution. He didn't care about anything but his academics. His single minded focus on made people believe that he was simply wholeheartedly devoted to his research and praised him for standing out above the crowd, even as he fell into a haze of alcohol.

He got his doctorate degree and was well on track to complete his graduate studies. His colleagues congratulated on his accomplishment, calling him the pride of the institution and holding a banquet in his honor. He had drunk every bit of alcohol that was put in front of him. He drank himself sick while they praised him. There he was. Dr. Saimon, pride of the institution.

No matter how many adulations he received, none of it meant anything. It wasn't what he wanted, but it was the only thing he had left.

He had been spending almost every day drunk anyway, but today, he had been drinking especially heavily. His head throbbed, and every beat of his heart surged with pain. He walked without a goal, not knowing where he was going. He didn't care where he ended up. There was no place he wanted to be. He just wanted to let the rain wash him away.

But strangely enough, whether he realized it or not, his feet beat a familiar path.

"... ah, look at me now..." Saimon laughed bitterly to himself, his hair wet and hanging in his face. If he followed this street, he would end up at the familiar door of Bar 4/7. What would be the point of going back now? He had run it together with Tsubaki. There was no chance at all that it still existed after he had run away and abandoned it.

But he supposed that was alright.

He could go see where it used to be, to really make sure that there was nothing left. Or to see that it was still there even so. He wanted to see everything he had let go of, that he couldn't protect, was still there-- or that everything was really and truly gone. He wanted both things, and while he was caught up in these thoughts--


He could swear that he heard another sound, softly, mixing in with the rain. He strained his ears.

He couldn't quite place it, but it seemed somehow nostalgic.

After a moment, Saimon realized what it was, and his eyes flew open.

It was the sound of a piano. He took off at a sprint through the rain.

As he tore down the road, he could hear it more and more clearly. He ran as though the melody was pulling him forward, forcing him to run-- he had no choice.

It was the sound of Tsubaki's piano.

There was no way.

But there it was. The bar was still there. Bar 4/7, which he was certain would be gone, was still standing, unchanged as it ever was.

Was he dreaming? Was the cold rain making him sick, making him hallucinate?

Shivering, he placed a hand against the heavy door of the bar, and put his weight against it to push it open. And there, inside, was--

"... Tsubaki?"

For a moment, he almost believed it. Someone was sitting on the piano bench in the corner of the bar, playing piano, their fingers dancing delicately across the keys. The sound was so very familiar.

Saimon blinked, and Tsubaki was gone. Of course. The person playing piano was not the woman who he had so loved, and who he had lost.


"... took you long enough, partner."

There sat his dear partner whom he had abandoned.

"... Yohei, why are... why is this place..." he began several sentences and finished none of them.

"Why do you think, dumbfuck?" Yohei said.

Nothing was truly over. He wasn't finished yet. Bar 4/7 was still there. His partner had been waiting for him.

And then, Yohei continued. "Music connects people to each other, you know."

He sounded a lot like Tsubaki, after all this time.

Saimon had no words. He couldn't see through his tears. He reached out and took Yohei's hand. Somewhere deep in Saimon's heart, he heard Tsubaki's words.

I'm going to play piano again, you know.

"You kept your promise," Saimon whispered.

"You say something?" Yohei said.

"No," said Saimon. "Nothing."

From that moment on, the music echoed once more in Saimon's heart.


That resonance continued straight through the end of the Paradox Live.

The day that Yohei picked up the pieces of the music that Saimon cast aside, and he continued to hold it dear. It's all thanks to that that Bar 4/7 was still standing.

"Thank you, Yohei," Saimon said.

"What's that for, out of nowhere?" Yohei said.

Saimon hummed. "The sound of the rain in the bar just made me want to say it."

"... mmm. I get that," Yohei said.

Before long, they heard the sound of footsteps cutting through the rain. Shiki entered the bar, looking like a drowned rat; Saimon laughed, and Kanbayashi greeted him with a grunt.

"I'm sorry I'm so late..." Shiki said.

"Ahah, it's alright," Saimon said. "We haven't had any customers yet on account of the rain. Come in here and dry off. You wouldn't want to catch a cold."

After a long stretch of quiet, the bar became lively once more.

"Huh?" Shiki said as Yohei handed him a towel. "Did Ryu-kun fall asleep there...?"

"Huh? Huh. Looks like he did. Must've gotten bored. Pain in the fuckin' ass," Yohei grumbled, and went to grab a blanket from the rooms upstairs to drape over Ryu. "Once he falls asleep, he's out like the dead for the next couple days."

"But it looks like he's comfortable..." Shiki said.

"I wonder if he's having a nice dream?" Saimon mused.

"Who knows what kind of weird-ass dreams this guy has?" Yohei said.

"One time I heard him yelling something about Mecha Shiki Attack in his sleep..." Shiki said.

This laid-back conversation floated around as they watched Ryu's sleeping face; everyone couldn't help but think that he looked very peaceful.

Peaceful as it was, though, Ryu was indeed dreaming. He wasn't sure if it was his own memory, or when or where or even if it had really happened, but it was a very vivid vision that came to him in his dream.

He was in an institution full of pain and suffering. Only one person had ever been nice to him, and one day, that person disappeared. He set out on an expedition, escaping from the facility and going on a mission to find that kind person. When he had gotten worn out and tired, he stumbled upon a sad and lonely river, and on a bridge, he encountered a sad and lonely man who was singing a sad and lonely song. But the man had been very kind to him.

Then, one thing happened, and then another thing happened, and then a third thing happened, and things got all scrambled up, and then a very nice man with glasses picked him up! And then he met a man that he had met before, and then they got Shiki--

Like an old television flipping randomly through channels, Ryu dreamed on. He didn't know how much of it was dreams and how much of it was memory.

But in all his dreams, there was one thing he was certain of.

"... music connects people to each other."

Ryu spoke in his sleep, and all three of them -- Saimon, Yohei, and Shiki -- expressed their surprise. They exchanged looks with each other. After a brief pause, they began to laugh.

The rain fell softly, bringing down memories with its gentle rhythm, just like the soft sound of piano still playing somewhere in the distance, even now.

[1] "Tsubaki" as her name is written the same as "camellia", so any time they talk about a camellia, it metaphorically refers to Tsubaki.
[2] Yes, this is embellished a little; the original conversation is just about calling it "mixed juice", where 'juice' is kind of used as a catch-all for soft (non-alcoholic) drinks in Japanese. We don't really say that in English, and I think this does a better job of conveying the humor (of how they're making Yohei sound like a child). But also I just saw the chance to make this joke and took it.
[3] Presumably Schumann's Kinderszenen, Op. 15, movement 7 (Träumerei).
[4] As in a jam session, as in jazz
[5] Lit. "Cherry blossoms from the same season", so like, the same age but also similar beyond that
[6] For absolutely no reason, I am going to link Kotaro Takamura's "Lemon Elegy" as supplemental reading.
[7] You can call strangers "niisan" in Japanese in a way you would not call strangers "big brother" in English. I don't really like leaving this as it is -- I think Ryu calling him "mister" makes more sense in English -- but because Yohei misunderstands who he's looking for, I'm leaving it as it is. Forgive me, localization police.
[8] i don't have any TL notes here, this line is just hands down the most fucked up thing any of these franchises has ever made me read let alone translate