Somehow, I'm a lot more motivated as we approach the end of the volume. 17's already done and just waiting for the edits.
In the end, I had to borrow Tomo's shoulders just to walk back to the preparation room. On the other hand, Chiaki and Senpai, despite being all wobbly, both managed to make their way back with just the assistance of the walls. That's really pathetic of me.
We flowed past the door and into the room like a pot of melted soup. The staff and the other performers congratulated us on our performance, but I couldn't quite catch what they were saying. I looked at the clock while in a hazy state of mind.
"...... I guess it's already too late."
Mumbled Chiaki. Her face was flushed and covered with sweat.
I grabbed my windbreaker and raincoat and stood up. Surprisingly, Kagurazaka-senpai already had her coat on and was preparing to leave the room.
"Oh my, you're coming along too?"
I squeezed the MD in my pocket hard. I had recorded everything directly from the effects unit via a cable and burned it onto that disc.
However, I knew I had done everything in vain, as there was no way we could make it to the airport in just thirty minutes. But even so, there's no way I'm just going to stay put and wait.
"I'm different from young man though. I don't do silly and pointless things. But I am going."
"Senpai? Why are you accompanying that idiot—"
Chiaki ran towards Senpai only to have her forehead prodded by her.
"Because it might not be too late. Are you coming along as well, Comrade Aihara?"
It's still not too late? What should we do? I walked out of the room together with Senpai, and just as I was about to ask her what she meant by that—
"Naomi! Naomi! Hey!"
A small golden streak came rushing towards us from the entrance of the stairs. Yuri managed to stop just in time, right as he was about to crash into me. He bent his body over and panted for a while before lifting his head and saying,
"W-We might...... still have...... time! You must head to the airport now!"
"W-Why?" Where did he even go?
"Is the flight delayed? Are they waiting to see how things will turn out?"
Senpai interrupted us with her questions, and I finally understood what was going on.
It was the snow. The snow might've delayed the flight. How could I forget that that was a possibility?
"From the announcements I heard, you may be able to make it in time. But if the snowing stops......"
Senpai began sprinting before Yuri had even finished his sentence; and Chiaki overtook me in an instant, as I was running slowly because my knees were trembling from the fatigue. Then, for some unknown reason, Yuri followed us as well. The four of us ran up the stairs and into the elevator.
"W-Wait, urm......" Yuri stopped briefly to catch his breath before he continued. "The trains have halted their services, and there's currently a huge traffic jam on the highway!"
"W-What should we do then? We were finally given a ray of hope!"
Chiaki grimaced as she spat out those words and hammered her legs hard in frustration. As my burning body gradually cooled down, a dark-blue despair started to take the place of the heat. I fished my phone out to check the traffic news; and just as Yuri had said, the trains to the airport had been halted due to the snow. What about the cabs then? No wait, can we even get one? And most of the roads are probably jammed with traffic because of the heavy snow anyway. Are there any alternative ways to get to the airport? Even if it means walking—
The elevator then stopped, and we were thrown into the spacious lobby. I finally took back control of my muscles from the chilling cold and began running, taking no notice of what Yuri was saying behind me. It was still snowing outside the entrance, but the snow was being shielded from the inside of the building by the glass walls. The trees along the sidewalk were covered in a thick layer of white, and the cars on the road were also buried in snow, not moving an inch—they looked like sushi on a conveyor belt.
I walked past the glass doors and made my way outside, only to be welcomed by the bone-chilling winds mixed with the fine snow. Immediately after, I saw something flying towards me from my left, so I caught it on reflex. Pain expanded outwards from the middle of my palms.
It was a full-face helmet.
I looked at the roaring bike parked along the side of the road, and the scruffy-looking guy in overalls standing beside it, in disbelief.
"...... What, so it's Nao huh. I would've preferred a female passenger instead."
Said Tetsurou nonchalantly, as he got on the bike and put on his helmet. Sounds of footsteps were approaching me from behind. It was Senpai and the rest of the gang.
"Get your ass over here, my silly son. And button up your coat, or it'll be dangerous when you're riding pillion. And put on the gloves too. I have no intention of driving safely, so you better be prepared."
I was stunned in place, so Chiaki gave me a hard slap on my back.
"Get going, stupid Nao!"
"I'll try to catch up with you guys. But if you make it in time, remember to tell Comrade Ebisawa this: you'll be cheating on her brazenly if she doesn't come back."
"Naomi, b-be careful."
"No worries. If we get into an accident, we'll be moving on to the other world together, hand in hand as father and son. We won't be lonely."
"Don't say something as ominous as that!" I was close to throwing my helmet at him.
"Oh—great, everything must be okay if you're feeling well enough to retort me. Now get on!"
I wasn't even sure if I could convert all my feelings into words, but they were about to turn into a jumbled mess and be forced out of my mouth. So I suppressed those emotions of mine and put on the helmet and sat in the backseat. I circled my arms around Tetsurou's surprisingly broad back, and in the next second, my body was pressed downwards. I was almost thrown off the bike, so I put more strength into my arms as they were about to tear apart.
And then, all I could see was snow streaking past me.
The roads were still pretty jammed even after we made our way past the city center. After taking a quick shortcut, Tetsurou did exactly what he had said he would do, and picked up speed without hesitation. I was a little frightened when I saw the large amount of snow accumulating on the back tire.
When we stopped at the traffic light, Tetsurou told me,
"Move your knees about and flex your fingers a little when we stop. It'd be incredibly stupid if you couldn't run once we reached the airport."
I moved them as he instructed, and they groaned in response. I couldn't help but wonder—would I even notice if my arms fell off my shoulders due to frostbite? I never thought riding pillion in the snow would be so hellish.
The houses around us decreased in number as we moved onto the highway, and the LED signboards showed that no roads were closed off. It had stopped snowing.
"It's great that the snow has stopped, but the plane may be flying anytime soon."
Mumbled Tetsurou, as we shot past the interchange. I didn't bother checking the time despite us passing several petrol kiosks and stations. It was already way past the scheduled flight time, so the only thing I could do was tightly hug Tetsurou's back and pray.
As we moved into another interchange, I could see lines of cars in front of us. As Tetsurou weaved through the cars without hesitation, the traffic jam seemed to be slowly letting up. When we passed the first toll booth, the snow that was falling from the sky was much thinner than the snow being stirred up from the roads. But surprisingly, the temperature was actually dropping. It felt like my skin was being sliced apart by a rusty blade, and the area beneath my elbows and my knees was completely numb and devoid of feeling. Tetsurou's suggestion didn't help at all, but I was in no position to complain. The pain Tetsurou was feeling should've been a hundred times greater than mine.
I suddenly thought of something as I was being exposed to the bone-chilling winds and snow.
I knew it was dangerous, but I shouted anyway.
"What? Don't shout into my ears! You're too loud!"
"W-Why did you ride your bike to the venue?"
To send Yuri there, of course. That much I know. But.
I saw something when I was checking the news about the traffic with my cellphone—the train from my house to the mall was running normally.
Meaning—Tetsurou had planned to send me to the airport right from the very beginning?
"Listen to me, Nao!"
I could hardly hear what Tetsurou was yelling because the wind was blowing in his face and his helmet was in the way.
"I don't think you can hear me that clearly, but I'm gonna say something really great right now. Probably the number one thing a father shouldn't say to his son! Don't become like me!"
That "great" statement was the only sentence I heard in full clarity. I pressed my helmet against Tetsurou's back and put more strength into my arms.
"You see! In the end, I wasn't able to hold on to the woman I loved. You inherited that useless personality of yours from me, and I'm sorry for that! But there's nothing you can do about that because you can't choose your parents! But you still have time! I'll definitely make it in time!"
Thanks to my helmet, I couldn't wipe my tears away, or allow them to be blown away by the wind.
The soundproof walls that covered the road like a tube suddenly disappeared, and on the other side, was a breathtaking, pure-white building. A roaring sound then zoomed past my head, but because the sky was being obscured by the snow, I could only make out the outline of the jet.
It was the airport.
But my line of sight was blocked off by the soundproof walls again, so I could only see the control tower and the looming figure of the airport terminal. The snow had already stopped. The planes are starting to take off!
A blue sign then streaked past my head. Tetsurou had changed lanes to enter a downwards-sloping ramp that led to the entrance of the airport. I heard another roar coming from the airplanes as we passed the toll booth. Has her flight taken off already? Calm down, I have to go confirm it first.
Tetsurou stopped the bike south of the airport terminal where the cars were all stuck and dropped me off. I rolled off the backseat of the bike and removed the gloves from my hands using my mouth, then fished out my cellphone. Yuri had mailed me a simple message containing the details of Mafuyu's flight, as well as an update of the current situation. The flight was still delayed as they were still ploughing the snow off the runway. There's still time.
I began to run. The passengers that were forced to remain in the airport because of the delays, along with the luggage they were carrying, were clogging up the entrance to the terminal. The warm air from indoors made my skin itch; and it felt like I was hobbling on my knees, but I couldn't feel any pain. Announcements saying "We're very sorry for the delays" were repeatedly playing over the speakers, but, at the same time, details about how long certain flights would be delayed and when they would be taking off were also being relayed. I could feel my spine gradually freezing. Where are the international flights? Customs and the checkpoints were located on the third floor, but there was no way I could get past those to see Mafuyu if Mafuyu was already done checking in her luggage. I squeezed into the elevator packed with luggage and travelers in thick winter clothing and waited as the elevator moved up the narrow shaft. I heard the announcement just then. "Passengers of Continental Airlines flight number 6331 heading for Los Angeles, please board your flight now." I took my cellphone out with my trembling hands to double check. It was the flight Mafuyu was taking. I almost collapsed in desperation when I saw the ocean of passengers on the third floor. The crowd had squeezed into each and every check-in counter at customs, but even that was incomparable to the swarm of people at the secondary security checkpoint. I fell into a daze, and began pushing the crowd aside as I made my way forward. How the hell am I supposed to find Mafuyu in this crowd? What if she's on the airplane already?
I squeezed past the crowd and made my way to the front of the counters. Despite the fact that the travelers and the staff around me were looking at me—a kid with only a raincoat on his body and no luggage—with suspicion, I was completely unaware of their gazes.
My eyes were fixed on the long maroon-coloured hair that had just walked past the security gate. She was about to make her way towards the boarding gates.
A hoarse, dry sound echoed throughout the hall.
Mafuyu turned around, and her sapphire eyes opened wide in surprise. For a brief moment, I could see all sorts of emotions flashing past the surface of that blue ocean.
I stretched my body above the gate and yelled. I then finally noticed Ebichiri, who was standing next to the luggage-pulling Mafuyu. Upon seeing my face, Ebichiri's angry expression was bared for all to see.
He grabbed the hands of his dumbfounded daughter and tried to guide her towards the boarding gates, but Mafuyu's legs wouldn't move. Her mouth remained opened as she tried to speak.
It was like we were tying each other down with our eyes. Ebichiri's expression changed when an announcement was made, and he tried to forcibly pull Mafuyu away.
Said Mafuyu with a stiff voice.
"W-Why...... are you here?"
Can't I be here? My vision was close to blacking out.
"You idiot, why...... couldn't you have come e-earlier......"
Through the corners of my eyes, I could see a few employees in uniform running towards me; and at the same time, Ebichiri was pulling Mafuyu away from the barrier by the arm. She's leaving. It took me so much effort to finally see her, and I finally made it in time; but Mafuyu's about to leave, and there's nothing I can do but watch.
I pulled the MD out of my pocket and began my move. A huge commotion arose among the crowd. Getting restrained by the airport staff; the snow that was left on my arm; the distance between Mafuyu and me—
In an attempt to slice all that apart, I threw it out.
A black light flew past the security gate and the barrier that was separating us, and landed straight in Mafuyu's chest.
I could hear the sound of the world splitting in two.
Mafuyu's hands were reaching out in my direction. She had lost her right hand, gotten it back for a brief moment, but only to lose it once more. The sound of her catching that ray of light with that irreplaceable hand of hers......
The staff at the security gates ran towards Mafuyu while the security guards surrounded me and grabbed me by my wildly thrashing hands. I wanted to push the crowd aside so I could see Mafuyu, or at the very least, I wanted to say something to her. But the security guards were roaring furiously into my ears. I twisted my body, flung my shoulders about, and rammed myself into the wall of people to break myself free.
Ebichiri and the rest of the airport staff protected Mafuyu by blocking off my vision of her. The beige coat was about to hide the long maroon hair away.
"I'll be waiting for you!"
I squeezed out my voice.
"I'll find you if you don't come back! I'll definitely find you!"
The delirious me was pinned to the ground by several pairs of arms, and my world suddenly became washed over with white linoleum. I was then hit hard on the back of my neck by the security guards, who were shouting boorishly.
At long last came the announcement of the flight taking off. The countless numbers of footsteps—footsteps that were both gradually approaching and gradually leaving—dealt the final blow to my consciousness.
I was brought to a room and forced to sit down on a foldable chair. There, I listened to the rumbling roars. "Which one of these pairs of wings is carrying Mafuyu?"—I thought to myself.
In the end, I only managed to convey my music to her. No, I might've even failed in that regard. It might've been taken away by the airport security. Or perhaps Ebichiri had confiscated it. I couldn't remember any of my answers to the harsh questioning of the airport staff.
The only thing that was imprinted in my memory, and the thing that I had seen last, was the back of Mafuyu.