He’s torturing himself. I watch with a lump in my throat as he brings up another constructed Memory—this time of the same night, with flashlights dancing through the park. His mother’s and father’s voices are high and frantic, breaking. Then the scene switches to a young Hideo on his knees before his parents, sobbing, begging forgiveness, hysterical, inconsolable, even as they try to make him get up. The scene switches yet again to Hideo lying in bed, curled up, silent, listening to the faint crying of his mother coming from his parents’ bedroom. It switches to him waking every morning and looking in the mirror . . . and seeing a thin, silver streak grow steadily into his black hair. I wince. The trauma was what had slashed him in white. And even though I am not him, I understand, and even without the Link connecting our emotions right now, I can feel the vicious, unending shame that clouds his heart.
I try to imagine my father disappearing one day and never coming back, what it must be like to grieve with no closure at all, to live with an open-ended mystery twisting a knife forever in my heart. I think of the porch light at the entrance of his parents’ home, turned on even in the afternoon. I imagine that pain and, even in my imagination, I can feel my heart bleed.
A long moment passes after the Memories end, filled with nothing but the sound of water rippling against the rock. When Hideo speaks again, his voice is low, weighed down with a haunting, all-consuming guilt. “They never talked about Sasuke again after his disappearance. They blamed themselves, put the shame on their own shoulders, and bore it silently. Our neighbors and the police stopped talking about Sasuke, too, out of respect for my parents. They can’t look at photos of him; I could only save what I had. He exists now solely in their sculptures. My mother aged overnight. She used to remember everything; she led her neurology team. Now she misplaces things and forgets what she was doing. My father developed a cough that never went away. He gets sick frequently.” Hideo’s eyes follow the path of the Gemini constellation, the stars that form the shape of twins. “As for me . . . well, Sasuke loved games. We played every day, made up all kinds of games together. He was cleverer than me—had aced every exam he ever took, tested effortlessly into every elite academy you could think of.”
I understand now. “You invented the NeuroLink because of your brother. Warcross was inspired by that game Sasuke played in the park. You created Warcross for him.”
He pauses, and the water ripples as he turns to me. “Everything I do is for him.”
I brush his arm with my hand. Nothing I say can possibly be right in this moment, so instead, I say nothing at all. I only listen.
“I don’t talk about him, Emika,” Hideo says after another silence. He looks away again. “I haven’t talked about him in years.”
This is Hideo stripped of his fortune and fame and genius. This is him as a boy, waiting every day for his brother to come back, falling asleep every night to the same nightmare, trapped forever wondering if he had only done one thing, anything, differently. It is hard to describe loss to someone who has never experienced it, impossible to explain all the ways it changes you. But for those who have, not a single word is needed.
Hideo pushes away from the edge of the spring and nods toward the steps leading back up to the bathhouse. He offers me his hand. I take it, my eyes flickering as always to the scars on his knuckles. “It’s getting late,” he says gently.
We have dinner that night with Hideo’s parents. I look on at how carefully Hideo fries meat, chops vegetables, and sets rice in the steamer. While he does, his mother fusses over my complexion. “This tiny child,” she scolds gently, beaming up at me. “Hideo, why haven’t you been feeding her? Make sure you give her a big bowl. It will add some pink to her cheeks.”
“Oka-san,” he says with a sigh. “Please.”
She shrugs. “I am telling you, she needs nutrition if her mind is to perform at its best. You remember what I told you about how neurons use the energy delivered by your blood?” I exchange a wry smile with Hideo as she launches into an explanation about blood.
Hideo is the one who sets the table, who lays the food out for us, and who pours everyone tea. Dinner is so delicious that I wish it could last forever—juicy, tender cuts of chicken fried to perfection; gleaming rice topped with a fried egg; lightly pickled vegetables for garnish; soft mochi cakes made of sticky rice flour for dessert, each stuffed with strawberry and sweet red bean; soothing cups of hot green tea. As we eat, Hideo’s parents speak Japanese to each other in low voices, sneaking occasional smiles at me as if they think their movements are too stealthy for me to notice.
I nudge Hideo sitting beside me. “What are they saying?” I whisper.
“Nothing,” he replies, even though I see a faint blush on his cheeks. “I don’t usually have time to cook, that’s all. So they’re commenting on it.”
I grin. “But you cooked dinner for me?”
The smile I get in return from the creator of Warcross is, of all things, bashful. “Well,” he says, “I wanted to do something for you, for a change.” He looks expectantly at me. “Do you like it?”
Suede gift boxes holding fifteen-thousand-dollar electric skateboards. Flights on private jets. Closets full of expensive clothes. Dinners at restaurants he owns. And yet, none of that has made my heart skip like this earnest, hopeful look on his face as he waits to hear if I enjoyed the food he made for me.
I lean my shoulder into him as I hold my bowl. “Decent,” I reply. He blinks in surprise, then seems to remember what he’d once said to me during our first meeting. A laugh escapes him.
“I’ll take it,” he says, leaning back.
Still. Even as he talks easily with both his mother and father, I can’t help thinking about his words from earlier, that Sasuke is a topic never discussed with them, that their grief and shame run so deep that they can’t even bear to have their second son’s portrait in the house. No wonder I never heard about this in all the documentaries I watched about Hideo. No wonder he has such a strict company policy of not talking about his family.
“They don’t want to move,” Hideo tells me on our ride back into Tokyo. “I’ve tried convincing them a thousand times, but they don’t want to leave our old home. So I do my best to keep them safe here.”
“Safe?” I ask.
“There are bodyguards watching their home at all times.”
Of course there would be. I hadn’t even noticed them, but now I think about the random passerby on the sidewalk, the gardener working on the hedge.
By the time his car pulls up in the back of the Phoenix Riders’ dorm, it’s nearly midnight. I stare at the overlays on the tinted windows, currently showing an empty car interior so that no one will be able to see us both inside.
“I’ll see you soon,” I whisper to him, reluctant to leave.
He draws closer, touches my chin with one hand, and guides me into a kiss. I close my eyes and lean into it.
Finally, too soon, he pulls away. “Good night,” he murmurs.
I have to force myself not to look back as I get out of the car and head toward the dorm. But even long after his car has pulled away and left me alone, his presence lingers. There was a new expression in his eyes tonight, the kind open only to a few . . . but there are still secrets behind it. I wonder what it will take to uncover another of them.
• • • • •
THE REST OF the week flies by. On Friday morning, the familiar sound of Asher ramming his wheelchair into my door stirs me out of my restless sleep in my dorm room. “Game three!” he shouts, the excitement obvious in his voice as it fades down the hall. “Let’s go! We’re gonna knock out the Cloud Knights in record time!”
I rub a hand across my face. I feel groggy today, my mind stifled and my heart still pounding from another round of nightmares, and my limbs are weighed down as I drag myself out of bed. While I dress, a message pops into my view from Hideo.
Good luck today. I’ll be watching from the balconies.
I shake my head. Now he’s just thumbing his nose at his attackers.
I thought you were going to stay away from the upper decks.
We’ve redone the security cams, rewired the stadium, and security detail has been doubled. They’d be fools to attack in the same place again. I’ll be fine.
I already know there’s nothing I can do to talk him out of it.
Well, be careful, ok?
Keep your eyes peeled.
My eyes will be on you, I’m afraid.
A nagging worry lingers in my mind, but his words still pull a smile out of me. I head downstairs.
The other Phoenix Riders chat animatedly on our way to the stadium this morning. I feel strangely disconnected from it all. Ren doesn’t seem to act any differently toward me, but his nonchalance bothers me even more. Maybe I should have told Hideo about him after all. Maybe he would have been disqualified from today’s game. I narrow my eyes as I watch Ren crack a joke with Asher. No. Hell if he’s going to force me out of my element. I’m going to keep using him to get to the bottom of this.
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