NARRATOR: "I leave the room after finishing my final exam and breathe a sigh of relief. As I'd hoped, the exams weren't so bad. I managed to breeze through just about everything but the English final. And even that was acceptable. I wonder how Emi did. Even more so, how she's doing; she looked terrible at lunch today. I mean, she was pretty happy to be out of her wheelchair, but she was so exhausted. Something's been wearing her down, and I'm starting to really doubt that it was just the exams. Should I confront her about this, though? My musing is interrupted by a tap on the shoulder."

MUTOU: "Hey, Hisao. Got a minute?"

HISAO: "Yeah, I've got some time. Nowhere important to be or anything like that."

NARRATOR: "Mutou raises an eyebrow as if questioning my statement, then beckons me back into the classroom."

MUTOU: "I wanted to get some feedback from you, if I could. I know that this course wasn't quite up to your level..."

HISAO: "Don't worry about it. The science club activities more than made up for it."

MUTOU: "Hmm, did they? Well in fact, that's what I wanted to talk to you about. Do you think that was a worthwhile activity? Just for my own reference."

HISAO: "Well yeah, it was a great way to go further than we did in class. It was definitely worthwhile."

NARRATOR: "Mutou seems delighted by my response."

MUTOU: "That's great! Exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for. You know, Hisao, I'm glad you came here. It's always good to have a student who really gets into the subject you teach. In a way, it makes dealing with the rest of the students more tolerable. You're a bright kid, too. You took to this stuff like a duck to water, or some other such simile."

HISAO: "Er, thanks. You were a great help. Especially with that college stuff."

MUTOU: "There's one more thing, Hisao. A bit of advice, from one scientist to another."

HISAO: "What's that?"

MUTOU: "What does a scientist do?"

HISAO: "Observe the world around him."

MUTOU: "Exactly. Good. A simple question, but one that most people can't seem to answer. That's the essence of a scientist, Hisao. We observe what's there, and try to figure it out. But what if there's something you can't figure out? What's a scientist to do if he can't observe something? How, for example, can we talk about quarks when nobody has ever actually seen one? Or black holes when observing them directly is impossible?"

HISAO: "Well, scientific equipment's pretty advanced..."

NARRATOR: "Mutou irritably waves away my response."

MUTOU: "No, that's not it at all. Those are tools, I'm trying to give you a philosophy. Think. If you can't observe something directly, then how can you observe it?"

HISAO: "Uh, guess?"

MUTOU: "How? How would you guess the movement of a quark? What is your guess based on?"

NARRATOR: "Of course. I should have thought of it earlier."

HISAO: "The things it affects."

NARRATOR: "Mutou claps his hands together excitedly and whoops."

MUTOU: "Yes, exactly. Good. Remember that, Hisao. If you can't examine something directly, it's because you're looking at it wrong. You have to look at it differently if you want to uncover the truth. And if it eludes you, then look at what it leaves behind. That is the essence of being a scientist. We never stop looking for the answer. Never take anything for granted. Observe, experiment, and observe some more. There's a lot of stuff out there that makes no sense, Hisao. Your job is to get it to make sense. If nothing else, I hope you've learned that here."

HISAO: "I think I can remember that."

NARRATOR: "Mutou smiles, satisfied."

MUTOU: "Good. Now go enjoy your time off. You've earned it."

NARRATOR: "I leave the room feeling a little confused. What brought that on? Although... Am I going about this thing with Emi the wrong way? If she won't tell me, then can I go about it some other way?"

HISAO: "Actually, I've got something I need to do..."

MUTOU: "Yeah? Oh well. I wanted to get some feedback on the science club from you. But we can do that later, I guess. Enjoy your break, you hear?"

HISAO: "Thanks, I will."

NARRATOR: "I'd really love to chat with Mutou, but I've got other things on my mind. Specifically, what to do about Emi. Can I really just confront her?"

NARRATOR: "The question keeps spinning in my head even after I made my way back to my room. What if she gets angry about it? Besides, what if it's nothing? If I go in and refuse to leave until she tells me what's wrong or something, won't that come off as clingy? I don't want to start a fight or anything over something like this. Maybe I should just drop the matter and see how she is tomorrow before I do anything. Would it be so bad to just let it go? It's not like we don't enjoy each other's company. But odd as it sounds, I really want to... help her. I don't even know what with or if there's anything at all she needs help for. But I want to."

NARRATOR: "Suddenly, a knock at my door rouses me. I open it to see Kenji."

HISAO: "Oh, it's you."

KENJI: "It's me? That's it? If you had any idea what I'd been through, what I'd done, you'd be happier to see me, dude. I mean that was some epic, you-may-never-see-me-again shit. And here you're just acting like I went down to the store for some milk. You're a cold man, Hisao. I really respect that."

HISAO: "Uh, thanks, I guess."

KENJI: "It's smart to play it safe, you know. Don't show any emotion. Keep your cards close to your chest. Unless it's time to show your cards, or you have bad cards. Then you should fold or collect your winnings. Do you understand?"

HISAO: "Yeah, that makes perfect sense. I take it the uh, mission went well?"

KENJI: "Woah, awfully nosy of you, isn't it? You can't just go saying things like that! Things are at a delicate stage! One wrong move, and BAM! The invasion succeeds!"

HISAO: "I thought you were going to blow the conspiracy wide open?"

KENJI: "It's bigger than I thought; I need to update my charts. And probably change some of the puppets around. You wanna help? I've got some whiskey from... somewhere. You can fill me in on everything your investigation has turned up."

HISAO: "Er, better not. I'm uh... supposed to meet her today. Gotta go do that. Can't raise suspicion."

NARRATOR: "Kenji nods in approval."

KENJI: "Still keeping it close to the chest, eh? Okay man, I respect that. Good luck."

HISAO: "Er, thanks."

NARRATOR: "I'm just going to pretend, for the sake of my own sanity, that he's wishing me luck in talking to Emi. And if I squint, that whole card analogy he was talking about works here. Time to lay it all on the table. Or see if I can't get Emi to do so, rather. With a sense of something approaching purpose, I head for Emi's room. I hop up the stairs leading to her room and knock on her door."

EMI: "W-who's there?"

NARRATOR: "Huh. That's odd. Her voice sounds a little choked."

HISAO: "Hey, it's me. Thought I'd stop by."

EMI: "Hisao? Come on in!"

NARRATOR: "I reach down to open the door, only to find that it's locked. More and more curious."

HISAO: "Er, your door's locked."

EMI: "Oh yeah, sorry. Gimme a minute."

NARRATOR: "In a few minutes, Emi opens the door, grinning."

EMI: "Sorry, I had to put my legs on. I was napping."

NARRATOR: "Despite her grin, there's something definitely off. Emi's eyes are slightly red, and it looks like she's been crying."

HISAO: "Hey, no problem. Er, are you okay?"

EMI: "Huh? Yeah, I'm fine!"

HISAO: "It's just that you look like you've been crying..."

NARRATOR: "Oh yeah, Hisao. You're off to a great start on this one."

EMI: "What? Nah, I'm fine. I'm just happy to see you."

Emi firstkiss

NARRATOR: "She punctuates this with a long kiss that continues as the door slams shut behind us. I know what she wants to do now, and I'm also painfully aware of how badly I want to do it too, but... I break the kiss with a wrench of self control that nearly kills me."

HISAO: "Hey, wait."

NARRATOR: "Emi's eyes crinkle in confusion."

EMI: "Huh? Wait for what?"

HISAO: "We need to talk."

EMI: "Isn't that supposed to be my line? And never a good thing to say?"

NARRATOR: "She's got a point. It's usually the lead-in to a breakup. Or the prelude to a fight."

HISAO: "Maybe it can be a good thing this time. Er, that's the hope, anyway."

EMI: "Uh... huh. Can we at least get onto the bed? It's my first day back on these things, and I'm still readjusting. Plus the nurse said I should try to be on them less often, since running puts such a strain on them."

HISAO: "Can't argue with that."

NARRATOR: "It's a trap, we both know it, and we both don't care. Then again, it's awfully hard to get angry while in bed with the object of your affections, so maybe there's that motivation too. I set Emi's legs by the bedside and sit down next to her, throwing an arm around her shoulders. In silence, we just enjoy being able to be in this position again for a few minutes. Then, of course, I need to ruin it by opening my mouth."

HISAO: "Look, I know that... that you've been having kind of a rough time of it lately. And I want to help you out. I thought it was just exams getting to you, but now I come to your room and you've been crying, and that kills me. But I can't do anything if you won't talk to me about it."

EMI: "I told you, I'm fine."

HISAO: "No, you aren't. It's obvious something's eating at you. You can tell me, you know."

NARRATOR: "There's the slightest increase in tension in Emi's voice."

EMI: "Why is my saying I'm fine not good enough? You're concerned, I get that. That's cool. But I'm fine, and it's nothing that you need to worry about."

HISAO: "Not sleeping and spacing out more than Rin doesn't strike me as “being fine.” I just... I want to help."

EMI: "Uh-huh."

HISAO: "Yeah, I don't like seeing you like this. I want you to be happy, you know?"

NARRATOR: "I get the feeling that came out wrong, because Emi fixes me with an icy stare."

EMI: "So you want to fix me, Hisao?"

NARRATOR: "She's definitely getting angry now."

EMI: "Wanna swoop in on your white charger and save the day? Stop the nightmares, the phantom limb pains? Restore what's lost?"

NARRATOR: "Her voice catches in her throat, and the tears start to flow."

EMI: "Well you can't. Nobody can. Nobody will."

NARRATOR: "I'm so stunned by her sudden verbal assault that I remain quiet. Neither of us says anything for a while. I'm surprised that Emi tightens her grip on me rather than pushing me away. After a deep breath, she starts talking again."

EMI: "Look, I'm sorry. I just... there's these nightmares. About the accident."

NARRATOR: "Ah. The accident. I should've known. It took her legs, after all, but it never comes up, of course."

EMI: "And I usually deal with them fine, because I can run. Running clears my head like nothing else. I don't have to worry about anything while I'm running. I just concentrate on breathing, on the rhythm of things. It's easier that way. Life's easier that way. Just keep moving forwards, you know? Nothing else matters, just getting around the next curve. And then it's the next curve, and the next, and the next, until I can't go any more, or think any more, or do anything but slow down and walk until I catch my breath again. After something like that, nothing else matters. But I've been stuck in that goddamned wheelchair for too long. So, no outlet. Today it just kinda boiled over a little."

HISAO: "You could have talked to me about it, you know. You didn't have to go it alone."

NARRATOR: "Emi smiles sadly, like she's trying to explain to a child that all fire burns."

EMI: "Yeah, I did. And I do."

HISAO: "But why? Why do you have to keep going through this alone? Why can't you just trust me enough to let me help you?"

NARRATOR: "That smile again. Emi leans in and kisses me on my cheek, an almost motherly gesture. She leaves her mouth close to my ear, as she confesses this one thing to me."

EMI: "Because, Hisao. I've already had everything I knew ripped away from me once. I don't know what I'd do if it happened again."

NARRATOR: "She pauses, as if uncertain as to whether or not she should continue. I can feel a violent churning in my gut. She continues."

EMI: "So I can't rely on you. Or the nurse. Or anyone else. Just me. That's how it's got to be."

NARRATOR: "Having delivered this short speech, she looks down and covers her mouth with the back of her hand. The conversation is clearly over. I search for something to say, but can't think of anything."

HISAO: "I... Maybe I should go, for now. I've got... stuff."

NARRATOR: "Emi doesn't even look up. She sounds tired, or relieved. I can't tell which."

EMI: "Okay, Hisao. Go take care of that stuff. I'll see you tomorrow."

NARRATOR: "I get off the bed and head for the door, pausing at the doorway."

HISAO: "Hey, Emi..."

EMI: "Yeah?"

NARRATOR: "A thousand things I want to say. I'm too mixed up to say any of them, though. After her admitting that she'll never let me close, I feel like my world's just been ripped out from me. What happened in that accident? I know she lost her legs, but that's never seemed to bother her. What happened there? What scares a girl so badly that she won't accept help, even from someone she loves? I don't know. But I want to know. I want to know so badly that being denied that answer feels like a knife in my guts."

EMI: "Hisao? You were saying?"

NARRATOR: "I'm still standing in the doorway."

HISAO: "...Nothing. Never mind."

NARRATOR: "And I'm closing the door. And walking down the hallway. Down the stairs. Out the door. Into the dark. Somehow I wander back to my own room. My brains are doing a mile a minute, going nowhere fast. I can't figure out how to deal with this. I thought that moving forward was a good thing. Dwelling less on a past that I can't change. Living in the present and looking at the future. After this... thing with Emi, I'm not sure any more. She was saying the truth. It's simpler to look at the next curve, ignoring the path gone by. No worry about the opponent left behind. No care for the spectators on the sidelines. And unfortunately, no time to watch out for lagging teammates either."

NARRATOR: "I throw myself down on the bed, looking at one corner of my ceiling as if the answers I want were written there. No such luck, of course. She's literally running away from something - but have I not been doing the same thing, trying my best to forget about my hospitalization? I am getting better, but my health isn't going to magically fix itself. Emi has two legs instead of a heart to deal with, but those aren't going to magically fix themselves either. Maybe this is just as fixed as the both of us can get. The room becomes darker and darker, until I can't really tell I'm looking at a corner any more."

Next Scene: Debate Expresses Doubt